Heiner GOEBBELS (b.1952)
Stifters Dinge (2007) [62:08]
rec. 20-21 October 2007, Grand Théâtre de la Ville de Luxembourg
ECM NEW SERIES 2216 [62:08]
Look up Adalbert Stifter (1805-1868) and you will find out something about an Austrian writer who seems to have been almost entirely overlooked beyond the boundaries of German-speaking Europe. Heiner Goebbels’ connection with Stifter in this piece involves a painstaking observation of nature, a sort of assimilation and interpretation of the world and its phenomena, all of which have resonances for Stifters Dinge. Goebbels is an artist who is unparalleled in his pursuit of integrity and accuracy to his vision of a project, and uncompromising in terms of production and performance. You can be sure that nothing is accidental, and such a sense of preparation and attention to detail is what we sense in Stifter, and Stifters Dinge

Unpromisingly, this is a work with a highly unusual and engaging visual/theatrical element which is inevitably absent on a CD recording. The booklet describes a stage with five grand pianos “nested together and placed on end, all provided with equipment which will produce sounds from the interior or exterior of the instrument…” This is only the start of the story, and there are some photos that demonstrate a stage which is hard to describe - and one which moves about and seems to have a life of its own. In fact the sonic content of the sound-only version creates such landscapes for the imagination that we can generate plenty of images, their shapes and content guided by finely nuanced and graphically descriptive sounds and texts.
The human voice plays a vital role in all of this, and the initial soundtracks include incantations recorded in Papua New Guinea in 1905 which are hauntingly abstract. One of the movements, Trees, has a text by Adalbert Stifter read with Ivor Cutler-like restraint by famous actor, Bill Paterson. This is interesting, and is shot through with dramatic sounds - relating to the scene on-stage, but Goebbels chooses to leave the text ‘dry’ and it might arguably have been more interesting and integrated if the voice was also given some treatment. Later on we also hear from William S. Burroughs, Malcolm X, Columbian Indians and an antique recording of a traditional Greek song. All of these add to a narrative feel in the piece, as well as a touch of theatrical structure.
From the outset there are little musical fragments and rhythmic elements which repeat or return in cycles - leitmotief perhaps. A movement called The Rain has the pianos perform some Bach while the water falls around and an interview is heard in French. The pianos can have a Gamelan effect at times, and are more often than not used as tuned percussion. Associations with Conlon Nancarrow are unavoidable, especially in the swiftly moving El Sonido section. The layering of mechanical sounds reminds one of clockworks of varying sizes; the kind Harrison Birtwistle is keen on exploring.
This is a remarkable and surprisingly rich and stimulating work, and very much worth hearing in its own right, even divorced from its theatrical origin. Yes, it’s contemporary music and no, it’s not filled with tunes to which you can hum along, but it is romantic in feel, with the same kind of invisible virtuosity which you find in a Brahms Ballade. As the sonic equivalent of beautifully conceived and well-constructed installation art this is visual stimulation for the ears, and as such has a great deal to offer.
Dominy Clements
Dinge die bümp gehen in der Nacht - fascinating.