Stifter's Dinge

Heiner Goebbels

Ambika P3, London
14 April 2008 - 27 April 2008

Five pianos hang stripped and bared above steaming pools of water. Mist settles over a ghostly scene, a living, breathing subterranean world. As the light changes and darkens, water drips and machines tick and then, suddenly, the pianos begin to play themselves, advancing menacingly through fog and rain, through the creaking and crunching of machinery and the strange disembodied voices of William S Burroughs, Malcolm X and Claude Lévi-Strauss.

First shown at the vast underground Ambika P3 Gallery in London in 2008, Stifter’s Dinge by composer and director Heiner Goebbels is an extraordinary installation using weather and nature, mechanical objects, projections and music. Inspired by the work of Adalbert Stifter, a 19th century Austrian writer, poet and painter, celebrated for his rich descriptions of natural landscapes, it is a composition for five pianos with no pianists; a performance without performers. 

In 2012, Stifter’s Dinge returned to Ambika P3 with a revival of the original performance and a new durational version, Stifter’s Dinge: The Unguided Tour. Created especially for the space, The Unguided Tour allowed audiences to freely explore the environment, experiencing the work up close and from multiple viewpoints as a continuously evolving installation.

Also available to view on Vimeo and YouTube.
Image: Stifter's Dinge by Heiner Goebbels at Ambika P3 Gallery, London, 2012. Photograph: Mario del Curto

Video: Interview with Heiner Goebbels and Klaus Grünberg

3 minutes 47 seconds
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Video: Interview With Heiner Goebbels and Klaus Grünberg

It's like a mechanical piano but it's not always playing on the strings like normal, it's a completely different way of playing piano. – Klaus Grünberg

Set designer Klaus Grünberg and composer director Heiner Goebbels talk about Stifter's Dinge during its installation at Ambika P3 for the second time in November 2012.

This video is also available to watch on Vimeo and YouTube.

Produced by O Production.
Image: Audience experience rain during The Unguided Tour of Stifter's Dinge, 3 November 2012. Photograph: Ewa Herzog


Making Stifter's Dinge

Heiner Goebbels on the inspiration for Stifter's Dinge
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Making Stifter's Dinge

by Heiner Goebbels

Stifter’s Dinge is a composition for five pianos with no pianists, a performance without performers, a play with no actors. It is a work which invites an audience into a space filled with sound and vision: an invitation to see and to hear, revolving around an awareness of objects. Objects in a theatre are usually part of the set or serve as props with a largely illustrative function. But here they become protagonists in an interaction of image, light, sounds and voices, wind and mist, water and ice.

As the title suggests, this work is inspired by the books of Adalbert Stifter, an early 19th century Romantic author. Stifter writes with the same eye for detail as an artist paints. If the plots of his stories appears to mark time because of the painstaking (some would say boring) descriptions of the natural world, it is but proof of his respect for such things. These passages force the reader to slow down and become aware of each detail – as if anyone approaching the text must first make their way through the forest. Such details tell their own story, somehow becoming the real characters. People are often just added to, the weave, extraneous and in no way sovereign subjects in the narrative. The contemporary and radical aspects of Stifter’s work show through the deliberate slowing down of time and are of particular significance to today’s reader.

Stifter’s Dinge is inspired by this writing process but in no way seeks to stage Stifter’s stories nor the objects and natural scenes that he described. The performance/installation takes his ouevre as a confrontation with the unknown: with the forces that man cannot master. It is a plea for readiness to adopt judgements other than our own; an opportunity to come to terms with unfamiliar cultural references, particularly in the domain of ecological disasters, which Stifter already envisaged with his usual eye for detail.

Image: The audience look on during Stifter's Dinge by Heiner Goebbels at Ambika P3, London, 2012. Photograph: Mario del Curto

Talk: Stifter's Dinge — Michael Morris in conversation with Heiner Goebbels

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Talk: Stifter's Dinge — Michael Morris in conversation with Heiner Goebbels

In this talk Heiner Goebbels converses with Artangel Co-Director Michael Morris following the performance performance of Stifter's Dinge at P3 on Sunday 20 April, 2008.

You can listen to the talk on Soundcloud

Image: Image: Stifter's Dinge by Heiner Goebbels at Ambika P3 Gallery, London, 2012. Photograph: Nick Cobbing


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...a sculptural installation, a performative composition, a piano piece without pianists, a play without players, a no-man show... – Kate Connolly, The Guardian

Selected Press 

The experimental show has been called many things — a sculptural installation, a performative composition, a piano piece without pianists, a play without players, a no-man show. ... Under the direction of Goebbels, one of the world's leading exponents of contemporary music and theatre, it is the mechanics of the production that become the work's focus. “Normally, theatre mirrors that which we already know,” Goebbels says. “But I think that's boring. For hundreds of years, the actors have been centre stage. But we forget there are other things that also have a meaning.” Kate Connolly, The Guardian, 27 March 2008

 That there are no live performers is important to the effect Goebbels is seeking. You have to approach Stifter's Dinge not as theatre, but as an art work — an installation brought to life by sound and light and special effects borrowed from the theatre and opera. – Richard Dorment, The Daily Telegraph, 16 April 2008

The glory of this richly comprehensive work is that you can understand it in many ways ... The sheer scope of the conception — from the primeval to the futuristic, taking in the pastoral and the industrial — invites a multiplicity of readings. The prodigality of the visual concept (Klaus Grünberg) and the stupefying technological wizardry help make this show something that resonates long after in the mind. – Barry Millington, Evening Standard, 16 April 2008


About Heiner Goebbels

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Heiner Goebbels

Heiner Goebbels has worked with Artangel on two projects, Stifter's Dinge (2008) and Everything that happened and would happen (2018).

Inspired by an eclectic range of influences and sources, composer and director Heiner Goebbels’ fascination with literature, politics and anthropology informs richly textured visual compositions that integrate classical, pop, jazz and traditional indigenous music. Works by Goebbels performed in the UK include Songs of Wars I Have Seen, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 2007; Eraritjaritjaka, Edinburgh International Festival, 2004 and Hashirigaki, Barbican, London, 2002.

Goebbels works as a professor at the Institute for Applied Theatre Studies of the Justus Liebig University in Giessen and is President of the Theatre Academy Hessen, Germany. From 2012 to 2014 he was the artistic director of the International Festival of the Arts Ruhrtriennale.


Image: Paolo Uccello's painting The Hunt, c. 1470 projected on to elements of the installation during a performance, 2008 (left). Photograph: Mario del Curto. Heiner Goebbels speaking at Ambika P3 in 2012 (above). Photograph: Ewa Herzog

Production Credits

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Production Credits

Conception, music and direction: Heiner Goebbels
Set design, light and video: Klaus Grünberg
Musical collaboration/programming: Hubert Machnik
Sound design: Willi Bopp
Assistant and musical supervision: Matthias Mohr

Image: Adjustments being made to Stifter's Dinge installation, 2008. Photograph: Nick Cobbing


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Who made this possible?


Stifters Dinge was originally commissioned in 2008 by Artangel, executive produced by Théâtre Vidy-Lausanne, co-produced by spielzeit'europa, Berliner Festpiele, Grand Théâtre de Luxembourg, schauspielfrankfurt, T&M - Théâtre de Gennevilliers/CDN, Pour-Cent Culturel Migros, with the support of Pro Helvetica for the tour and with support for the London production from the Goethe-Institut and in partnership with Ambika P3, University of Westminster

The Unguided Tour was co-commissioned by Artangel, co-produced by Ruhrtriennale, International Festival of the Arts, executive produced by Théâtre Vidy-Lausanne and presented in partnership with Ambika P3, University of Westminster.

Artangel is generously supported by the private patronage of The Artangel International CircleSpecial AngelsGuardian Angels and The Company of Angels.