Jacopo Conti
Heiner Goebbels: at the crossing between popular and euro-classical music

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At first glance, Heiner Goebbels’ career can be divided in two parts: the first one is the one he calls ‘his Past in pop music’, with the Sogenanntes Linksradikales Blasorchester, the Goebbels/Harth duo, Cassiber, Duck & Cover and ‘Cassix’ (Cassiber + Stormy Six), and the second part is his solo career, as one of today’s most played living composers in the world, with commissions from some of the most important orchestras and ensembles.

But after a deeper analysis, all of Goebbels’ production seems connected by a fil rouge. It is not unusual that past experiences influence later works in everybody’s life, but in Goebbels’ case, connections are too many to distinguish between his production in popular music and his works as a ‘serious Composer’. Although his later works are usually received as ‘art’ music, his productive methods come from his collaborative experiences with bands.

In his solo career, his role of ‘Composer’ as a central figure is questioned not only by the fact that he usually writes music collaborating with musicians (e.g. in Eislermaterial, Schwarz auf Weiβ), as he did with his previous bands, but also by his use of pre-existing music in his so-called staged concerts (e.g. Eislermaterial, Hashigaraki, Eraritjatitjaka) and his Hörstücke. Goebbels is composer, director, arranger, editor, re-mixer and collaborator (sometimes also improvisator) at the same time: from his point of view, these roles melt – as in Frank Zappa’s case, but with other implications and in another productive system.

Aim of this paper is discussing Goebbels’ creative method both in its collaborative and in its ‘empirical’ (a Chris Cutler’s definition) aspects. Goebbels’ productive methods are those of popular music, but today he moves in the context of contemporary ‘art’ music. His approach to music derives from the opportunity of manipulating (mixing and editing) recorded sound, whether it is written or improvised; in fact, many of his compositions do not have scores, although they are fully ‘written’, and sometimes scores (when available) do not represent what a piece might sound like. His musical sensibility comes directly from methods developed mainly in popular music (he stated several times that playing in rock bands as a teenager and with the Sogenanntes Linksradikales Blasorchester helped him discover the importance of creative collaboration).

If he represents a possible coexistence of popular and euro-classical music – and a case of influence from popular music to euro-classical music, and not vice versa –, it raises many questions about the productive and ideological differences between the two fields and methodologies of research in popular music studies and classical musicology.

Jacopo Conti, « Heiner Goebbels: at the crossing between popular and euro-classical music », Musimédiane, n° 11, 2020 (https://www.musimediane.com/11conti/ – consulté le 22/05/2024).