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Heiner Goebbels: A House of Call / My Imaginary Notebook 
ECM New Series 2728/29 

“Musically, A House of Call takes the full measure of everything Goebbels has ever been involved in.”
     Der Tagesspiegel

A cycle of invocations, prayers, poems and songs for large orchestra, A House of Call incorporates recordings of sounds and voices from all over the world collected by Heiner Goebbels during his travels, research, and chance encounters. The cycle is a response to the history of these recordings and to their complexity, rawness and radiance. In this secular “responsorium”, the orchestra accompanies and supports the voices, answers and challenges them. The voices call, Goebbels says, “either from the past or from my personal environment; idiosyncratic voices, traditional folk material. Rituals. Literature...”

“A House of Call is a magnificent new work,” the Financial Times enthused, reviewing the premiere performance. “Goebbels understands that music is theatre and knows how to construct a taut dramaturgy. He grabs the listeners by the lapels and drags them rapidly through the changing scenery of polyglot poetry and crackling phonograph recordings.”

The work’s title derives from a passage, in James Joyce’s associatively dense Finnegans Wake, about “a prolonged visit to a house of call”. The phrase appears, Goebbels notes, “not far from the onomatopoetic ‘roaratorio’ that was to give John Cage’s radio play its name. A radio play that left a lasting impression on me...” The stream of utterances in Cage’s play finds an echo in A House of Call, where “le grain de la voix” – in Roland Barthes’ famous phrase – links the elements and acknowledges the commonality of the voices that have found their way into Heiner Goebbels’s “imaginary notebook.”

The vocal, literary and musical frame of reference is very broad. The four part A House of Call begins with a response to Pierre Boulez’s Répons, and takes off from there, along the way encompassing references to Cassiber (Goebbels’ art rock band of the 1980s), to German dramatist Heiner Müller, Kazakh singer Amre Kashaubayez, Persian Sufi poet Jalaluddin Rumi, Armenian composer and folk music collector Komitas, Iranian musician Hamidreza Nourbakhsh, and much more. Songs of Georgian prisoners, taped in the First World War, belong to the sonic mosaic, as do songs and poems from Namibia, fragments of an Amazonian ritual, and the resonance of a Berlin building site. Rhymes, laments and incantations figure in the fourth section, “When Words Gone”, which incorporates lines from one of Samuel Beckett’s last works.

All of these components are enveloped in Heiner Goebbels’s writing for the Ensemble Modern Orchestra, and integrated into the music’s sense of flow. This large scale work has been developed, from the outset, in cooperation with the Ensemble Modern and reflects, the composer says, the unique nature of his 35 year collaboration with the orchestra. “I’ve done many projects with them that I could not have done with any other ensemble. There was this great trust from the beginning: they never resisted the risk of doing something new. As I’m not a virtuoso in dealing with large scores, I prefer to react to what I hear, so I can develop a sound that emerges during rehearsals, while working with individual musicians or the ensemble. Having this possibility is incomparable and I have made much use of it.” Heiner Goebbels sums up A House of Call as “a collection of voices from different cultures - inspired of course by working with such an international ensemble. Everyone brings something else to the table here, a different approach, different ways of playing and imagining music.”


Heiner Goebbels, one of the great innovators in the world of theatre, multimedia and performance art, was born in Germany in 1952. He was a member of the art rock group Cassiber from 1982 to 1992, and at the same time was writing music for theatre, film and the ballet. In the mid-1980s he began creating audio plays for radio, several of these, often based on texts by dramatist Heiner Müller, were released as Hörstücke. Müller also supplied the textual inspiration for Goebbels’ Der Mann im Fahrstuhl (The Man in the Elevator), a creative encounter with improvisers including Don Cherry, George Lewis and Arto Lindsay.

Since 1988 Goebbels has composed regularly for the Ensemble Modern, the Ensemble Intercontemporain and other orchestras. In 1994 came Surrogate Cities, a response to the complexity of the modern city, scored for large orchestra and one of the composer’s most far-reaching projects. In 2002, Goebbels premiered his first opera Landschaft mit entfernten Verwandten. In the same year Eislermaterial was released. It is a multi-faceted portrait of – and tribute to – one of Goebbels’ heroes, the 20th-century German composer Hanns Eisler, who set many texts by Brecht.

Stifters Dinge(Stifter’s Things), a “performative installation” without performers, musicians or actors was first presented in Lausanne in 2007; a CD of this extraordinary acoustic creation was subsequently released. The Guardian said of it: “It's a typical Goebbels collage and typically, too, all the elements somehow cohere. Even on disc it's mysterious and compelling.”

Goebbels’ previous ECM New Series recordings with Ensemble Moden include Red Run/Befreiung/La Jalousie, Eislermaterial and Landschaft mit entfernten Verwandten

The Ensemble Modern, founded in 1980, has been based in Frankfurt since 1985 and is long established as one of the world’s leading contemporary music ensembles. In addition to their recordings of Heiner Goebbels’ music, Ensemble Modern’s ECM discography includes Heinz Holliger’s Scardanelli-Zyklus and Helmut Lachenmann’s Schwankungen am Rand.

On A House of Call, the Ensemble Modern Orchestra is insightfully conducted by Vimbayi Kaziboni. Born in 1988 in Zimbabwe, Kaziboni is increasingly hailed as one of his generation’s foremost interpreters of modern and contemporary composition . He has worked closely with numerous composers including Helmut Lachenmann, Steve Reich, John Adams, George Lewis, George Benjamin, Olga Neuwirth and Nicolaus A. Huber.

A co-production of ECM and the Bayerischer Rundfunk, A House of Call was recorded at Munich’s Prinzregententheater in September 2021.

German/English CD booklet includes a composer’s note by Heiner Goebbels.

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For more information about A House of Call and biographical details of its composer and interpreters:

www.heinergoebbels.com     www.ensemble-modern.com     www.vimbayikaziboni.com

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