A House of Call. My Imaginary Notebook

Heiner Goebbels, Ensemble Modern Orchestra

An orchestral spectacle as a tribute to the human voice


During projects, while travelling and meeting people, composer and director Heiner Goebbels collected audio fragments in an imaginary notebook for years. These form the basis of the concert piece A House of Call. My Imaginary Notebook.

Heiner Goebbels is known for his collage-like way of storytelling. He meticulously coordinates text, music and stage setting, while at the same time leaving plenty of room for the imagination of his audience.

An orchestral spectacle as a tribute to the human voice


During projects, while travelling and meeting people, composer and director Heiner Goebbels collected audio fragments in an imaginary notebook for years. These form the basis of the concert piece A House of Call. My Imaginary Notebook.

Heiner Goebbels is known for his collage-like way of storytelling. He meticulously coordinates text, music and stage setting, while at the same time leaving plenty of room for the imagination of his audience.

Through the years, he collected recordings of all sorts of things, from theatre monologues to an Armenian singer or the sounds of a construction site. The common thread in this collection is the human voice. The sounds owe their appeal to what they mean, but certainly also to how they sound. Now, they are making their way into this four-part composition.

Goebbels wrote this piece especially for the Ensemble Modern, with which he has frequently and intensively collaborated for a long time already. The musicians respond to the audio fragments, they comment, interrupt, encourage or run counter instead. They also make themselves heard with remarkable initiatives, like an outstanding jazz solo on saxophone. This results in a masterfully constructed and surprising audio journey in which the human voice takes centre stage.

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dates

Sat June 18 8:30 PM

Prices

  • default from € 40
  • CJP/student € 15

language & duration

  • 1 hour 40 minutes

Background

Though he once began as an instrumentalist, composer and director Heiner Goebbels mainly made musical theatre for years. Pieces of his that were featured at the Holland Festival include: Stifters Dinge (2008), I Went to the House but did not Enter (2009), When the Mountain Changed its Clothing (2013) and Delusion of the Fury (2014). At last, he has made a large work for the concert hall once more. A House of Call is - after Surrogate Cities (1994) - the second orchestra cycle Goebbels ever wrote.

Background

Though he once began as an instrumentalist, composer and director Heiner Goebbels mainly made musical theatre for years. Pieces of his that were featured at the Holland Festival include: Stifters Dinge (2008), I Went to the House but did not Enter (2009), When the Mountain Changed its Clothing (2013) and Delusion of the Fury (2014). At last, he has made a large work for the concert hall once more. A House of Call is - after Surrogate Cities (1994) - the second orchestra cycle Goebbels ever wrote.

Collective creativity

Goebbels brings his experience in musical theatre into the concert hall. This becomes clear, for instance, in his choice for a lively stage setting with musicians walking in and out during concerts, as well as theatrical lighting effects that highlight elements in the music. But there is another aspect of theatre Goebbels likes to make full use of, namely the way of collaborating: ‘I actually prefer to work in theatre because it’s a social process that allows me to develop something collectively over the course of many weeks. Writing for an orchestra tends to be a miserable, lonely process. This loneliness is not good for me or my work. Working with an ensemble, however, is different.’ His collaboration with Ensemble Modern Orchestra did not came out of nowhere. Goebbels has been working with the musicians of Ensemble Modern for thirty-five years. He has created and performed musical theatre with them as well, such as Schwarz auf Weiss (Holland Festival, 1998) and Eislermaterial (Holland Festival, 1999).

Interaction with audio recordings

In A House of Call, the musicians constantly react to the audio recordings Goebbels selected. Many are of voices the composer collected throughout the years that serve as a basis for this concert piece. These fragments are played in the concert hall. The live orchestra reacts, supports, accompanies and answers the voices and sounds, or instead musically contradicts them. The interactions are varyingly light, playful and mysterious or heavy and overwhelming - depending on the feel of the recording and what it does to the musicians.

Sources

There is a story behind every recording Goebbels selected. Some are anecdotal, some historical, some autobiographical. Goebbels: ‘In this concert, we hear voices that moved, disturbed, enthused and alienated me, most of which can be heard on a concert stage here for the first time.’ He discovered the sources for the recordings during travels, chance encounters, research for other artistic projects, some of which were never realised in the end.

 

In any case, the fragments’ origins are ambiguous, and a whole range of motivations underpin Goebbels’ decision to do something with them: for example, the fragments might say something about music or language, or they may relate to social or anthropological themes. Sometimes, they were obtained under dubious circumstances, as in the case of recordings on old wax cylinders from the German national archive, which stem from colonial practices. Goebbels does not simply use such fragments but rather critiques them, implicitly, through the music. He says: ‘I am unable to hide the contradictions. All I can do is work on them, artistically. The music is a direct response to the complexity and rawness of the voices, their charisma and the history of these recordings.’

Book about sources of inspiration

Anyone looking to learn about the underlying sources of inspiration in more detail can read A House of Call - Materialausgabe, in German, or the English edition A House of Call – Material Counter, both published by Neofelis, which give more information about the fragments used, and in which Goebbels goes into the recordings’ origins. It shows how Goebbels extensively delved into the great many subjects that inspired him for this piece. An exploration that is noticeably present in the music as well, albeit it implicitly.

SYNOPSIS

A House of Call is divided into four overarching parts. Each part in turn consists of several subparts in which one recording is usually the main element. The orchestra responds to a total of fifteen physically absent voices.

Part 1

The first of the four main parts, Stein Schere Papier, starts - together with an organ loop from a recorded fragment from Goebbels’ former band Cassiber - with a nod to the ground-breaking orchestral piece Répons by composer Pierre Boulez, which, like A House of Call, is about musical actions and reactions. Next, we hear a recording of a text written and read by Heiner Müller that tells the story of Sisyphus: Immer den gleichen Stein. The rhythm of alternating questions and answers can also be heard at a Berlin construction site. A huge thunderclap refers to how the world premiere of Répons in Donaueschingen was cut short by a power failure as a result of lighting striking.

Part 2

The title of the second part, Grain de la Voix, is a play on the coarseness, the grain of the human voice, which according to philosopher Roland Barthes exists where singing and language collide, where the voice becomes the ‘sung writing of language.’ Voices from the Caucasus region can be heard as well and not only bear the marks of early recording systems but also the marks of tragic life stories.

Part 3

Wax and Violence, the title of the third part, refers to the recording technique involving wax cylinders that was developed in the early 20th century. This technique made it possible for speech and sounds to be recorded for the first time and caused an ardent passion for collecting among scientists who, armed with their phonographs and often questionable ideologies, collected material for various audio archives in a supposed pioneering spirit.

The still-playful test recordings in the first part are juxtaposed in the second with remarks by Hans Lichtenecker, who made racially motivated recordings of descendants of the Herero and Nama people in Namibia, who had nearly all been killed by German soldiers a generation ago in one of the first genocides of the 20th century. Nama schoolchildren sing an old German hymn. New research suggests a recording of the young farm worker Haneb Damara-Sprecher has a subversive, resilient power. The orchestra finds its own language again here as well.

Part 4

In the fourth and final part, When Words Gone, attention shifts again to other aspects of language: as speech act, as rhyme, as lament, as incantation. We hear a fragment from a ritual from the Amazon, the recital of a poem by a woman whose language seems to have slowly disappeared, a morning greeting sung as a lament for those lost at sea, and finally lines from one of Samuel Beckett’s last texts in which narration has fully turned into rhythm and sound. Who speaks when there are no words?

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  • © Wonge Bergmann (Heiner Goebbels)

  • © Astrid Ackermann

credits

composition Heiner Goebbels conductor Vimbayi Kaziboni Heiner Goebbels, Matthias Stich, Kirsten Harms, Daniella Strasfogel, Enrico Alvares, Giorgos Panagiotidis, Michi Stern, Delphine Roche, Eva Debonne, Jaan Bossier, Leonel Matias Quinta, Hugo Queirós, Jana Machalett, Jagdish Mistry, Daniel Skala, Adonis Alvanis, Jae A Shin, Silke Meyer-Eggen, Yezu Woo, Holly Workman, William Overcash, Haruka Yoshida, Wolfgang Bender, Veronika Paleeva, Diego Ramos Rodríguez, Sava Stoianov light direction Heiner Goebbels, Hendrik Borowski sound direction Norbert Ommer sound engineer Felix Dreher, Volker Bernhart orchestra Ensemble Modern Orchestra flute Dietmar Wiesner e-guitar Steffen Ahrens oboe Christian Hommel, Tamon Yashima, Antje Thierbach accordion Filip Erakovic piano/keyboard Matthias Stich bassoon Johannes Schwarz, Ronan Whittern French horn Saar Berger, Catherine Eisele, Ona Ramos Tintó, Ya Chu Yang trumpet Nenad Markovic, Stoian Stoianov altviolin Megumi Kasakawa, Paul Beckett, Laura Hovestadt, Benoît Morel, Robin Kirklar, Nefeli Galani trombone Uwe Dierksen, Philippe Stier, Michael Büttler tuba Jozsef Juhasz piano Ueli Wiget, Hermann Kretzschmar violoncello Eva Böcker, Michael Maria Kasper, Imke Frank, Nathan Watts, Charles Watt double bass Paul Cannon, Jakob Krupp, Dominique Chabot, Pierre Decker percussion Rainer Römer, David Haller, Noah Rosen, Sven Pollkötter, Yu-Ling Chiu, Rumi Ogawa project management Kathrin Schulze stage manager Erik Hein, Sebastian Nier, Jens Miska, Holger Pätsch assistant Carina Premer, Riccardo Acciarino, Tina Muffler commissioned by Ensemble Modern, Berliner Festspiele/Musikfest Berlin, Kölner Philharmonie, beuys2021, Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, musica viva / Bayerischer Rundfunk, Wien Modern, Casa da Música