11 October 2010, Joshua Meggitt, Cyclic Defrost
Stifters Dinge, Melbourne
Heiner Goebbels’s Stifter’s Dinge is a multi-layered audio-visual diorama, a post-industrial theatre piece/installation/performance played entirely by machines. There is no narrative to speak of, yet the world it creates is engrossing, a coherently disjointed journey through Goebbels’s weird and wonderful imagination. Thoughts on nature, history, exploration and Euro-centrism unfold amid smoke, lights, rain and fog, sound-tracked by a compelling melange of saloon rags, spiky chamber music, displaced voices and Einsturzende Neubauten-esque industrial clamour. On stage, five pianos hang suspended between naked tree trunks, scaffolding and sheet metal, all set to play in different ways. One is a regular player piano, which alternately plays Bach fugues and racy Nancarrow experiments, while another is prepared, emitting dead Cageian plinks and percussive donks. The remaining three are beaten, strummed, and plucked, like Ross Bolleter’s abandoned ruins, performed like Aeolian harps by zigzagging robotic arms. Another arm holds a drumstick which beats a slab of tin like a cymbal, a phantom drum pedal creates a cavernous sub-bass thud from a wooden box, and two plastic tubes create bass tones, carousing like an enlarged Pierre Bastien band. Various tubes, threading the stage like intestines, are possibly responsible for the clicks and wheezes, coughing and spluttering throughout the performance, the digital glitch of the machine-age. Before the stage lie three pools, scattered with sand and flooded with water by stage hands, onto which various lights are projected, and dry ice and rain drops unleashed. Over these fabric screens are raised and lowered, creating dances of light and reflection, and upon which various images are projected, most memorably Paolo Uccello’s early Renaissance masterpiece ‘Hunt in the Forest’. Loudspeakers positioned around the pools relay various recordings, vintage ethnographic chants from Papua New Guinea, an interview with a French ethnographer over the worthlessness of humanity, and a narrated excerpt from the titular Aldabert Stifter’s journals, a captivating tale of the solitude of the forest in deep winter. This haphazard assemblage of music and memory recalls the rambling writings of W.G. Sebald, and combines to subtly paint a chilling picture of the dehumanisation of contemporary life. Goebbels has said that he likes the ‘absence’ at work in Stifter’s Dinge, and while he denied an ecological agenda its hard not to see an urgent warning behind this post-human dystopia, however beautiful it frequently is. This is the theatre of the future, a bleak and moving collage of hauntological allegory and industrial collapse.
on: Stifters Dinge (Music Theatre)