Heiner Goebbels: SHADOW/Landscape With Argonauts (ECM 1480)

Heiner Goebbels
SHADOW/Landscape With Argonauts
with words by Edgar Allan Poe and Heiner Müller

Sussan Deyhim vocals
René Lussier guitar
Charles Hayward drums, tipan, hand-percussion
Christos Govetas clarinet, chumbush, gardon
Heiner Goebbels keyboards, programming, accordion
Recorded September/October 1990 at Outpost Studio, Stoughton, Massachusetts
Engineer: G. B. Hicks
Produced by Heiner Goebbels

In the annals of the written word, there are chambers of suffering and chambers of joy, but in the mind of Edgar Allan Poe those chambers were one and the same. It is this twisted contradiction that Heiner Goebbels wrings out from the sodden towels of the human body’s myriad expectorations in SHADOW/Landscape With Argonauts. Following the same concept as its German radio play counterpart (only this time in English), for which random people on the street were asked to read a text aloud for later studio manipulation, this fully realized project draws even deeper connections between public and private spheres of communication. Because people’s hesitations and misunderstandings remain lucid in the final mix, we can relate immediately to the balance of confrontation and collaboration that ensues. From these initial unscripted stirrings arises the brilliance of Iranian singer and performance artist Sussan Deyhim, whose voice is a periodic touchstone in the work. “Ye who read” is the first of a handful of exquisite songs, glinting like a metal pushpin holding up the tapestry at large. A backgrounded organ trades plectrum musings with fluttering recitations of Poe, treading a Jon Hassell-like carpet of swampy electronics. Sirens of emergency echo in the distance, accompanied by laughter. Public transportation carries us away into the field of indecision that plagues these expressions and the honesty of their disavowal. As impossible as water that burns, it trickles along the throats of fever dreams into vessels shaped like literature. Firecrackers give up themselves in ecstatic pops, marking a year of terror against the celestial auguries of the urban sprawl, each a line on a star map drawn in subway routes. Machines disgorge loose change, grasped by sweaty fingers and thrown into the pockets of the itinerant. Deyhim, ever our internal guide, resolves from a klezmer shadow in “Over some flasks” into messages of many histories. In this environment, happiness is suffocation. And as the sky goes hunting in search of dawn, a distorted hotline breathes its empty promises into the wind. “A dead weight” stencils that rich contralto onto an ululating ocean of ill measure. Acrid squeals echo with the incisiveness of a razor. “No arrival no parking” levels a mocking energy, self-absorbed and self-reflected, spawning the delicate propulsions of “And lo” in a relay of echo and night. A radio dial arches its back toward a faraway jazz session, only to drown in the light of a caravan moon. Shrouded in the smoke of faraway dreams, a clarinet bubbles over into the as-yet-unwritten page.

Fascinating to contemplate are the ways in which Goebbels’s subjects read themselves into the text, as if the sounds of words dictated the constitutions of their bodies, the comportments of their quotidian selves blended into the wing-beats of farewell birds. I can no longer read myself, the music seems to say, so I will let others read in place of me. Anything spoken at the whim of the predetermined will always be at a distance removed.

The rest is poetry.

2 thoughts on “Heiner Goebbels: SHADOW/Landscape With Argonauts (ECM 1480)

  1. Another fine review. Somehow I missed this one totally-quite rare since i’ve been an ECM junkie for decades. Sounds interesting and i’ll have to seek this one out!

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