Delusion of the Fury

Dutch premiere

Harry Partch, Heiner Goebbels, Ensemble musikFabrik

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'A Ritual of Dream and Delusion' is the subtitle of Harry Partch's Delusion of the Fury – and that is exactly what it is. With a bizarre array of self-built instruments the most eccentric of all American composers  created a series of soundscapes which blend a Japanese ghost story of a murderer who confronts ghost of his victim with an African comedy involving a goatherd and a deaf tramp. 43 years after its premiere, director Heiner Goebbels has brought the piece to Europe for the first time ever. This has meant that the instruments have had to be rebuilt to spec and that the performers have had to rehearse for months to learn to play them. The result, however, is spectacular: a piece of music theatre that can only be described as 'out of this world'.
Programme Icoon

'Delusion of the Fury, virtuoso, fun, wildly imaginative and enchanting, was a triumph of music theatre.'

NRC Handelsblad

Background Information

A ritual of dreams and delusion – the subtitle of Harry Partch's Delusion of the Fury pretty accurately describes the kind of performance this is: a ritual in which Partch's unearthly music plays the lead. The German ensemble musikFabrik premiered the music theatre production on 23 August 2013 as the opening performance of the Ruhrtriennial in Bochum's Jahrhunderthalle.

 

A unique figure in 20th century music, Harry Partch was a self-taught composer who stood outside the American musical tradition, mostly following an individual path. Delusion of the Fury (1965-66) is Partch’s masterpiece, but there are a number of practical obstacles which prevent the work from being performed regularly, the most important of these being that the instruments are missing: they are in the United States and in such a bad state that they cannot be played. Partch composed his music almost exclusively for a wonderful array of fascinating custom-made instruments most of which have specific tunings and which as well as being playable instruments are also valued as sculptures, like his Gourd Tree for instance, a strange, curved desert tree of which the fruits are tuned calabashes. To Partch, a musical performance was more than just that; it was also theatre, a visual spectacle. Partch also developed his own tonal system based on just intonation, in which every octave consisted not of 12 equal intervals – as on a modern piano – but 43 small intervals of differing sizes. Partch's idiosyncratic use of microtones makes his music difficult to perform; without the right instruments, it becomes impossible. As the original instruments are either very fragile or part of collections which are not easily accessible, a creative solution had to be found to resolve this problem. Led by percussionist and musical instrument maker Thomas Meixner, all the instruments that were needed were replicated – an unbelievable feat.

Moreover, Meixner's efforts have not been in vain, as the musicians of Ensemble musikFabrik took a whole year to master the unorthodox techniques required, gaining an impressively 'natural' mastery of Partch's instruments. The result is a captivating performance of sound and vision. Although Partch's tonal system is theoretically complex and his scores difficult to perform, his music does speak directly to the ear and the heart.

 

Delusion of the Fury consists of two parts, preceded by a prologue and intersected by an interlude. The first part is loosely based on a theme from the Japanese noh theatre, the second is based on an Ethiopian legend, but Partch has pointed out that the performance is neither set in a specific time nor in a specific place, both myths being no more than a point of departure from which to create – Partch claimed the privilege to appropriate elements from foreign cultures to use for his own objectives. With the exception of the koto, a Japanese zither, the universe of sounds of Delusion of the Fury is not bound by time or place.

In the first part the action revolves around a confrontation between a murderer and the ghost of his victim; in the second part, a deaf tramp is caught up in a misunderstanding with a group of villagers. The parts are played without any breaks, the titles of each scene indicated by a spooky motel neon sign in the background.

 

The direction of this first ever European production of Delusion of the Fury is by the artistic director of the Ruhrtriennale Heiner Goebbels. As the opening of the triennial, it proved a great success with the audience as well as with the press. The set is a mix of a rundown gold rush town, an abandoned theme park and an existentialist movie by Ingmar Bergman; the costumes combine a medieval with a futuristic look. There are inflatable sculptures, a pilgrim with an Opel hubcap for a hat and a mock fight with scaffolding. The musicians do more than just play their instruments; they are in all aspects part of the ritual. Partch himself has said: 'When a player does not put maximum effort into his role visually and as an actor, in my view he spoils his part as much as he would if he spoilt every note in the score.'

Biography

Harry Partch (1901-1974) was an American composer, music theorist, creator of musical instruments and performer who lived most of his life in the American Midwest and Pacific Coast regions. Travelling around the Western states during the years of the Great Depression, he kept a diary which was published posthumously under the title Bitter Music. Partch was a self-taught composer, who worked with natural tunings, from before equal temperament systems, and the physical aspects of music – he wanted to make 'corporeal' music, music which is best equipped to release its emotion. Partch discarded Western octaves and techniques, designing his own complex tonal system and instruments. From the 1930's onwards, he developed various string and percussion instruments as well as a harmonium, which did not only look unique, but were also given exotic names such as Zymo-Xyl, Boo, Gubagubi en Chrychord.

His compositions combine American folklore, African and Oriental literature, and mystical and pre-Christian magical thoughts, laced with parody, satire, studied naivety, and irony. His works received wide attention only late in his life, largely as a result of a performance of Delusion of the Fury in 1969. Other works include the cycle The Wayward and And on the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma. Most of Partch's works are made for the theatre and constructed so that the musicians and the instruments are integral to the staging: the instruments look fantastic and the musicians play from memory; the theatrical effect partly derives directly from the production of the music.

Heiner Goebbels (1952) is a German composer and director. From 1971 to 1978 he studied sociology and music in Frankfurt. In 1976 he was one of the founders of the Sogenanntes Linksradikales Blasorchester (So-called Left Radical Brass Band). He made experimental (pop) music as a member of the duo Goebbels/Harth (1975-1988) and the art rock trio Cassiber (1982-1992), and he has composed for film and the theatre. From the 1980's onwards he produced a number of award-winning radio plays, most of them written by Heiner Müller. He also developed the genre of the 'staged concert' with works including The man in the elevator (1987) and The liberation of Prometheus (1993). In the 1990's he started creating works for music theatre, including Ou bien le débarquement désastreux (1993), Die Wiederholung (1995), Eislermaterial (1998), Landscape with distant relatives (2002), Stifters Dinge (2007) and Songs of Wars I have seen (2007). Goebbels' work has been performed by the Ensemble Modern, the Ensemble Intercontemporain, London Sinfonietta and the Berliner Philharmoniker. He created various sound installations, for the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and other museums. He was awarded many honorary doctorates and scholarships and received many international prizes, including the Prix Italia, the European Theatre Prize and the International Ibsen Award (2012). Goebbels was resident composer at the Luzern Festival in 2003 and at the Bochumer Symphonikern in 2003-2004. He is a member of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin and heads up the theatre institute of the Justus Liebig University in Giessen. Since 2006 he has been the director of the Hessische Theateracademie and in 2010 he was made general director of the Ruhrtriennale 2012-2014. In March 2014 Goebbels was 'artiste invité' at the festival Biennale Musiques en Scène in Lyon.

Based in Cologne, Ensemble musikFabrik is regarded as one of the leading ensembles for contemporary music. musikFabrik was founded in 1990, debuting in 1991 under the name Ensemble Neue Musik Nordrhein-Westfalen at the Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik. A special feature of the ensemble is that since 1997 it has had no leader, operating on the basis of the principles of grassroots democracy. musikFabrik's mission is to play relatively unknown and new compositions, often commissioned by the ensemble itself. Rather than given a straight interpretation, these works are further developed and adapted by the ensemble's musicians, in close collaboration with the director and especially the composer. In its relatively short history, musikFabrik has built solid collaborations with leading figures in contemporary music, including Louis Andriessen, Stefan Asbury, Richard Ayres, Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Peter Eötvös, Vinko Globokar, Heiner Goebbels, Toshio Hosokawa, Nicolaus A. Huber, Mauricio Kagel, Helmut Lachenmann, Klaus Lang, Diego Masson, Martin Matalon, Zsolt Nagy, Emmanuel Nunes, Henri Pousseur, Wolfgang Rihm, Rebecca Saunders, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Sasha Waltz, James Wood and Hans Zender.

The ensemble play their repertoire in eighty to ninety concerts each year, both in Germany and abroad; they have had their own series of world premieres on public German TV channel WDR. By means of interdisciplinary projects incorporating live electronics, dance, theatre, film, literature and visual arts, the ensemble widens the usual scope of the conducted ensemble concert, as well as through chamber music, discussion concerts and improvisations. All of which confirms that the ensemble musikFabrik is as open as its mission suggests, i.e. to play music which does not yet exist.

Credits

music
Harry Partch
direction
Heiner Goebbels
stage, light
Klaus Grünberg
costumes
Florence von Gerkan
dramaturgy
Matthias Mohr
musical rehearsal leader
Arnold Marinissen
assistant choreography
Florian Bilbao
sound
Paul Jeukendrup
dramaturgical project development
Ensemble musikFabrik (Beate Schüler)
supervisor construction of instruments
Thomas Meixner
construction air objects
Frank Fierke
performed by
Ensemble musikFabrik
production
Ruhrtriennale
coproduction
Ruhrtriennale, Ensemble musikFabrik, Lincoln Center Festival, Holland Festival

This performance was made possible with support by