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Sounds, tones, noises, voices and texts converge in one of Heiner Goebbels’ most remarkable acoustic creations. Is it a composition, environment, installation or sound sculpture on the grand scale? Its creator once described it as a composition for five pianos with no pianists, a play with no actors, a performance without performers, “one might say a no-man show.” Yet it is alive and teeming with sound sources – ranging from Bach to chants of natives of New Guinea to Greek folk song, and overlapping voices of, amongst many others, Claude Lévi-Strauss, William Burroughs and Malcolm X. The work was inspired by the work of 19th century Austrian Romantic writer Adalbert Stifter (1805-1868), who meticulously documented the signs and sounds of nature. As so often with Goebbels, the work opens itself to multiple possible interpretations as it draws the listener in.

In the liner notes to the present CD, Wolfgang Sandner observes, “‘Stifters Dinge’ is the work of an extraordinary human imagination … Simply by listening one can move around the work and experience it from all sides, as if it were a sculpture by Michelangelo or Rodin. Is there such a thing as three-dimensional music? Could there be? If so, ‘Stifters Dinge’ would belong in this utopian category.”

This work of technological intricacy, which Goebbels first unveiled at the Théatre Vidy in Lausanne in September 2007 has at its centre five grand pianos, nested together and placed on end, provided with equipment to produce sounds from the interior and exterior of the instruments or to reproduce whole pieces in the manner of player-pianos. This piano sculpture was presented as a construction on rails in a diffusely lit space … “Five pianos, mounted like a wall, move with menacing slowness over pools of water. The digitally controlled keyboards play individually (Bach’s slow Italian concerto is heard at one point) but finally join together in a manic toccata at the climax, before receding … Totally mesmerizing” (Andrew Clements in the Guardian).

Around the world, critics have frequently used the word ‘magical’ when describing the cumulative effect of the “Stifters Dinge” installation, which has been presented in locations from London to New York to Melbourne – with more than 250 showings to date – and the magic clearly survives the transition to the audio edition.

From the liner notes: “Urgently present, and immediately captivating, percussive sounds and noises appear that one can neither interpret nor connect together. Only a pulse in the background of the noises suggests something human, as if this were time escaping, as if we were being relentlessly reminded that every moment is precious, passing so fleetingly. At the same time there is a growing sense of danger lurking somewhere. Some sounds one vaguely associates with the piano, sounds that once, in the time of the old avant-garde, would have been described as ‘denatured’, for not complying with the instrument’s familiar tones … Quietly, after this, mysterious voices come creeping in, as if whispered by the icy wind from whatever corner of the forest. Motor-like noises, perhaps from foresters using electric saws, mix with sounds of unnameable origin. The pulse becomes faster, more dynamic … ‘Stifters Dinge’ is also an astounding work on the dramatic level. The bewildering diversity of sounds, tones and noises, at first seeming rather diffuse, gradually becomes an ever more irresistible, tightening undertow, as if we were unexpectedly taken out of a hammering big city into a motorboat going up a dark river in Papua New Guinea, past impenetrable jungles with their dense, exotic soundscapes, including the curious chants of invisible indigenous people holding their tribal rituals somewhere in the undergrowth …”

“Stifter’s Dinge” won the Grand Prix Mira Trailovic at the Bitef Festival in Belgrade in 2008.

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