Commissioned to mark the 20th anniversary of the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie and the 1200th anni-versary of the city of Frankfurt. “Surrogate Cities” is one of German composer and music-theatre innovator Heiner Goebbels’ most far-reaching projects. The work is an examination of the “concrete jungle” in all its complexity, its positive and negative ramifications, its past and present. It is about the dynamic power and the power dynamics of the city. Heiner Goebbels: “Surrogate Cities“ is an attempt to approach the phenomenon of the city from various sides, to tell stories of cities, expose oneself to them, observe them; it is material about metropolises that has accumulated over the course of time. The work was inspired partly by texts, but also by drawings, structures and sounds, the jux-taposition of orchestra and sampler playing a considerable role because of the latter’s ability to store sounds and noises occasionally alien to orchestral sonorities… My intention was not to produce a close-up but to try and read the city as a text and to translate something of its mechanics and archi-tecture into music.
“When it comes to the power dynamics of the city, the individual is always the more vulnerable party. Art rebels against this overpowering structure by strengthening the subjective element. Composers usually justify what they write by saying that they need to get it out of their system. This is only partly true for me. I try to gain a bit more distance: I construct something that confronts the audience, and the audience reacts to it, discovering in the music a space they can enter complete with their associations and ideas.”
The opening “Suite for Sampler and Orchestra” incorporates ambient urban sounds of Berlin, New York, Tokyo, Lyon and St Petersburg, and mixes industrial sounds with baroque quotations, and emotionally engaging cantorial singing from the Jewish tradition.
As ever with Goebbels, literary quotations and text-setting have an important role to play in this music. “The Horatian – Three Songs” features words (adaptations of Livy’s account of the struggle be-tween Rome and Alba ) by the late East German dramatist and fierce social critic Heiner Müller, who was Goebbels’ most frequent artistic collaborator for 15 years. Müller on Goebbels’ work: “With illiteracy on the rise, with books being printed faster than they are written and bought more than they are read, with the theatre increasingly inundating texts with images, robbing them of their subversive quality as it flails blindly to defend itself against television, with reality increasingly being replaced by more or less manipulated or manipulative reproductions of reality, Heiner Goebbels proposes a new form of reading, a different, no longer touristic approach to the landscape of a text.”
“In The Country of Last Things” takes its text from author Paul Auster’s apocalyptic novel which describes a city “in a terminal state of collapse”, where “death has replaced the business of life”. “D & C”, for orchestra, is in part inspired by Franz Kafka’s story “The City Coat of Arms”. (“All the legends and songs that came to birth in that city are filled with longing for a prophesied day when the city would be destroyed by five successive blows from a gigantic fist. It is for that reason too that the city has a closed fist on its coat of arms.”)
And “Surrogate” has words by Hugo Hamilton, the Irish-German writer of Goebbels’ generation who similarly carves a path between high art and popular forms. Indeed “Surrogate Cities” has the curious distinction of being one of the most experimental of Goebbels’ works and also – at least in parts – his most accessible project to date, with sections clearly destined for multi-format radio play. “The Horatian” and “In the Country of Last Things” feature the voice of soul-jazz singer Jocelyn B. Smith, well known for her contributions to the soundtracks of “The Lion King” and “Hotel Shanghai”, and for her hit album “Blue Lights and Nylons”. Free improviser David Moss, whose numerous credits include work with Bill Laswell’s Material and Carla Bley’s revived “Escalator Over The Hill”, is the singer on “Surrogate” and also adds his idiosyncratic vocals to “In the Country of Last Things”
Heiner Goebbels was born in 1952 in Neustadt/Weinstrasse, Germany. He has been based, since 1972, in Frankfurt, writing chamber music, music theatre, audio plays, and theatre-film-ballet music. Goebbels also has a reputation as an improviser in free music and art-rock genres. In 1976 he co-founded the “Sogenanntes Linksradikales Blasorchester”, which he led until 1981, and the duo Hei-ner Goebbels/Alfred Harth, which existed until 1988. Between 1978 and 1980 he was musical direc-tor at the Frankfurt Schauspiel, and in 1982 founded the critically-lauded experimental rock group Cassiber. In the mid-1980s he began composing and directing audio plays of his own, most of them based on texts by Heiner Müller. Since then, Goebbels’ work has been staged in more than 30 coun-tries.
Heiner Goebbels first recorded for ECM in 1980 in an improvisational project with Paul Lovens and others. His compositional albums for ECM and ECM New Series are “Der Mann im Fahrstuhl” (recorded 1988), “Hörstücke” (1984-1990), “Shadow/Landscape with Argonauts” (1990), “La Jalousie / Red Run / Herakles 2 / Befreiung” (1992) and “Ou bien le débarquement désastreux” (1994). Goebbels’ work has won numerous national and international awards, including the Prix Italia, the Prix Futura, the Berliner Hörspielpreis, the Hörspielpreis der Kriegsblinden, the Karl-Sczuka-Hörspielpreis des SWF Baden-Baden, the Goldene Ehrennadel der deutschen Schallplattenkritik, and the Hessischer Kulturpreis.
The democratically-organised Junge Deutsche Philharmonie, made up of the most gifted students from all the German conservatories, is one of the most committed, and sought after, ensembles on the German orchestral scene. The orchestra has worked extensively with Boulez, Stockhausen, Holliger, Lutoslawski, Ozawa, Barenboim, Maazel and many other exceptional composers and/or conductors. Here they are led by Peter Rundel, best known for his work with the Ensemble Modern.
Orchestrations on “Surrogate Cities” are by Goebbels himself and Turkish-German composer Ali N. Askin, who worked closely with Frank Zappa in his final years – on, for example, “The Yellow Shark”.