[Over the past few years]
Over the past few years, the sound-world of Heiner Goebbels has gradually found its way to British audiences, providing a distinctive and valid alternative in German new music to post-avant-garde soul searching and tenuous syntheses of Krautrock and cabaret. Little of Goebbels' work can be evaluated in musical terms and "Surrogate Cities" is no exception.
This 70-minute sequence sets out with the premise, in the composer's words, to 'read then city as a text and to translate something of its mechanics and architecture into music'. Certainly the Suite for Sampler and Orchestra has the ominous sharply ironic mood familiar from earlier pieces (such is La Jalousie on in earlier ECM release), although the opening Chaconne, with its pervasive cantorial sample, fugitive pizzicatos and Verèsian brass interjections, has an emotional charge that the remaining numbers, ingenious urban evocations all, rather dissipate.
The remaining items sustain a cumulative impact, although the Horatian trilogy of songs would work well separately. Jocelyn B. Smith declaims their depictions of Roman violence with sultry intensity, to music which ranges from Rósza-like fanfares to the spine-chilling evocation of blood dropping to the be earth in the second song. D & C unleashes a typical sequence of rhythmic and dynamic confrontations, the passage of flute arabesques over gentle, circling dissonances (5'40") being an intriguing foil. Surrogate pursues a never-fulfilled crescendo of anticipation, David Moss forcing out the lyrics with an abrasiveness worthy of Peter Hammill; then reciting with complete detachment the bleak lines of urban decay triumphing over renewal of In the Country of Last Things.
"Surrogate Cities" is neither the most cohesive nor diverse of Goebbels' enterprises ("Black on White" remains the best introduction to his work on RCA 12/97). But in the present context of post-millennium blues, it makes for thought-provoking and - necessarily? - disturbing listening.
GRAMOPHONE (oa), 6/2000