John Tusa Interview with Heiner Goebbels

JT Fortunately you can't fit Heiner Goebbels into a neat artistic category. He's not a man to be glibly pigeonholed. He's certainly a composer. He's undoubtedly a man of the theatre. He's unquestionably a leader in the creation of that elusive concept, music theatre - or, as one writer put it, a work by Goebbels is a beast slithering between the three conventions of opera, theatre and concert. Over a period of almost thirty years his work has ranged from sound plays for radio, to radical chamber music, to the big set pieces in the concert hall, theatre and opera house for which he has become famous. Some, like 'Black on White', or 'Hashirigaki', take place in the theatre, though musicians make up the performers. Others, like 'Surrogate Cities', are concert pieces, though they do have a visual element. His latest work, 'Landscape With Distant Relatives', is labelled as Goebbels's version of an opera. Typically even such a cautious categorisation left some on the audience confused. I think I need to give a very compressed idea of what a piece by him is like. Take 'Hashirigaki', the latest one seen in Britain, at Edinburgh and the Barbican. The title is the Japanese word for running, writing fluently, outlining. The performers are three women, a Canadian musician, a Swedish dancer - very tall - and an actress, and a Japanese musician, are they all play, sing, move, dance and speak. Ah, yes, the words. Gertrude Stein's 'The Making Of Americans'. The lyrics from Beach Boys' songs. But the music ranges from the Beach Boys to traditional Japanese music, and it's all played in fantastic costumes and an ever-changing set of objects, lighting, real images, and playful objects. To the very square question, "What does it all mean?", Goebbels tends to answer, "That's up to you" - which some regard as an evasion. The fact is that most critics and most audiences go with the flow, and take from Goebbels's pieces a deep, instinctual sense of purpose and connection. As I said, he defies categorisation, and he intends to keep it that way. So what are you deep down? Composer, a director? Will the real Heiner Goebbels stand up?

HG I think I like to switch. I am easily bored, and I change my field of, my working field like every seven years. And that's why I have now several professions. And for I think a very distinctive quality which I highly estimate for my work, is to be able to have a distant look, and to be able to have a real distant look I think you need to look from another profession to what you're doing. So when I'm working as a composer, I sometimes look at it as a director. When I work as a director I look at it as a composer, for example, which means when I stage a piece I have very much in mind the whole rhythm of the show, the whole link between the scenes, in which I think is a special importance. When I work as a composer I think and I look at it and I listen to it also as a director in terms of does this interest somebody who is not involved in the material, because I think in arts, and maybe not only in arts but in other professions as well, you get very easily too much stuck in your own material, and then you lose the overview, you lose the real relationship between who's attending such a performance and what is he bringing with him as an attention, and all that.

JT But you can't be equally balanced between the two can you? I mean that just doesn't sound likely.

HG Well maybe I'm schizophrenic! (LAUGHS) No, I think I can. I mean like in this opera which you just quoted - 'Landscape With Distant Relatives' - I really cut a lot of pieces now in the last months after the first series, to make it a bit shorter, and especially sections where others said, "Oh this is the best musical thing", or where others said, "Er but that's the most beautiful scene". And I had really equally reasons from both professions to do that, because I said yes it's a beautiful scene but it's too slow, and this makes the whole thing very lazy, and that's why I have to cut this beautiful scene. So I think I really can switch, yes.

JT Now you started though as a composer, that's how you started life, working with sound on radio. But again doesn't that sound that composing, because it came first, matters most?

HG No I never considered myself so much as a composer in the first term, because before I did radio works actually I worked as a composer for theatre, which means I made the music for a lot of very good actually, very good German theatre directors. And I made music to Shakespeare's 'Richard III' and to 'Iphigenie' by Goethe, and to Kleist pieces, and to four pieces sometimes I made the music of ten minutes, or fifteen minutes, but I was sitting there for two months attending the rehearsals, which means I was bored as a composer very easily, and also I was very disappointed how the music was given away as a chance for developing an image. It was most between the scenes or some atmospheric illustrative things. But at the same time I had a lot of time to learn the skills of a director, because I was sitting next to him, and I was not so busy - I couldn't be so busy in the music. So I think this was a very important step for me, already in the early days - '78, '79 - for what I'm doing now.

JT Yes, the integration of the theatrical experience and the compositional was there from the very beginning.

HG From the very beginning, and if I look even earlier I think that for me as a boy, like fifteen, sixteen, seventeen-year-old boy, I was of course very much into classical music, I was very much into pop music, I always played the Beatles and the Beach Boys every day at the piano. But I was not into contemporary music but into contemporary arts. I went to all the exhibitions, I went to the Documentas which I could get in these days, and so I, probably this is also a knowledge which helps me now working with ...... elements.

JT A very broad-based education for experience, because you never learned theatre as such in an academic way did you?

HG No. No I work...

JT So it's entirely learnt by sitting in and watching other directors do things and make mistakes?

HG Which is probably the best way to do it.

JT But composition - again I see... I can't think of who your music links up with. I mean you've never been associated with serialism, or any of the more academic forms of music writing. I think you've never dabbled with Darmstadt. I don't know what your musical origins are.

HG It's even worse - I've never been in Darmstadt, even if it's twenty kilometre from here. I mean never at these studies. Of course I was in Darmstadt to go to a concert or whatever, but I never was at these Ferienkurse, you're right. There's one composer where I feel closely linked to, and this is Hans Eisler, because probably he might be responsible that I became a professional musician. Because I studied sociology, I was very into politics, and I was connected also to some political movements here in the early seventies with Joschka Fischer and Daniel Cohn-Bendit and these, these scene - sponti scene as we say. But, and I made some music in the evening, for fun, but I never thought that this could be connected in a way which balances both elements out.

JT That is politics and art?

HG Yes. And then I read a book from Hans Eisler where he discusses a lot of things, like mathematics, politics, history, arts of course, philosophy, and I loved his music as well, his songs definitely. And after reading this book I had the feeling this doesn't exclude itself, I mean this is really possible to, in one person to be, to be connected like every measure. It's not something... And this is a unique quality of Eisler I would say. It's not there's a composer who has a political message on top, it's something which is really somehow in his body connected. And you hear it, you hear in his temperament, when he argues, you hear it in his melancholy, when he doesn't exclude in such feelings in his exile songs - after words from Brecht. And you hear it in the always foregoing rhythm which steadily pulls his music. So I had already a very good relationship to his musical qualities, but I had also the feeling that reading these famous talks with Bunge in this book, I had also the feeling that this has a very true basis, of the combination between music and politics. And I think this might have been the moment, '74, '75, where I decided okay maybe I can go into music studies and think about the profession as a musician, as a composer.

JT But you couldn't be less like Eisler could you? After all a man who was thrown out of Nazi Germany for Marxism, who was then thrown out of the United States for being a Communist. Now you are, unless I misjudge you completely, you're not that sort of idealogue. You're not driven by those sort of political beliefs are you?

HG No but I think I'm driven by a great scepticism, especially towards arts and politics, and this is something which I might have in common with Eisler. I mean he was really, he was very, very critical, over critical about moments where this combination was not convincing.

JT So I suppose it's perfectly possible, and why not, that you should have as an ideal somebody who embodies art and politics in a particular way, and you just make the combination in a very very different way because you are not ideological.

HG And I think there's another reason why Eisler could be such an important... He always insisted on a true relationship, and I never intended to tell something with my music on a subject which I'm not involved, where I've no experiences. I never said I could do a representative political statement for somebody starving or...

JT Political prisoner, say.

HG Yes, for example. I never did that. I think this might be important on a, on a political level definitely, on an artistic level I don't think it really works. And this is something probably I also learnt by Eisler. And I learnt another thing, which is that he always said that progress in arts, progress in music, needs to be dealed out with maybe a step back. You can't progress all elements at once. So for example when he writes a march, he would maybe change the harmony a little bit, he would make a rhythm break in the middle, which is very unlikely for a march, but of course he would also keep some marching quality in order to make it work.

JT And that is how you work yourself?

HG I think so.

JT Now when you were starting your performances - and you worked in this rather wonderfully named, so-called left wing radical wind orchestra, which doesn't sound as if it was an altogether serious name was it?

HG It was a name we were given. Somebody announced as Linksradikales Blasorchester, and we said okay. We didn't choose this name, so we call it so-called left radical brass band.

JT But was it entirely serious? Or again, did that indicate a certain distancing from really high ground radicalism?

HG Yes, and from any fundamentalist position, either musical or political, yes.

JT But at that time you wanted to change concertgoing, or you felt the concertgoing and the concert experience needed a change?

HG It was not made for concerts actually, this band. This was really made for demonstrations, for speeches, for any political moments in Frankfurt, which happened really every two weeks.

JT But apart from that, in general did you have a view that the music world needed to be shaken up, and it needed to have new elements engendered in it?

HG I think this was not my first idea. I think the first idea was really to bring music in a field which excluded music for a long time, or which excluded culture for a long time. The '68 movement didn't really accept and respect the necessary for culture. I mean the only thing you could hear there were songs by Joan Baez, or by the Rolling Stones, but that's about it. Really it took some four or five years, until the beginning of the seventies, until it was possible to play the cello somewhere.

JT Mm, so what you were doing was unfashionable, by saying classical music, for want of a better word, has a role to play in the political movements - it doesn't just have to be... politics doesn't just have to be associated with rock and pop?

HG And it was, no it was also the idea to take this cultural question serious, to develop the music and opportunity to perform as well as all the other qualities we try to develop. We tried to develop the way how we were living together, how we were making demonstrations. We tried not to exclude anything. I think that was the main element of this movement.

JT And is that something that you carried forward into your work in the theatre, with your music theatre pieces - the idea of very broad collaboration with a large number of people in different forms?

HG Exactly. And what I also learned in this so-called left radical brass brand is that, that there was a collective working method possible in music, which I didn't know before. So for example there was a demonstration next week, so I wrote a piece, and then I came back to the orchestra and they said no it's too difficult, we can't learn it in one week, you have to get this, rid of that, and this is not important anyway, so, and we, our flute player is sick so let's, let's, let's change it. And we changed it, and it worked. And to have this deep experience, that a collective can be even artistically more working and on this specific political and social point more important, this was a very good experience.

JT Now I'm going to go forward quite a lot in time to when you started writing really big orchestral pieces, to 1994, when you did the work called 'Surrogate Cities', for Frankfurt, which I think we only saw written in 2002. It's a large romantic work, large orchestra, and typical ingredients of your music - blues singers, a Jewish cantor, vocal improvisation, baroque, and so on - and one critic wrote of it that it reinstates the collective power of the symphony orchestra. Now, did you find, if you accept that description, did you find it rather odd that with your background you were coming back to something as mainstream as a symphony orchestra in a concert hall?

HG No I think it has two reasons why this description might be right. One is that I think that a lot of contemporary orchestral musicians who dissolve the orchestra into a high number of soloists, they give away this collective power, and they give away this ability to affect an audience more direct. And on the other hand my biography has another important chapter in the sixties. I was living in a small German city, with thirty thousand inhabitants, and we had, by some accident we had a cultural administrator who had a very good connection to an agency. So whenever one of the big soloists of the sixties, or the big orchestras, was touring, he was able to date let's say Munich, Berlin, Frankfurt, and my little town, Landau. So I heard the big soloists like Sviatoslav Richter on his first West tour, I heard Karajan with the Berlin Philharmonic,I heard Celebidache, I heard Kiril Kondrashin with the Moscow orchestra. They had real, the big Rostropovich on his first Western tour. And I think this influenced me a lot, because I was very much touched by these high soloists and these high quality orchestras.

JT And the sheer physical sound of the full orchestra?

HG Exactly. And I think what an orchestra should be like is really to enlarge collective possibilities, and not necessarily to split into a number of, of individual voices.

JT I think you've also said that, coming back to the question of your relationship with artistes, that you learned an enormous amount from working on that work, 'Surrogate Cities', with the orchestra, which was the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie - young players - and that they in a way pushed you to do things, or enabled you to take risks, which you would not have been able to do with another set of players. I mean how did that relationship work?

HG It was a wonderful experience because it was the first experience for me with a big orchestra, and it was also, as the title suggests, 'Surrogate Cities', a portrait not only of an orchestra but also of a city, and the way of city functions. And it was really experiencable that within the two weeks of our studies with this work, the first sections were working in, in different rooms. In one room there was the wind players, in another room there was brass players, and another room there was a drum section. And I went from room to room, and especially I had my biggest fun when I was in the gangways, and hearing these different sections working, like in a big factory, or like in a city where you have these different professions working in different locations and buildings, and how then everything came together was really very enjoyable. And also it was very flexible and open communication with the musicians, who could help me a lot.

JT Did they make suggestions?

HG They made suggestions, the conductor made suggestions. I am very, still very open all, to all that. And they say okay but if you make the, if you make it pizzicato instead of arco I'm sure it will be, will become more forward, and things like this. So we changed a lot.

JT You're not handing things down. There has to be something that is written doesn't it, but essentially you're not...

HG It was ninety-nine, nine, ninety per cent was written, or maybe even more. But even I'm sceptical about that written material can already really transport your intention. I think I have always to examine that with the considered result, and very often the paper doesn't give you the precise indications.

JT Now we're talking about form here, but was writing about the city itself important? I mean there was a commission for the city of Frankfurt, therefore it had to be about cities, but do you feel, or did you feel, there was something important to be said about the urban experience in our time?

HG As far as I can look back for the last thirty years, I have only spent my time in cities. And I think that really cities is a way of living together which enables us to deal with confrontations much better than we can do it in the countryside. Living together in cities, even with such high controversial and ethnical and cultural differences, really enables on a small territory somehow to learn to accept, to respect the other. This is something you can re... I think of my, my children, how they grow up, for example in the school, here with a lot of nationalities. Their experience and their knowledges are so rich and so bright, that I'm sure this will help them to, to go into a future. And I think this is something that cities are really good for.

JT But was 'Surrogate Cities' about that?

HG Part is about that. Part is also on different layers which you can observe in cities. When you make excavations, then you can really read the ground, and you can see about the history, so maybe my, my way of working was, was a little bit like the archaeologist. I try to discover history, for example where you mentioned the Jewish cantors, a history which is not longer in such a way being performed. I tried to work this out with a, with a living cantor, and we listened a lot to these documentary recordings of the twenties, and he said after a while, after he noticed what I was interested in, he said why don't you use the original recordings, because you will never find in the world a cantor who is able to do it like this any more, because in these days, in these twenties and thirties, you didn't have this split between the professions. There was a cantor who was able to sing in the synagogue at the Sabbath, and, and the next morning he was singing, or next evening he was singing in the Metropolitan Opera. There was no split between the professions. And we lost this. And so you find this singing in, in one piece, you find some old baroque work, you find some sounds which are technical or machinical, and which really drive us crazy in the city. You find them integrated in an orchestra. So I think you get a good number of experiences when you make a few in a city.

JT I want to talk about another piece of yours called 'Black on White', which is a theatre piece - a theatre piece for an orchestra, the Ensemble Moderne. And you get the orchestra to do all sorts of things - not just play the instruments which they're paid to play, so to say, but instruments that they have never played before. They play badminton, they throw tennis balls at thunder sheets, they play a flute to a singing kettle, I mean all sorts of wild... - they're not wild actually, they're wonderful things - but one of the things that strikes me is that you get artistes to break out of their own particular skill. I mean you see them in a much more whole way don't you?

HG I think it has to do with that I love to disappoint the expectations, in a creative way. So when people come to such a performance and it starts as a concert, I mean they are sitting with their back to the audience, okay, but they are still sitting as an orchestra, and they are conducted. And then it explodes, at a certain moment, and they start to play balls, as you say, and they start to, to hurt the expectations, because what I, what I hate is to be able to predict what's coming next in, in a performance, and that's why probably I switch also between a concert and a theatre piece or a music theatre piece or a performance or an installation. And because I also think that theatre, and especially music theatre, is so much a complex fusion of a lot of elements - light, sound, words, movements. And what you usually get when you see a music theatre performance is that all these elements are somehow ordered in a hierarchical way, so they're always there to, to make an explanation specially deep and clear. And I, I think I try to do the opposite, I make, I love, I love if pictures are rather opening up, pictures are widening the horizon of the viewer, and also I like to develop the individual elements of, of theatre. I like to work with light, not only in a way that it makes the performer seeable. I like to work with light in a way that respects the light bulb as a sculpture, or that is able to, to develop the force of a light itself as an artistic force, which means that I have to work with light from the very beginning, from the very first rehearsal I have the light, because otherwise whenever an element comes late in the process, it will be only not so important, will be only illustrative.

JT It'll be secondary.

HG Exactly.

JT Yes.

HG And that's why I try to develop all the elements at once, which is difficult, and I have to keep them a bit open for a while until they are settled, until they, they link to each other. But this is exactly the reason why also the performers they are not only playing instruments but they are also singing and dancing and, and speaking, and developing their whole range of possibilities.

JT Is it chaos at the beginning? Because that means you have your lighting designer, your sound designer, your costume designer, and all the performers there. Is it chaos at the beginning?

HG It, you can call it chaos if you would be an authoritarian director. Then you would say "Shut up, it's too noisy" and "You can't cross the stage while I'm directing this Shakespeare here", and what I do is really, you're right, it's absolutely the opposite, but it's never chaos. It's very creative, and you need an open eye, you need not to be disturbed, you need to have a high attention on everything what is happening, and for example then the costume designer goes on stage while we do a very delicate scene, and she's changing the hats of the performers, and, and the light designer is turning the light into a back light rather than a front light. And then, if you're really open to this, and if you're really curious in all these elements, then you discover so many possibilities. And if you don't consider it as chaotic, it will be a very rich experience for everybody.

JT And at what stage - or is this also an integral part of the process - does this have an effect on the sound, that do you find yourself saying that lighting is so extraordinary that what I hear, and what I need the audience to hear, must be different from what they hear at the moment?

HG Yes, that's very often like this. I develop, in a creative state of improvisations, pictures, sounds, scenes. And then I go for myself for let's say three, four, five months, and I compose a piece. And I bring the words in an order, and I bring the costumes in an order, and I bring the development of stage in an order. And I try to reflect all these experiences, for example to say this light was so strong we don't need any music in this moment, so I rather put it there. I'm really reacting there very strongly to these experiences.

JT So these early days of experimentation, improvisation, that is what gives you the raw material to produce the structure of the piece. But when you get all your artistes and your creative collaborators in the studio together for the very first time, what do you know about the piece that you want to do? You're not there with a tabula rasa are you? You know you're going to do something called 'Black on White' don't you?

HG Mm hm, mm hm. Very often for example I know some temperature, I know what I don't like. I might not know the text I use. I might not have the music already. But I might be looking for a certain poetic quality. And in the case of 'Black on White' for example we, our first rehearsals had nothing to do with the Edgar Allen Poe text, which came up later. We worked with texts about gardens and trees - I don't know why, I can't even explain - and we had not any written score with the first rehearsals, because I knew that the ensemble can play anything I give them, but if I give them any scores now they are too busy reading, and I cannot see if they can do anything else - if they can play badmin. at the same time. So I had to, to get rid of any score and just rehearse without it. And I have a certain feeling I think, sometimes. In Hashirigaki I knew some pictures which I read, at Kafka, I knew some colours, I, I knew some orange I wanted to see. I was not sure it would work with Gertrude Stein. I was not sure it would work with the Beach Boys.

JT But they were already elements that you thought you wanted to fit in somewhere?

HG Yes.

JT And then when you've, as it were, composed it, and you're ninety per cent there, and then you go back to the performers, and you put it together with the final ten per cent of input from them?

HG And that's very fast actually for, for Hashirigaki probably we were up to a few weeks or for my, even for my new opera, 'Landscape', we were act... a little bit more than two weeks. Then everything is clear and we do that very quick.

JT The fact is - and I was struck by the front page of the programme for Hashirigaki, which just said very simply: 'Teatre de Vidy-Lausanne, Hashirigaki by Heiner Goebbels'. Now I accept everything you say about your democratic approach, but that is still Heiner Goebbels as "auteur" isn't it? So in the end, you are the person who is saying this is my work.

HG Yes I think I can say that because I bring most of the structures in this piece, and I judge for the overall temperature, and I inspire everybody to work in this direction, even if I'm not able to be very explicit about it.

JT When you're just composing and you don't have things like the lighting or the staging to, to stimulate you, how do you actually create, when you just have to put music on the page?

HG That's a good question because I think this might be a reason why you'll always find samples in my work, samples of documentary sounds, of sounds which are usually not in an orchestra, sounds from, from the outer world. For me it's, I try to deal, to develop a balance between the real live performed instruments and between sounds which are usually not to be found in such an orchestra, and I think this is for me represented for maybe in a social experience with the power relationships, as you can say, like when you have a synthesiser or when you have the rhythm of a sampler, which you have to accept as a conductor or as a, as a musician. Then you have a resistance, you have a partner with whom you have to deal. You can't create your own world just as a string quartet, as an orchestra by yourself. There must be something which is stronger than you. I think this is, this is a relationship which I really deeply need, which I deeply try to balance out, but which are also, would always love to be present even in a concert hall.

JT Do you allow other people to stage your works?

HG Yes. Actually I would love if, if this happens more. It was just happened recently that an opera house in Freiburg in Germany, they staged 'Surrogate Cities' with a dance company, with actors, with singers, with the opera orchestra. It was a very successful production.

JT So you're not possessive about your, your pieces...

HG Not at all.

JT The idea that you don't write things down, much, and therefore only you can stage them. That, that's not true?

HG No that's not true. The score for 'Black on White' for example is completely open to adapt, adaptions, even with other ensembles, with other instruments, to include instruments which were not in the original cast and things like this.

JT Now there are many different elements in your pieces, different kinds of music, different traditions, and I think you said that, you've said some very interesting things about working with disparate cultures, that you don't want them to be homogenised, you're not seeking some false synthesis. You always want them to keep their own distinct character.

HG Yeah maybe it has to do with what I said about the elements in theatre anyway, so when I'm talking about light I could have been talking about an Indian singer, or an African Creole with a cora. I think I want to keep the elements transparent, I want to keep the, also the different quotes or cultures or languages which come into a performance, I want to keep them transparent. I don't want to paternalise or fraternise or cover them in... and I rather keep them pretty much clear. And I might rather put something in opposite to them, and cut it, but not in the way of making a melting pot where everything is possible.

JT A few Oriental bells and whistles on rock music, that sort of thing?

HG No. That's not.

JT So the Japanese music in Hashirigaki is absolutely itself, and it is done by a classical Japanese music, and it just happens to sit side by side with the Beach Boys and with other kinds of music?

HG Yes. I mean the open question is why this works. Because you could easily say, yes it has nothing to do, so it doesn't work. I think there must be still a possible link, or, or I think at the moment where these two cultures or where these two musics touch each other, there must happen something - not necessarily in the music maybe, in the light or in the costume or in the staging, but there must happen something which makes it at least on the same level servable. So for example, when you mentioned the Japanese elements in Hashirigaki, I discovered, only after a while I discovered that the use of percussion in the Beach Boys' recording is very similar to the use of percussion in the Japanese traditional music. Like the choice of percussion and also the individual outstanding sound event, which is standing for itself. That's something that you can really find in both musics, and that's why, maybe why it works.

JT But you only discovered that.

HG Yes.

JT That wasn't your starting off point?

HG No, not at all.

JT How do you avoid being a mere collagist? Because that seems to be one of the dangers of just putting together this and that and the other, and all the critics say - it's not just me - that that's not how it comes over. Do you sense this as a danger, that you're just sticking things together.

HG Yeah, I think it's a danger, it's a great danger. The more possibilities you have the bigger the danger is, and I think the more preparation and careful investigation - recherché - in the forehand you need. I think I'm very superstitious in a way, that material, even in a degree which we won't be able to perceive very consciously, has its secret or its truth. And so I'm very careful with the choice of material, like with the library of sounds, for example in Hashirigaki, then I really try to use only Beach Boys' sounds. And even the cymbal which is sampled and separately performed should be a cymbal which they used in this recording session, because I think if it would be another one it might sound different, it might evoke something else, and we lose the overall...

JT Cohesion?

HG Yes, cohesion.

JT Mm hm. You were once quoted as saying that you don't regard yourself as a revolutionary director. Why do you think you said that, and does it really reflect what you do?

HG I, I don't remember that I said that but... I think there's a lot of very conservative elements in my perspection on theatre, and on the qualities of theatre, as what we discussed on the, also on the, on my perspective too. Orchestra, I love the collective sound of it, and maybe that's, that's not very revolutionary at all, maybe that's very conservative. And in theatre I don't believe in representation, I don't believe we can really pretend to be somebody else on stage. But I believe in a lot of emotional stage effects, which I also use in my pieces, but what I really try is to avoid the hierarchy of the elements, how they are used in conventional theatre.

JT If I said that I thought that you were quite a romantic director, and that some of your pieces, certainly Hashuligarky, had sentimental moments, would you mind that?

HG No, not at all. No there, there is... especially Hashirigaki, it's definitely a melancholy piece, and it makes a, I hope great use of the melancholy in the Beach Boys' songs and the melancholy in the Gertrude Stein writing, and that's why they both go together so well. And this is also an element which I appreciate very much in Hans Eisler. So I think I have a certain tendency.

JT Have you ever had a creative block, where you simply didn't know where you were going to go next?

HG I have always creative blocks, when I have a new task, because I don't want to repeat myself, so I easily accept too fast in the commission, which is a bit hard of my possibilities, or experience. Like 'Surrogate Cities', the commission was of course way too difficult for me, and I accepted it because I'm curious and I wanted to go on a new field, and of course I had, then I had a constant creative block for a year or, and one and a half, before I was able to write something. But I think it's these blocks they can be quite productive. I think what we should avoid as artistes is always to do what comes in our mind first, and for these, these blocks are very important. And you have no idea how much time I spend time with throwing ideas away which comes to me first.

JT There's a sort of censor in your mind saying that's too easy?

HG Yes, or that's, that's, that's... yes exactly.

JT And for whom in the end do you create? Are you creating for yourself - I know you've got a commission, but are you creating for yourself, for your audience, for society?

HG I wouldn't, I would never say I create for myself and I think I would never create anything if it would be just for myself. And I have nothing in my desk which is unperformed. I have no symphonies laying down which have been performed. I always need the commission, I always need the reason from a theatre, from an orchestra, from some musicians, from some actors.

JT So if there wasn't a commission, would you work at all?

HG No, I would... I would be maybe a taxi driver. I don't know, I wouldn't work. I really need that. I would... I rarely did anything in my life just from, from an internal need.

JT You wouldn't just sit down and say I have to write music because I must write music?

HG Oh! No I hate that, no no I, I can't do that. And... I always react. I always react. I'm much better in reacting to something than inventing something. It's also a, sometimes it's opposition to what I've done just before. For example after 'Surrogate Cities', this huge orchestra score for one and a half hours and one hundred musicians, I definitely wanted to do a piece without my own music. So I did a piece with music of Prince, Bach, and Schubert, and Beethoven, which was called 'The Repetition'. After doing 'Black on White', where eighteen musicians are the performers on stage, I definitely wanted to do a piece only for one actor, for real actor, who does all the music. So Max Black turned out to come in this position. So it's very often a reaction to what I've done before, or reaction to the purpose of a commission, which inspires me much more than, than a blank page.

JT It's a kind perversity isn't it?

HG (LAUGHS) Yes.

JT Creative perversity?

HG Yes, yes.

JT But no sign of that, that going away?

HG No, unfortunately not.

JT Heiner Goebbels, thank you very much.

HG Thank you.

BBC (GB), 3 March 2003