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Sven-Åke Johansson & Alexander von Schlippenbach: ... über Ursache und Wirkung der Meinungsverschiedenheiten beim Turmbau zu Babel

catalog no. 933.09
2LP+DVD box set  2023

Co-release with Trost Records (TR238)

order from a-musik

A music drama performed in the Hebbel Theatre Berlin in 1994. Players: Shelley Hirsch (voc), Sven-Åke Johansson (voc, acc), Anne LeBaron (harp), Wolfgang Fuchs (sax, cl), Dietmar Diesner (sax), Tristan Honsinger (clo), Alexander von Schlippenbach (p), Paul Lovens (perc, dr), Regina Baumgart (dance).

Even within the sprawling oeuvres of Sven-Åke Johansson and Alexander von Schlippenbach, both known for their innovative rethinking and broadening of artistic categories, the dramatic work "... über Ursache und Wirkung der Meinungsverschiedenheiten beim Turmbau zu Babel" ("... on cause and effect of the disagreements during the building of the Tower of Babel") remains a unique and rare enigma: What is it actually? Johansson has alternately called it a music drama, an opera, and a singspiel with environment.

All of that is true but doesn't explain much, and retelling the plot wouldn't do the work justice either. The protagonists are moving inside a musical space, composed of not just their instruments but also: a construction wagon, a concrete mixer, bricks, other building material. They are waiting for a master builder who never comes. In the end, "the units of measurement have been changed", complete confusion ensues, building never even commences.

The real action is the waiting, put into practice through music – ostensibly –, rather than becoming an existentialist exercise harking back to the theatre of the absurd. Not only free jazz is being played, also songs. In eight scenes, Shelley Hirsch and Sven-Åke Johansson are singing about the bricks, the timber, the midday heat and the rain, the breakfast (sour milk with orange juice), and so on. Mandrills are being discussed, Shelley Hirsch is telling the story of Broadway Bud, Dietmar Diesner is climbing a pole. All of that is interspersed with improvisations that dancer Regina Baumgart and the players (apart from von Schlippenbach and Diesner, they are Anne LeBaron, Wolfgang Fuchs, Tristan Honsinger and Paul Lovens) throw in seemingly casually – after all, what else is there to do when no construction work is taking place?

In the programme, Johansson describes his observations of construction workers who "spend a good part of their lives – when it rains or snows, while changing clothes and so on – in these so-called construction wagons, usually set up in the immediate vicinity of the construction sites." The drama thus at the core employs an approach very typical of him: observing everyday activities and reinterpreting them artistically. What makes it unique is the combination of art forms: (absurd) theatre, dance, song and free jazz all are equal parts. Never, one of these becomes a simple accompaniment of the other. They alternate and mix, eventually leading to a Babylonian confusion that becomes meaningful in itself. Despite or maybe even because of its uniqueness, this opera is one of Johansson's key works.

"... Über Ursache ..." was performed three times between 1986 and 1994. The audio recording of the premiere at the Stuttgart State Opera was released by FMP as a standard double LP in 1989. The 1994 audio and video recordings from the Hebbel Theatre in Berlin are presented here for the first time, packaged as a lavish box set with two LPs, a DVD, a 16-page booklet with photos and liner notes by Johansson, Konrad Heidkamp and Peter Ablinger, plus 20-page libretto – an edition that this spectacular work has deserved for a long time. Edition of 400.

Side A
Scene 1
Side B
Scenes 2, 3
Side C
Scenes 4, 5
Side D
Scenes 6, 7, 8

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