Harry Partch – how Heiner Goebbels brought Delusion of the Fury to Edinburgh

Heiner Goebbels tells Kate Molleson about his production of Partch’s most radical work, coming to Edinburgh this week.

..."There is more to these instruments than wild names and weird sounds. What’s surprising is how, well, tonal his music often ends up sounding. “For me it’s early pop music,” says composer and director Heiner Goebbels, whose extraordinary production of Delusion of the Fury comes to the Edinburgh International Festival this week. “It is a crazy dream grounded in solid rhythms and harmonies. It sounds like the experiments of the late Beatles and Beach Boys. As much as it is accessible, it is also impossible to grasp. Like any good artwork it is vague and enigmatic, yet at the same time instantly touching. The whole thing is magnetic. It draws you in and transports you to a different planet.”...
“You seem to know the scenes but you can’t seem recall them, maybe because of the hazy microtonality,” says Goebbels. “It’s the same thing with the story – I mean what is it? If he wanted to be clear he could have used words, but he didn’t. I mean there are only about 25 words in the whole thing.”..
“Some people think that I took drugs when I was staging it,” the 61-year-old German tells me with a hint of a smile. “I guess they aren’t used to seeing such colourfulness from me. But no, I didn’t take drugs.”
In fact he simply tried to follow Partch’s score as closely as possible. “The more precisely we followed, the better it became. This is a dreamworld but its construction is so intricate – anything but hazy. Balancing looseness and precision was the biggest challenge. It should sound like a pop group performing, but you need academic musicians who can read super-complex scores.”
If any ensemble could pull it off, it had to be musikFabrik. Run as a musicians’ collective, these contemporary music specialists have a serious appetite for off-the-wall projects. They always look as though they’re having enormous fun, too, whether they’re playing Lachenmann, Stockhausen or Frank Zappa. “Even just agreeing to perform Delusion was a huge step,” says Goebbels. “To leave behind their regular instruments – which they have practiced for six hours a day, every day for 30 years or more – that is an enormous liberator in itself. I think the experience will change the way they play forever. Once you absorb the corporeality of Partch’s music, it doesn’t go away.”
Goebbels himself has been composing iconic staged works since the 1980s, full of their own beguiling rituals and physicality. “Back then I thought I was developing a new format,” he says, “but it turns out Partch had already done it in the 50s and 60s. He was so far ahead.” Goebbels pauses. “We are very different people, of course. I’m rarely drunk; he was often drunk. Towards the end of his life he was full of anger and that gave him a lot of creative energy. But I have sympathy for his anti-institutional beliefs. He didn’t make artistic compromises. This is something I think about a lot, and I respect Partch for being so totally non-conformist – for just doing his incredible thing.”

Kate Molleson
The Guardian (GB), 29 August 2014