Heiner Goebbels: A House of Call. My Imaginary Notebook

Zyklus für Ensemble Modern Orchestra

Even during its very first concert tour in 1998 which marked its founding, the Ensemble Modern Orchestra had programmed an orchestral work by Heiner Goebbels. Now the composer and director is writing a new cycle for the Frankfurt-based ensemble, at the initiative of the Musikfest Berlin and Ensemble Modern and inspired by the Beethoven Year.

›A House of Call. My Imaginary Notebook‹ is a four-part cycle of compositions in which the Ensemble Modern Orchestra will react to voices which Heiner Goebbels has preserved in an imaginary notebook; voices which he encountered during projects, journeys, personal meetings or in archives – some of them by pure coincidence – and which now return with their own sounds and languages, “setting the tone”: dialogues, invocations, prayers, appeals, injunctions, speeches or songs. They are unmistakable, “idiosyncratic” voices, which are now heard – most of them for the first time – on the concert stage. The musicians of the orchestra answer them, individually or collectively, like the choir in a “responsory”: commenting, interrupting, supporting and contradicting.

“a prolonged visit to a house of call” – a line found in James Joyce’s FINNEGAN’S WAKE on page 41, close to the onomatopoeic ‘roaratorio’ which was to provide the name for John Cage’s audio play. An audio play which influenced me profoundly, because amidst a stream of many voices, John Cage reads his way through the 628 pages of the novel, mesostic by mesostic – like a ‘sung writing of the language’. That is how Roland Barthes described the grain of the voice, and this roughness – le grain de la voix – constitutes the shared element of the voices which have found their way into my imaginary notebook. (Heiner Goebbels, 2020)

In many works by Heiner Goebbels, the attraction of absent, acousmatic voices plays an important role; whether in his first single of 1981, ›Berlin Kudamm 12.4.81‹, his ›Chaconne / Kantorloops‹ from ›Surrogate Cities‹ (1994), the performance ›Stifters Dinge‹ (2007), the sound installation ›Genko-An‹ (2008ff.) or in his Hörstücke. In ›A House of Call‹ the voices become the protagonists of an entire concert for the first time.

After its world premiere at Berlin’s Philharmonie as part of the Musikfest Berlin, the work will be performed at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, during the Bavarian Radio’s musica viva series at the Prinzregententheater in Munich, at the festival Wien Modern, Cologne’s Philharmonie and the Tonhalle in Düsseldorf.

Heiner Goebbels: A House of Call (Try out)