I don't know why, but I've never quite managed to crack eggs, melt butter, chop herbs, peel an onion and whisk up a perfect omelette in complete synchronisation with the scherzo of Ravel's String Quartet. I wish the German composer and theatre creator Heiner Goebbels would share that secret, and quite a few others, with me. It's hard enough getting your tongue round the title Eraritjaritjaka - an Australian Aboriginal expression for wishing for something lost, a sort of nostalgia, perhaps - before even trying to digest and describe the work itself. Goebbels's previous work has proved mostly unclassifiable, but the addition here of hi-tech real-time video, along with quirky visuals and the prominent use of the Mondriaan String Quartet, adds yet more levels to his fascinating and original multi-media mix.
In Eraritjaritjaka, Goebbels draws on diary entries and other jottings by the Bulgarian-born German novelist, essayist and sociologist Elias Canetti who died a decade ago. His words, which explore the ways a creative artist perceives and assimilates the world, are given a new twist, assembled without any loss of integrity into what the composer describes as a "musée des phrases".
There is something magical in the way Goebbels juxtaposes artificiality and reality in his meticulous plotting of the staging, lighting, music, text and video. It begins simply enough with part of Shostakovich's sombre Eighth String Quartet. The scene is set for the actor André Wilms (presumably being Canetti) to walk on, speaking in French, the English surtitles throwing up dazzling references to the power of creative forces and relationships and the search for truthfulness to one's inner self. Music colours the work's moods, with extracts from Crumb's Black Angels, and from Scelsi, Bryars and Kurtag, as well as echoes of Bach, all containing veiled references and providing motifs for Goebbels's own music.
When, in one passage, it's suggested that, as they age, humans grow smaller and unimportant, I half expected the tiny old couple from David Lynch's Mulholland Drive to pop up. Instead, as he expounds a theory on our relationship to animals, Wilms encounters two remote-controlled robots. Then, after delivering a torrent of philosophical themes and ideas, Wilms is seen on film, exiting the Lyceum Theatre, entering a taxi and disappearing through the streets of Edinburgh.
Next, the miniature house downstage is dwarfed by a lifesize version upstage. Through its uncurtained windows, and on video too, we become intruders on a domestic scene - hence the omelette. Not everything you see and hear is real, though the ear and eye desperately want to believe it is. Yet even the clock was showing real time, 11.30pm, so were we dreaming or could the projected house have been the actual house on stage?
The Independent (GB), 2 September 2004