Heiner Goebbels / Stifters Dinge
Wagner called it a Gesamtkunstwerk , an ideal, possibly idealised, fusion of play and score, sight and sound. Heiner Goebbels calls it a "sonic performance landscape".
On Thursday the genial German multitasker introduced his latest and perhaps most complex creation, Stifters Dinge , to the US. The sponsor of this mechanised mirage was Lincoln Center, but the hospitable if unconventional locale was the vast drill-hall of the Park Avenue Armory. The abstract avant-garde has seldom looked, or sounded, more vital, more dramatic or more accessible.
The Stifter of the title is Adalbert Stifter, an early 19th-century novelist obsessed with descriptive minutiae of nature. These are his Dinge , his things . And these are the objects explored, analysed, illustrated, distorted, refocused, symbolised and transformed in Goebbels' installation.
The composer-director-auteur describes himself as a "theatrical architect". He describes this complex adventure, deceptively if accurately, as "a composition for five pianos with no pianists, a play with no actors, a performance without performers . . . a no-man show."
The setting, realised in conjunction with Klaus Grünberg, moves constantly, shifts constantly, challenges constantly. It deals in disparities: pools of bubbly water, rain, snow, ice, junk sculptures, industrial façades, deconstructed keyboards, stylised branches, moody lights, spooky smoke and painterly panoramas (Uccello's "Night Hunt" and Ruisdael's "Swamp"). The technology on display is staggering - think Rube Goldberg on acid - though the technicians are invisible.
The sonic scheme, realised in conjunction with Hubert Machnik and Willi Bopp, combines rumbles and blips of musique concrète , primitive percussive punctuation, modernist meandering, quotations of Bach, suppressed romanticism and the recorded voices of Malcolm X, Claude Lévi-Strauss and Colombian Indians. All this and readings from Stifter too.
The intellectual urgency of Stifters Dinge somehow diminishes as the expressive mosaic expands. Obviously there is more here than immediately meets the eye and ear, certainly more than a naive lament for nature in decay. The ultimate message remains vague. But Goebbels manages to keep his focus bright, his vocabulary brave and his appeal sensual. For 70 magical minutes it is enough.
Financial Times (GB), 17 December 2009