Inside a vast disused train station in Manchester, German composer and artist Heiner Goebbels is staging history. Co-commissioned by Artangel, a company that specialises in large-scale work, and 14-18 NOW, Everything That Happened and Would Happen is a mesmeric multimedia piece encompassing more than a century of European warfare and societal shifts.
Music, video, lighting and the movement of a large number of props are coordinated in a meticulously choreographed piece of performance. A team of performers manoeuvre objects around the huge space, creating striking tableaux, winching screens into position and hanging up cut-outs of trees and maps.
A collection of empty pedestals is shuffled around the space, an avalanche of boulders tumbles down from above. The cast builds things and pulls them down again, assembles and dissembles. Things are swept away.
Goebbels’ music is sometimes thunderous and industrial, sometimes fricative and intricate, frequently jarring and strange. In the most playful moment, sheets of bubble wrap are deployed to create a sound like falling rain.
There are sections of narration too. Passages from Patrik Ourednik’s book Europeana, a personal, often wry rattle through European history, are read aloud. In addition to this, the show uses footage from a Euronews TV show called No Comment that consists of video of events from around the world presented without commentary. These will change daily. During this particular performance, the images were of the devastating floods in El Salvador, an anti-Kavanaugh protest in the US and what appeared to be a dog-blessing ceremony in the Philippines.
The lighting is absolutely stunning. It tessellates the floor and turns the entire space, concrete pillars and all, into a slippery Bridget Riley painting that seems to move before our eyes.
There are a number of echoes of Kubrick in the imagery, in the black monoliths that are slowly propelled around the floor and the stunning final image in which smoke clouds the air and the room glows red, as the world is upended. It reminded me of the battle scenes in Full Metal Jacket (set in Vietnam but filmed against the backdrop of London’s Beckton Gasworks), creating the sense of a concrete apocalypse, a hell on earth.
The space itself plays a large role in the power of the piece: this cavernous relic of Manchester’s industrial past, this one-time site of transit, with greenery sprouting through the cracks in the brickwork. In a coda to the production we emerge from the main hall into the night, in the space where there were once railway tracks.
The piece, part concert, part installation, part choreographic exercise, is sometimes impenetrable, sometimes repetitious – though history has a habit of doing that – but it’s deeply experiential, fascinatingly polyphonous and completely hypnotic.