Eraritjaritjaka and the Intermediality of Heiner Goebbels’Music Theatre by David Roesner from

annamaria monteverdi/ Settembre 12, 2016/ DIGITAL PERFORMANCE

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David Roesner  is Professor for Theatre and Music-Theatre Studies at University of Munich, Kunstwissenschaften, with a research interest in experimental music-theatre and the musicality of theatrical performance. He also investigates the creative potential of music-based videogames.
Musical and theatrical performances normally meet on well-established grounds: genres and conventions come, in most cases, with a clear sense of hierarchy of their artistic means, the chronology of the artistic creation processes, and the kinds of expectations about their form and function. My interest in what we have recently called ‘composed theatre’ [PPT] lies where the well-established grounds are abandoned, where production processes and performances render the clear distinctions between “music” and “theatre” problematical if not obsolete. These works and working processes challenge the assumption that music-theatre and its related formats have to be additive phenomena in their production and analysis. Historically speaking, we consider music-theatre creation as a division of labour, [PPT] a process of ‘sedimentation’ which creates layers of successive aesthetic strata. Consequently, we also consider analysis to be the reverse process – an ‘excavation’, as it were.
Even if in reality all these layers are usually interlinked and blend into each other, they remain clearly distinguishable, comparable and attributable. In contrast, I am interested in forms of music-theatre where those stages (and thus also the participating art forms and media) become much more  difficult to distinguish, where they are not additive but ‘fusional’ phenomena: where authorship is often collective and blurred.


There are some theoretical and methodological considerations that give direction to this focus. The discourse about intermediality [PPT] provides a series of insights and differentiations, that inform my brief analysis of Heiner Goebbels’ Eraritjaritjaka: Christopher Balme, [PPT] for example, describes one particular category of intermediality, which is most relevant in this context, as “the attempt to realize in one medium the aesthetic conventions and habits of seeing and hearing in another medium.” He elaborates: “The key term here is conventionality. This means that media are regarded as a set of historically contingent conventions, which may or may not be predicated on their technical devices.” (Balme 2004, 7). In addition to conventions of seeing and hearing, intermediality can also include the transfer between different habits of meaning-making, as Irina Rajewsky reminds us calling it a [PPT] “process of meaning making of a medial product with reference to the semiotic system of a medium conventionally perceived as distinct within the means of an enabling medium” (Rajewsky 2002: 5)[i].

When thinking of the particular types of cohesion and amalgamation that music, film and theatre undergo in cases of this kind of intermediality, I would like to distinguish between three different types or processes of this cohesion: the first could be described as a kind of picture puzzle [PPT] an image within an image, that you may see or may not, but whose emergence does not prevent you from seeing the whole. The consequent process is the emerging of something (see figure 1, a photograph of snowy tires, from which a dog’s face emerges).

Secondly, music-scenic events may present themselves as [PPT] Reversible ambiguous figures: images, sounds or actions that can seem to be perceived alternately to be one or the other, but never both at the same time.[ii] The central process or movement is the tilting of the eye’s focus (see figure 2, a classic visual pun, in which you can either see an elderly lady or a young woman, but not both at the same time).

A third condition, that music-theatre may find itself in, is the stage of liminality [PPT]: being on a threshold, “betwixt and between” (Turner 1986: 93).[iii] Distinguishing itself from Victor Turner’s theory of liminal phenomena in social rites, liminality in music theatre or film, as I would describe it, may not necessarily be a temporary passage between the two, e.g., between music and theatre as two conventionally identified arts, or media, or dispositions of perception, but it could be a sustained position between them. I would suggest a process of ‘hovering’ as the movement that symbolizes this state.[iv] (Fittingly, in figure 3 M.C. Escher keeps his black and white birds hovering over and out of a tiled ground. In the middle of the picture the birds are in a liminal state: not square fields anymore, not yet black or white birds.)

In looking at Heiner Goebbels’ Eraritjaritjaka (Lausanne 2004) now, I will argue that the different art forms, particularly theatre, music, visual art (décor and lighting) and film relate to each other intermedially in one or more of the ways above: emerging, tilting and hovering. Rather than trying to identify them one by one, I will look at their coexistence and amalgamation within several key moments the production.

[i] “[…] Verfahren der Bedeutungskonstitution eines medialen Produkts durch Bezugnahme auf […] das semiotische System […] eines konventionell distinkt wahrgenommenen Mediums mit den dem kontaktnehmenden Medium eigenen Mitteln“ (all translations in this chapter are mine).

[ii] “Eine Kippfigur zeichnet sich […] dadurch aus, daß sie immer zwei Sichtweisen eines Phänomens oder eines Gegenstandes erlaubt, die jedoch niemals gemeinsam miteinander auftreten können.” (Flaßpöhler; Rausch; Wald 2007: 8).

[iii] See also: Broadhurst, Susan (1999), Liminal Acts. A Critical Overview of Contemporary Performance and Theory. London/New York, Cassell.

[iv] In this sense, music-theatre can be liminal theatre in Susan Broadhurst’s sense; that is experimental, hybrid, marginal, intersemiotic, disquieting, playful etc. (Broadhurst 1999: 1 and 69), but in this chapter I am just using liminal when referring to singular performative events that are situated in an intermedial no-man’s land, which does not necessarily characterize the entire performance as liminal.

[v] From:, accessed 02.07.2006.

[vi] From ground.html, accessed on 02.07.2006.

[vii] From, accessed on 02.07.2006.