Posts Tagged ‘City Slang’
“It’s always a wonderful and fun process to create new music where you actually find yourself unfolding something new and I think that for me is always inspiring and refreshing.”
Words: Mark Carry
A wealth of magic emanates from the scintillating piano works of Germany’s Volker Bertelmann. Under the guise of Hauschka, the gifted composer has released his most ambitious, radical and enthralling works thus far. ‘What If’ feels like a culmination where the dynamics of Hauschka’s incendiary live performances – particularly post-‘Abandoned City’ with his shows often built around one single, three-dimensional long piece that continually weaves in and out, unfolding into an infinite array of possibilities – becomes etched across the record’s deeply fulfilling journey.
I recall fondly an interview with The Necks’ pianist Chris Abrahams and some of his words echoes powerfully throughout ‘What If’s otherworldly sound-world: “Sometimes, through the combination of a strange instrument and weird acoustics, I have heard the piano speak words.” As the fragile piano melodies of ‘My Kids Live On Mars’ morph into reverb-laden tones amidst deep bass techno flourishes, the piano speaks words so absolute and true. It feels as if Bertelmann’s piano-based odysseys are navigating the deepest parts of our inner selves, a cosmic exploration of immense magnitude.
A circularity resides in these nine sublime texturally rich compositions where certain piano motifs (the rhythmic pulses of the player pianos masterfully employed in several places, for instance) and far-reaching, dense textures (deep techno bass and analogue synthesizers depicting a dystopian universe) circulate the divine minimalism of Hauschka’s singular soundscapes. The record’s penultimate track ‘Trees Only Exist In Books’ transports you to another realm with the suite of synthesizers and piano patterns forming an ethereal bliss of faded dreams. This piece somehow feels inter-connected to Mica Levi’s ‘Under The Skin’ score, such is the intoxicatingly bewitching sounds that are masterfully sculpted.
‘What If’ is the sound of a producer as much as a pianist. Hauschka’s piano-based tracks of earlier works still remain, albeit as sacred artifacts buried beneath a sea of beautiful noise and electronic elements. New patterns and shapes are forged at every turn, sharing parallels with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s Black Ark studio of miraculous sound creation and immaculate hip-hop production. ‘What If’ asks for reflection of the deepest kind.
‘What If’ is out today on City Slang (Europe) and Temporary Residence Ltd. (USA).
Interview with Volker Bertelmann (Hauschka).
From your live shows, you have focused more so on creating one long piece – and obviously that’s something you’ve been developing a lot since ‘Abandoned City’ – how the different ideas and motifs from these performances must go into the new album’s recordings?
Volker Bertelmann: I actually recorded a lot of the music in Berlin with Francesco Donadello and we were setting up the studio like in the way I am doing a concert so we had the two pianos. So, I was performing in the way I was performing live and that was the foundation for at least six tracks of the album and the other three tracks were tracks with player pianos.
The player piano is something new for you, is it?
VB: I have played it at the Brighton festival two years ago and I also played a release show of the ‘Abandoned City’ album in Berlin. I’ve wanted to find a way of playing multi-track things with an acoustic instrument. So I figured out it would be nice to have two pianos to be my band and that was the first thought of it and then I felt very good about preparing one piano as a drum kit and preparing the other piano differently so I was very happy about that.
It feels as if the record goes further and deeper than even the previous releases and particularly the electronic element is very important and where all the many elements come together so well?
VB: Yeah I agree totally. It was challenging because when you work with the player pianos, you have your hands free to actually prepare the pianos with all sorts of stuff while the piano is playing. It was very interesting to work with. I really feel attracted to the precision when working with the player piano because you cannot force create a very electronic and precise score using the prepared piano and that’s very nice.
Did the more analogue equipment like the synthesizers you’re using, would these have been the same equipment used on tour and on previous releases?
VB: No, actually this time I’ve used different equipment. I mean I was always a synthesizer man already when I was young and I collected a lot of synthesizers but I had the feeling on previous records that I didn’t want to use them. I’m not a big fan of this Jean-Michel Jarre kind of repetitive sequence for using the synthesizer in a particular way. So, I was using an old Roland Jupiter 4 synthesizer and using a Minimoog , which is one of my favourite ever synthesizers and that’s mainly it.
I think the pinnacle of the record for me comes on the penultimate – and longest track – ‘Trees Only Exist In Books’ it feels like these mesmerising strings arrive in halfway through , it really sums up how far-reaching the entire album is.
VB: I was thinking as well about my hip-hop times because there is also a lot of songs that have a little lower tempo but they’re still clubby in a way and there’s some neatness to them. And they’re at the same time not only house or techno tempo but they’re a little bit more in the middle like 100 BPM or 90. I felt like some of the tracks would be nice to get into that channel again – when I was twenty to twenty-five – where I was listening mainly to hip-hop artists and I’m always a big fan of that. Some of the tracks are a little bit oriented on that time as well.
Listening to ‘What If’ you can really hear the sound of a producer as much so as a pianist. For instance, the production of ‘Familiar Things Disappear’ with the transforming sounds throughout.
VB: Yeah totally, I mean it’s something that I’ve always done. I think it was never a part of my previous records because I mainly just played one track and that was it or a little laptop overdubs. But I have the feeling that I want to go more into a direction where I can go more extreme and I felt like this is maybe the way to go.
The album – just like all your previous records – there’s always very much a narrative or a particular chapter with a beginning, middle and end and the pieces on ‘What If’ certainly all feel closely connected with each other.
VB: This time I recorded twenty tracks with this kind of style and at the same time I was recording more piano pieces that I haven’t released yet, about forty that have nothing prepared and no electronics, just one take with me and the grand piano. I have the feeling that I have to switch between my work having all these sounds and my work that has the clearness of the piano; I love both of them so I’m trying to switch between those two styles.
Throughout ‘What If’, there’s like a series of contrasts and wide range of sounds and I love how ‘I Can’t Express My Deep Love’ fits so nicely in the middle, the more bare piano compared to the rest.
VB: This one song ‘I Can’t Express My Deep Love’ is actually from one of those takes that were pure piano recordings and I used this specific track on that album in the middle because I wanted to cut the tracks a little bit in half. This is the only piece that does not belong to the session I did altogether – this was a completely different session – from that session I have many more but I want to focus right now on the more textural and more electronic and darker side of the music. At the same time, I’m doing a lot of film scores, there’s a lot of music out from my workflow that is very melodic and beautiful and so I felt my own music wanted to be a bit more edgy.
A track that just turned out amazingly is ‘My Kids Live On Mars’ and how there’s this fragile piano and that deep bass sound that floats in the mix.
VB: I really tried to find the balance between my melodic and my rhythm sides but at the same time I also feel like maybe the pieces are not only getting more diverse but they’re a little bit more like a composition, for example more pattern oriented music, which maybe in the beginning it was much more repetitive and I slowly feel like I can give the music more the sense of a journey and let it feel more like a composition that goes in and out and that has more different themes involved.
It brings you to your live shows as well, especially after ‘Abandoned City’ where some of the shows had this feeling like it’s this blank canvas and you start at one point and you don’t know where you’re going to go from that point on.
VB: Yeah absolutely, that’s what my intention was to actually connect those two worlds with each other.
VB: I remember how you mentioned before how much an inspiration Nicolas Jaar was for you and it’s actually his first album ‘Space Is Only Noise’ that shares that atmosphere and dimension when revisiting your new album.
VB: Totally, I think above inspiration, music that you listen to where maybe a part of your world is incorporated where you feel like this is something that where the mixture is different from where you normally would mix everything up. But I think especially with Nicolas Jaar’s way of combining real instruments with a DJ approach is very nice and I have a feeling there are elements in there that I would say a musician would do differently in a way when you just come from the instrumentalist point of view. And I really like how he’s dealing with samples and how he’s like weaving it into each other, I really love that.
In terms of your own studio – you mentioned how one part was made in your own studio and also in Francesco Donadello’s studio– is this set up where you create most of your work in general?
VB: Francesco works a lot with Johann Johannsson and Dustin O’ Halloran and he mainly mixes a lot of their albums. He went on a couple of tours with me, doing my sound and I know him from back in the early days when he was in the band Giardini di Mirò. He also mixed the album and he had a different view on my music, which helped as well because I wanted to find somebody that I feel very close with in a way but at the same time I wanted a viewpoint of looking into the mix and finding maybe weaknesses or strengths. In his studio [Vox-ton] they have a Steinway D grand piano and I was very inspired by that piano so I think I will get one pretty soon. But at that time when I recorded the album, I had no grand piano and I wanted to have this full-bodied sound. All the albums beforehand were made with an upright.
And once the mixing stage is completed then, is it a case of doing overdubs and other final tweaking by yourself?
VB: Yeah, I mean mostly I’m trying to go in different places. In previous albums I was mostly recording the albums in my studio so the whole workflow was already clear, I just started it and recorded something and then I finished it in a way. With my workflow this time, it was forcing me into a different field, make an appointment and just go in by yourself and start recording as much material as possible and then go back with that material to my studio and mix that with stuff I already had. There were a lot of tracks of mine that were very, very rich in how I worked with them because there was already an option of live recordings and rich textures that I had collected.
So, this time I said I’m working much more like in the live situation as you mentioned but in a very good surrounding with great microphones and all sort of stuff. So, I am very pleased that it turned out so well especially as I was doing two films at the same time, back to back. And I was not sure I would be able to do it but I’m very happy in the way – like the flip-side in what I was doing with the moog in a way.
In the moment that you have laid down all your tracks – and you know there’s obviously a pool or a well of material to choose from – I wonder is that a fun process or is it challenging to select the right parts, considering the wealth of material that has gathered?
VB: I mean you know yourself, you have for example the opportunity to find out when you work best and a lot of times I have the feeling that I need some pressure when I’m working best and not pressure that is stressful but it’s more like I’d rather wait longer to the point where now I have to start otherwise it’s taking too long. So, that’s how I work and so a lot of times I’m trying to force myself into the situation where I have to move. It’s always a wonderful and fun process to create new music where you actually find yourself unfolding something new and I think that for me is always inspiring and refreshing. I’ve never failed so far making a record and having the feeling like it’s painful or I won’t get this done, so far I’ve been lucky [laughs].
I must congratulate you on the ‘Lion’ score you did with Dustin O’ Halloran and the many nominations you received for this music. Like you said about Francesco Donadello, it must have been a real pleasure to create music together with Dustin?
VB: I mean he’s the most humble, non-egotistic person in the world and that makes it totally nice to work with somebody who you can actually work on the creative side but you never have to battle the human element. But you know with musicians it’s not always easy because musicians of course want to express themselves and they want to be seen in the right way and at the same time when you have to make a movie it’s also a service and it’s also collaboration with the director who has certain ideas. So you have to decide what’s best for the film rather than for your own artistic expression. And finding that balance was so easy with Dustin and we are already long-time good friends so that was a pleasure to experience this whole journey with him.
As you mentioned previously, you obviously had a big starting point with hip-hop and a love for rap music, I’m curious to know would there be defining artists and records for you from this world of hip-hop that was very important for you?
VB: I was always a big fan of Timbaland as a producer and I love his way of approaching rhythms. I was a fan of N.E.R.D and all their records, it had the minimalism, which was the most interesting thing for me: how they work with beats and so I would say these two. And also, of course all the work that Timbaland did with all the collaborators. There’s also one collaboration with 2Pac and Dr Dre that I really love. This kind of hip-hop production for me was very inspiring I have to say.
With your tour coming up, it must be exciting to have this new music that’s so fresh, it must make the experience of the live show different and new again for you?
VB: Totally. I’m trying to prepare right now. Touring and finding the right sounds and the right lights and I am working again with Michael Buchholz who is doing the sound and we’re travelling with a light guy. But you know what I don’t want to do is like I’m not going towards the stadium show – I’m not a big fan of that – I rather smaller and more intimate spaces, I have to feel the audience, so that’s what I’m aiming for on this tour.
‘What If’ is out today on City Slang (Europe) and Temporary Residence Ltd. (USA).
Interview with Volker Bertelmann (Hauschka).
“I’m drifting big time—I’m drifting away a lot of times while I am performing.”
Words: Mark Carry
A wealth of magic emanates from the scintillating piano works of Germany’s Volker Bertelmann. Under the guise of Hauschka, the gifted composer has carved out a string of phenomenal neo-classical masterpieces from spontaneous improvisations (‘The Prepared Piano’); ‘Ferendorf’’s ode to his childhood home in Germany (which features intricate arrangements of strings and brass); the ‘acoustic techno’ of ‘Salon des Amateurs’ and ‘Silfra’’s gorgeous collaborative effort with violinist Hilary Hahn and 2014’s career milestone of ‘Abandoned City’, revealing the artist’s crowning jewel thus far.
2015 saw more indispensable Hauschka-related releases – and a continuation of the ‘Abandoned City’ story – in the form of ‘A NDO C Y’ (featuring gorgeous outtakes from the ‘Abandoned City’ sessions and sublime remixes courtesy of Devendra Banhart and Eluvium) and the (vinyl-only) live record ‘2.11.14’ comprising of two exploratory 20-minute improvisations built on themes from ‘Abandoned City’. This captivating and otherworldly stream of consciousness emitted from Bertelmann’s singular creations (and particularly displayed on the revelatory experience of the aforementioned live record from the small Japanese village of Yufuin) brings to mind the collected writings of American composer Morton Feldman [‘Give My Regards to Eighth Street’]. A similar sentiment can be shared with Feldman’s description of Varese’s music and the 21st century modern composer:
“He alone has given us this elegance, this physical reality, this impression that the music is writing about mankind rather than being composed.”
Interview with Volker Bertelmann (Hauschka).
I absolutely love the two-track improvisation vinyl release you did more recently. I love the fact you can feel the remnants of ‘Abandoned City’ but you are going further and deeper where there is more freedom and space within the music.
Volker Bertelmann: I was trying to get things a little bit looser because while I was performing a lot of shows with the ‘Abandoned City’ album, I realized that I did not always want to repeat the same program. I was thinking rather of creating this atmosphere every time a little bit different and so I did and that in a way was quite a random coincidence. We were recording the concert; it was not planned at all so we were just pressing record on the mixing desk. Then we found out it sounded very nice and in a way it fits very nicely with the live record and the last vinyl ‘A NDO C Y’ where we had extra takes and we said we wanted to release them, and as well the remixes. I felt that it was quite a complete picture of a period that I was working in.
I love too how reading your liner notes it’s beautiful how it’s all this sense of happenstance and spontaneous—the place itself – Yufuin, Japan – sounds really lovely.
VB: In a way it’s a very nice fact that when your career is growing – mostly you grow and grow and grow and you go into bigger venues and then suddenly you’re at the biggest venues where you hardly have no time and a lot of things are going on auto-pilot. What I like about a lot of parts of my career is that I have things that are growing but at the same time I have the chance of working on projects that are quite low-scale, in terms of going into remote villages and playing there or I play in special, small places like in libraries or small Buddhist temples which I really like. It’s not straight away swamped by fans [laughs]. It’s very nice that I can go there and there is a delicate atmosphere but it’s not empty. In this quite remote village [Yufuin] there were quite a lot of people coming from other cities outside so it was a nice setting in this museum kind of building.
As you say Volker it was spontaneous but I wonder on some level was the music in some kind of way a result of your surroundings?
VB: Oh absolutely. Mostly, even when you prepare a set or when you have a steady program for every evening you are always influenced by your day. So you arrive at some point at the venue or at the place where you are staying or sometimes you are early so you can stay at the hotel or you can hang out. Sometimes you are pretty late so everything is in a kind of rush. And then you don’t know the circumstances of the venues—sometimes they are great and sometimes not so great. In a way, there are a lot of things that are piling up. And what is nice is actually it doesn’t matter how the day was, somehow the performance that you have is a mirror of your day and I think that is very lovely because for the people who are coming you present them what you are experiencing over the day that’s actually inside of your music. And maybe when you are improvising and you have an open concept of performance it’s much deeper in this concept rather than having this solid set-up where you know the light is switched on at this song—you have an automated drama in a concert [laughs]. In my case that’s a little bit more an influence of the day.
I suppose with the act of travel and seeing places there is a nice parallel where the music is accompanying that or vice versa?
VB: Yes, exactly. In a way I also like the idea that the music that I play is part of the day and not the only part of the day that is important. I think that when I am travelling somewhere of course I spend most of the time on the road or on the train: looking at things, I’m seeing things, laughing at people; there is a lot of interaction happening. Then in the evening –just this one-and-a-half hour – is this concentrated output that you have, maybe absorbing the day’s experience. But I think this one-and-a-half-hour period is important but it’s not the only thing that matters. All the rest in a way is on the same level.
On Part I of the improvised music contained on the live record ‘2.11.14’, there is a beautiful, gradual rise in the piece – a quite mournful piano line – which comes back again during the twenty-five minutes. You can hear elements of ‘Abandoned City’ but I love all the textures and detail that develops over time.
VB: That’s very interesting that you mention that because it’s in a way the purpose that when I find an area it feels right and I want to create something that is attached to the album and bring in a theme or an element of that and of course I am expanding that. I have a couple of recordings of concerts where I played for example ‘Craco’ which is actually the piece which is appearing on the live record in the area where you mention – there is the melody theme of ‘Craco’ which is coming in – and this melody sometimes I play this piece so slow—it’s like it’s stretched into a drone and you hear the melody very slowly. And I like that remix aspect that I’m remixing actually live – not with DJ tables – I’m bringing in elements but while I’m playing them I’m taking them apart using just sound snippets.
That’s another thing Volker, I can imagine the influence of electronic music is something you can really hear even though funnily enough most of the sounds are not of electronic origin whatsoever but you can hear that whole world of electronic and dance music in more recent Hauschka records.
VB: My purpose is to get away from the cheesy piano music and that was in a way the purpose in the beginning of my time when I started piano in the age of 9. But at 14 I was already in the area where I was much more attracted to bands and to music where you can have a lot more different sounds like I was working with synthesizers. At that time, I played of course a lot of piano but the piano is a very difficult instrument because there are so many clichés and when you start playing it and play a few chords, you already have an association with something that was already happening at some point. So it is very difficult to use the instrument in a way that it feels right and also sometimes that it feels edgy and maybe new. So I really tried in the last couple of albums, after going through albums that were very melancholic and melodic and beautiful. Even in the ‘Abandoned City’ record I had a small record that was called ‘I Close My Eyes’ that was completely piano pieces without any preparation and has very little, delicate piano pieces. But I wanted to get away from the normal use of the piano and how you normally approach piano for myself, just to be happy with the instrument and not like getting into an area where people are wanting me to play the romantic piano music they can dream [laughs]. But I think there is still an element of this dreaminess. I know that a lot of people who are coming to my shows and who are writing to me after the concerts, they say a lot of times that they totally lost time and drifted away from their everyday life and to get somewhere else. That for example is something that I really love but I also want to challenge myself and them as well in the way they get refreshed so that they don’t get every time the same kind of package.
Well I’m sure that must happen for you as well when you are playing especially as you say when some of these tracks are so long there must be a great sense of freedom when you are literally at your piano doing something spontaneous but it can last so long.
VB: Yeah absolutely, I mean that helps me. I’m drifting big time—I’m drifting away a lot of times while I am performing. That is for me a very nice working environment because I am always quite fresh and I’m uplifted every time I am performing and that helps me so much in a lot of ways because I can then decide every evening if I want to keep it short; every day you have a different mood and you can’t actually avoid that. And I don’t think that professionality and offering people in our day’s music has to be like in real time because you don’t get so much real time events anymore: a lot of things are planned and things are already predictable and people know already what’s coming up. So I think it’s very nice when they can participate on an evening where they maybe are surprised or touched or where they think I’ve never expected that this would happen, which doesn’t have to be the purpose every evening—I’m not in a circus you know [laughs]. But it’s much more the idea of bringing a real time life into the space where I am performing.
The surprising thing with ‘Abandoned City’ was how you had the music first and then you came across the whole concept of the photos of these abandoned cities and then putting that to music. I wonder even since performing the music live and all these exceptional releases, it must be giving you a new perspective when you are composing the music with these themes in your mind?
VB: That’s totally true. I think that sometimes it is of course very interesting to do things one-to-one: so if you want to write a love song—you write a love song and sing about love and people in the audience are hugging each other and they know this is the song they want to hear when they are in love. So that is all one-to-one but I think for me personally that doesn’t work. I feel love when I have the space for it so when I can actually decide if I want to be in love or not. It’s the same with music– if you give people the offer that they can come with you they don’t have to, they can stay somewhere else and just maybe slowly come with you or they leave because they are not with you or they come along with you. And it’s the same as with writing about abandoned places, I was thinking about the idea of abandoned places but not in the way that I was thinking that I have to go there by sitting in an abandoned place and play exactly the architecture of a place where I am sitting in. I like much more the idea of putting myself into the situation—my mind into the situation and imagining that I am in an abandoned place. I think that that is very nice because that creates a whole bigger part in your brain where you can actually stay for a long time.
I love how Side B of the ‘A NDO C Y’ record has those remixes from Devendra Banhart and Eluvium. It must be very special for you, the composer to hear someone’s remix or re-interpretation of your own work it must be very interesting to hear how something is interpreted?
VB: It’s always an awesome part of it actually. I have done that already a lot of times so to speak. The first remix CD that I have done was on my record ‘The Prepared Piano’, I was asking people to do vocal tracks of my versions so I ask singer-songwriters if they could work with the prepared piano pieces. Then I did another remix album to the ‘Salon Des Amateurs’ record where I gave away all the music and they could work on that. And to be quite honest what is very nice about this is it has different purposes: one the fact that your music suddenly appears as a sound source for other ideas so I like actually the levelling that I feel my idea that was maybe the biggest idea in the world for that moment where I created it is actually shrinking to a sound pool for someone else’s ideas. I like that because it put things into perspective and you don’t get too much attached to what you have done—you can pass it on and people can continue them. On the other side it also shows you a lot of different ways of working with your own music which helps me as well to find pleasure in other works. Everyone has their own way of dealing with rhythm and stuff like that and I am so excited about how people are working with that. And so these two remixes are in a way following a tradition that I want to continue forever because I think obviously that means sometimes that you have to find musicians that have the time to do something like that because a lot of times it is not very well paid—a lot of times it’s something that you do because you have a lot of spare time and you want to work with someone’s music. And I am doing the same– I am remixing stuff for many people.
When you are remixing other people’s work, it must be a very exciting process because it’s completely the other way around?
VB: Yes, absolutely, which is for me as well a very, very nice way of working like starting with my work, for example getting stuff from Devendra Banhart when I did a remix for him, it was so great because I could actually work on a vocal track and find ways of dealing with his music and that is so nice to get to work on something like that and I really love that.
I must ask about ‘The Boy’ soundtrack which has been another wonderful project of yours of recent times. In terms of the process, it must involve with dealing with much more specific detail?
VB: Mostly all of the musicians that I know that are in the field where I am existing like Jóhann Jóhannsson, Dustin O’ Halloran, Max Richter – all of these guys that I really like – they and I know each other very well and we meet each other every now and then. I think we all are working on a lot of different projects by working with soundtracks, working with dance pieces and doing all sorts of different work in collaboration. What is very nice about that is in a way the work is for everyone quite the same because you have to deal with the imagination of someone else and you have to find a way of giving him/her of not only being this service person you know because of course there is a service involved – somebody is doing a film and they want to have your music and he also has an imagination of where the music can fit – and in the ideal case someone says your music is actually my imagination so please go ahead and do what you like. In the case of ‘The Boy’, I felt Craig MacNeill, the director was so strongly convinced of my music and that he wanted to have me scoring the film that I was so happy about that and I was really thrilled by that. So I did a lot of work and I didn’t have to re-work too much because in a way it was all quite clear because he really likes what I am doing. And then we had a couple of music exchanges where he was saying “I think this could be a little bit thinner or it could have a little less of this bass” and then we were fine. I liked that a lot because it also gives me the perspective—the eyes of someone else looking onto my music which is awesome.
I remember the last time we spoke you mentioned about the MDR Symphonic Orchestra in Leipzig. I wonder how has that been going, it must have been another very interesting project?
VB: Now I am so happy that I have done it because I wrote so many pieces for the MDR and we had many premieres, all the things are recorded and now I am looking to maybe release it. I mean there is so much material and I gained so much experience with working with an orchestra and just continuing in all sorts of other ways—I am working with other classical ensembles, I try to find a way of expressing myself on that level as well, which is I think a big challenge. But I like it so much that this is possible and of course the music is completely different because the music is not working with electronic elements, it’s working with more classical instruments and I am trying to translate my music into a classical setting. I think I learned a lot and I was very happy for example that the last concert was filmed by The Boiler Room and it was being shown in the electronic music world and I liked that it was getting some really nice feedback.
What’s next for you, Volker? As you say there’s probably a few things on the go at the same time?
VB: I am working on a dance piece right now so I wrote the music for that which is also using somehow sound recordings from ‘The Boy’ because they were very fascinated by this dark inhaling sound on the score so I integrated some string players. I have two more films coming up, one is a Brazilian documentary and the other which is dealing with some refugee lives which is quite an actual theme at the moment but I think they were already creating one-and-a-half years ago. At the same time I am working on music for string players because next year  I have some premieres with a string quartet like commissioned work where I am writing a cello concert, things that are really challenging in a way but I am very happy that I maybe can have a year that I am only committing my work to writing music for others and just keeping my own music a little bit in the background, which always means that I am working and writing new material but I’m not forcing it to get the next album already going. But I have many, many things in my hands that I want to do so that’s what at the moment is in the air.
I wonder have you been listening to any records of late?
VB: I was listening to the record of Nicolas Jaar which I really like. Well I like his music a lot and I think he is one of the guys coming from the DJ world who are doing great music. Besides that, I am mainly listening to music from festivals because I was invited recently to play festivals and I stayed and listened to bands that I saw. I was really fascinated by the concert of the band Little Dragon, I really love them and they were awesome—it is wonderful music and I really like them. I have many, many unwrapped records where I have hardly no time to unwrap them and give them a listen because the records are coming in faster than I can absorb.
Lastly Volker, I wonder were there defining records for you when you were younger – before you ever started your solo music path – that really blew you away that you think were huge for you when you were younger?
VB: When I was younger I was in a completely different zone. First there was a lot of synthesizer music at that time when I was fourteen—I was listening to The Alan Parsons Project and all this music that was full of synthesizers, I was interested in Kraftwerk and music that was really pure. In a way, also electronic music at that time but at the same time when I was getting into my first band I was into hip hop music, I was very inspired by music that was – you the whole crossover of music at that time like Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Nirvana and all these bands for me were a very heavy influence. I was really listening to that music a lot and I felt it was very new music for me because it was combining very groovy, solid rhythm section with an interesting way of rapping and singing as well and I liked that a lot. At the same time, I was listening to bands like Arrested Development or Public Enemy, Cypress Hill, a lot of hip hop. And then this disappeared in a way because I was done with music that had form and hip potential and then I went into abstract electronic music, I was a big fan of Oval and Mouse On Mars. Mouse On Mars were actually a band from Dusseldorf so I was going to their studio every now and then and I was feeling attracted to what they were doing. So that helped me as well to be around them or to be in the area, it helped me to get closer to what I wanted and so in a way this was music that was influencing me a lot and then I slowly got into my solo music.
For the latest news, projects and releases from Hauschka, please visit:
We’re delighted to present the first in a new series of monthly mixes made for Paris-based music website La Blogothèque. Over the last six years, La Blogothèque has been a source of much inspiration, not least in how they showcase (and share) their true passion for music. While each mix will be published on La Blogothèque’s website, we will also post the mixes on our own Mixcloud Page. While we had made the decision to stop Fractured Air last November, the opportunity that presented itself with contributing for La Blogothèque gave us reason to resume – in the capacity of contributing mixes – for the coming months. We hope you enjoy them.
Fractured Air x Blogothèque – S1E1| January mix
To Read/listen on La Blogothèque:
01. fLako ‘The Opening / Purple Trees’ [Five Easy Pieces]
02. Ennio Morricone ‘La Musica Prima del Massacro’ [The Hateful Eight OST, Decca/Third Man]
03. Mogwai ‘Hungry Face’ [Les Revenants OST, Rock Action]
04. David Bowie ‘Warszawa’ [RCA Victor]
05. Eduard Artemiev ‘Listen to Bach (The Earth)’ [Solaris OST, Superior Viaduct]
06. Brian Eno ‘Some of Them Are Old’ [Island]
07. Lucrecia Dalt ‘FLOTO’ [Care Of Editions]
08. WRY MYRRH ‘TWO’ [Soundcloud]
09. Nicolas Jaar ‘Fight’ [R&S]
10. Mick Jenkins ‘Alchemy’ [Cinematic Music Group]
11. Four Tet ‘Evening Side’ (excerpt) [Text]
12. Rocketnumbernine ‘Two Ways’ [Border Community]
13. Animal Collective ‘FloriDada’ [Domino]
14. Tortoise ‘Gesceap’ [Thrill Jockey]
15. The Space Lady ‘Major Tom’ [NightSchool]
16. Molly Nilsson ‘Tomorrow’ [Dark Skies Association, NightSchool]
17. Charlie Cocksedge ‘Corrour’ (excerpt) [Soundcloud]
18. Linda Scott ‘I’ve Told Every Little Star’ [Mulholland Drive OST, Milan]
19. Jonny Greenwood ‘The Golden Fang’ [Inherent Vice OST, Nonesuch]
20. Scott Walker ‘Duchess’ [Philips]
21. Tindersticks ‘Hey Lucinda’ [City Slang, Lucky Dog Recordings]
Compiled by Fractured Air, January 2016. The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or record labels. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.
Interview with Joey Burns & John Convertino (Calexico).
“So much of what we do comes from tone and timbre, what the sound waves are doing that day in the room with the moisture or lack of. How high is the ceiling? The wood in the walls or the adobe, the thickness of the strings, the loudness of the amps, they all come together when the silence is broken the tide comes in.”
— John Convertino
Words: Mark Carry
The arrival of a new Calexico record is always a cause of celebration and pure joy. Since first discovering the Tucson, Arizona collective’s shape-shifting music – circa 2000 with the mariachi infused opus of ‘Hot Rail’ – Calexico’s songbook has proved the most pivotal and endearing of artistic creations that seamlessly seeps into your veins and hits directly to the heart’s core. Last spring saw the eagerly awaited new full length release, ‘Edge of the Sun’; a sonic marvel of a record that stands tall as the band’s strongest work to date. Like a river finding its sea, a natural ebb and flow ceaselessly permeates from the well-cultivated sounds and timbres cast by the core duo of Joey Burns (singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist) and John Convertino (drums, songwriter, percussion, vibes).
It’s their windswept, breathtakingly beautiful instrumentals (is there anything more pure and beautiful as ‘Minas De Cobre’, ‘El Picador‘ or ‘Above The Branch’?); heart wrenching ballads (‘Bloodflow’, ‘The News About William’, ‘Fortune Teller’); brooding cinematic opuses (‘Red Blooms’, ‘Black Heart’, ‘The Vanishing Mind’); life affirming symphonies (‘Quattro’, ‘Epic’, ‘Victor Jara’s Hands’); songs of hope etched in the heart of darkness (‘Para’, ‘Crooked Road And The Briar’, ‘Not Even Stevie Nicks…’, ‘Trigger’); and momentous rejoice (‘Crystal Frontier’, ‘Guero Canelo’, ‘No Te Vayas’, ‘Inspiracion’). As always, the deeply rooted music telepathy between Burns and Convertino, combined with the peerless musicianship of the greater Calexico ensemble (spanning continents and encompassing worlds of sound) and producer supreme Craig Schumacher, means that true art is endlessly created.
The jubilant album opener ‘Falling From The Sky’ contains the stream-line approach the band previously utilized on the highly under-rated ‘Garden Ruin’ record with a rejuvenating brass section and the mesmerizing synth-led melody (courtesy of multi-instrumentalist and co-producer Sergio Mendoza). In addition, Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell adds vocals. The lyric of “like a bird lost inside the cloud/cut off from the stars” evokes the vivid sense of searching that flickers like rays of sunlight throughout the record’s sprawling canvas. A brooding atmosphere exudes from ‘Bullets & Rocks’; reminiscent of ‘Bend To The Road’ (live cut) from the ‘Carried To Dust’ tour. The multi-layered electric guitars conjures up the timeless sound of ‘Zuma’ era Neil Young (or vintage Iron & Wine whose frontman Sam Beam joins Burns & co, in turn, forming a fitting parallel to 2005’s collaborative ‘In The Reins’ EP). “Families disappear to the dark of the night” evokes a loss, pain and suffering; lying at the heart of the “devil’s highway” but the light of hope undeniably prevails through the shimmering darkness.
‘When The Angels Played‘ is a stunningly beautiful country lament recalling Gillian Welch and the heart of the great American songbook; a Dylan-esque folk splendor which could be a distant companion to (the previously recorded Pieta Brown duet) ‘Slowness’. The sublime ‘Cumbia de Donde’ brings the whole latin world to new dimensions, as Manu Chao and off-shoot Buena Vista sound systems flicker onto the horizon. The arrival of Spain’s Amparo Sanchez is akin to a spiritual journey as a lost brother to ‘Guero Canelo’ comes to the fore. ‘Cumbia de Donde’ somehow sits at the intersection between ‘Roka’ and ‘Guero Canelo’ creating, in turn, a spiritual journey: a road trip of epic proportions.
‘Tapping On The Line’s chorus refrain resonates powerfully as Burns asks, “could you step a little bit closer to the line?“: a song which shares the spirit of ‘Nebraska’ era Springsteen; charged with a gripping immediacy and vital pulse. ‘Miles From The Sea’ represents one of the album’s defining moments and undoubtedly one of the most formidable Calexico recording ever put to tape. The chorus refrain is immaculate as Burns sings of “dreams about swimming miles away from the sea“. The vast blue seas of the human heart is explored from the skies above to the seas below. ‘Woodshed Waltz’ is a pristine slice of divine americana. Sonically, it takes me to ‘Toolbox’ (the band’s towering instrumentals-only album) where the burning spark of creativity and spontaneity radiates throughout. The rise/bridge is one of the album’s endearing moments. A song about letting go, moving on. Another songwriter’s song. ‘Moon Never Rises’ is steeped in new and compelling sounds. The nuances and textures added by guest vocalist Carla Morrison brings forth a cinematic feel as new sonic terrain is masterfully explored.
The opening section of ‘World Undone’ – Burns’ hypnotic acoustic guitar is beautifully melded with Convertino’s meditative drums – shares a similar sound world to the band’s instrumental cut ‘Above The Branch’. The (singular) aesthetic created by the duo of Convertino’s drums and Burns’ guitar unleashes a staggering beauty that creates a resolutely unique and singular sound (kindred spirits such as White/Ellis/Turner and Davis/Coltrane also come to mind). There is something magical about how ‘World Undone’ unfolds. The stunning vocal delivery of Burns (joined by Devotchka’s Nick Urata) is a joy to witness as Burns sings “waiting for the devils to come“. The way in which this tour-de-force builds and evolve, represents the immense power and glory of the ‘Edge of the Sun’ as a whole. The cathartic energy of ‘Black Heart’ is likewise emitted here: “the world’s coming down“.
‘Follow The River‘ is another milestone in the sacred songbook of Calexico, reminiscent of ‘Epic’ where a healing quality and power of redemption abounds. In the liner notes of the band’s retrospective ‘Road Atlas’ (1998-2011), Fred Mills wrote: “But it’s not until you take in the entirety of the group’s sprawling discography that the sights, smells, textures and timbres of the Calexico experience fully reveal themselves.” As ever, one feels the emotional thread embedded deep in the songs: a common thread that connects all the band’s studio albums, tour cds, collaborative releases to date.
‘Edge of the Sun’ is out now on City Slang (Europe) & ANTI- (USA).
Interview with Joey Burns & John Convertino (Calexico).
Congratulations on the truly inspiring and captivating new record, ‘Edge of the Sun’; a sonic marvel of a record. You, John and the entire Calexico family should feel deeply proud. A world of detail and intricate layers of immaculate instrumentation are rooted in these songs; some new elements that I haven’t heard before in a Calexico studio album. As ever, an emotional depth of rich intensity & magnitude permeates the headspace and a cosmic spirit that captivates the heart.
Please discuss the making of ‘Edge of the Sun’ and particularly the Mexican city of Coyoacán where the album was recorded. Similar to how you decided to record ‘Algiers’ in the aforementioned New Orleans neighbourhood, as ever you all must have soaked up the surrounding city’s culture and neighbourhood that seamlessly tapped into the album’s twelve gems?
John Convertino: Thanks so much for all the compliments, careful listening, and insights to the new record. As with ‘Algiers’, we felt we needed to get to a place that had the space for us to focus on the album and songs, to put ideas down whatever they may be, and to spend some time together without having the responsibilities of home life. Coyoacán like Algiers has a great vibe and history to think about as you go for walks or runs in the park. Where we lived and recorded there was a courtyard and big trees that gave you shelter from the big city outside, we had two meals a day prepared for us with love, so we never had to worry about what and where to eat, the energy was strong, and we were able to get a lot work done and some sightseeing as well.
Joey Burns: It was important just as it was making ‘Algiers’ to go somewhere for 12 days where we could eat, sleep and breathe music. It really helps to get the ball rolling when we can focus on writing like that. Being in Mexico City was a plus. The food, people and sights all help make for a special experience. One day we went with a friend to see the work he had been doing on Pedro Reyes’ art piece “Disarm”. He was helping Reyes build musical instruments out of pieces of broken weapons seized by the Mexican government from the drug cartels. We got to see a rehearsal and even try playing some of the instruments. I tried the electric bass, guitar and cello, John checked out the percussion which was all midi controlled and Sergio was intrigued with the violin. The symbolism was beautiful and inspired us all.
What is most special about the Calexico songbook (and indeed becomes the essence of the band’s rich legacy) is the deeply enriching narrative that flows throughout each record where one flows into the next like a river finding its sea. ‘Edge of the Sun’ continues this search for hope in the depths of despair; a strive for a better life; dreams of better days. I would love for you to discuss the themes of the new album and what ideas and concerns you felt were important to address on ‘Edge of the Sun’?
JC: I agree with you Mark, I think Joey and his brother John, as well as Pieta Brown and Sergio Mendoza all came up with some of the best lyrics yet for the record. I find that immigration and borders have been continual themes throughout all of our records, and now that we have become so familiar with those themes I believe there is greater clarity in how we feel about these issues therefore translating into the songs in a natural way. As we all get older, it becomes more and more apparent that it’s not always easy being a human on the planet. There are so many misunderstandings and communication can so easily break down, what may be such a brilliant thought comes out sounding completely wrong, it takes time to formulate how to verbalize what your feeling, maybe it comes easier as you get older, maybe not, it could just be more familiar ground. I think this is an apparent theme in the record.
JB: I wanted to acknowledge the difficulties in life, the things we all share and have to endure and yet I wanted to the music to help balance that and give a sense of hope. Near the end of the album sequence the song “World Undone” shows signs of grief from the character’s perspective and by the final track “Follow The River” that same character has found a way out of despair to recognize there’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Transformation is part of the process and every album takes on a slightly different direction. Sometimes they parallel the world around us and other times they map out the emotional paths we are on.
The ocean (and possibly your upbringing in LA) and “dreams about swimming/miles away from the sea” on ‘Miles From The Sea’ feels a distant companion to similar themes explored on ‘..Not Even Stevie Nicks’, ‘Sinner In The Sea’ and indeed several aspects on ‘Carried To Dust’. Please discuss these re-occurring themes that are wonderfully re-visited here?
JC: I’ve always wondered about that too, I know it’s really a question for Joey, but having lived in the desert for so many years I have thought of water and the ocean more than when I lived in Los Angeles. Water is such a huge part of life, it is life, water and sun and all the elements. Living in El Paso Texas now, I have visited the wonderful Chinoti foundation a few times and have become a fan of Donald Judd. The massive concrete squares with the bright blue desert sun behind them bring to my mind the beginning of creation, that bang, the snare drum crack that sparked us all into being….there is that moment when the silence is broken, the wave crashes and the world keeps moving.
JB: I wasn’t sure about this song lyrically. I sent it to my oldest brother John who is a good source for feedback and inspiration. He helped with some of the lines in the verses and was supportive for keeping the lines in the chorus which I wasn’t so sure I wanted to keep. For sure there are themes of nature and specifically the ocean that have made an impact on my writing. However recurring they may be I try to shed new light on them with each song. I was surprised when doing some interviews in Europe that this song was some of the writers’ favorite song.
Collaboration has always been integral to your work but with ‘Edge of the Sun’, the spirit of collaboration is taken to new heights and possibilities. I feel this spirit of togetherness and an openness radiates throughout these soaring songs. Talk me through please the songs and the guests on each track? One of the formidable highlights is Mexican chanteuse Carla Morrison’s vocals on ‘Moon Never Rises’. It is also beautiful to witness the many special souls who have served a vital pulse to the Calexico songbook, including Amparo Sanchez, John Burns, Sam Beam and Neko Case. It is hardly surprising that ‘Edge of the Sun’ quickly becomes a source of comfort and solace.
JB: The idea of inviting guests was something that Christof Ellinghaus had once suggested a few years ago. “Make a record of duets with guest singers” is what he suggested. It wasn’t until after Sam Beam sent his vocals for “Bullets & Rocks” did I even consider asking other musicians to sit in on this album or for it to become such a developed theme on this album. We for sure wanted to invite some of our favorite musicians from Mexico on the album. Having Carla Morrison was a big deal as she is super busy and we had never met before. Fortunately we know her manager, Gil Gastelum who used to live in Tucson and he helped arrange for her appearance as well as Gaby Moreno’s. We were really hoping that Camilo Lara could contribute some tracks since he was in a way responsible for us getting to Coyoacán and working at his friend Ro Velazquez’s home studio.
Having Neko Case on one of our albums definitely was something we had always wanted to do since we do so much work on her albums, so we were extremely grateful when she took time out the day she played Tucson with her band The New Pornographers. She nailed it and then gave us all hugs and ran onstage. Incredible! Sergio’s lap steel player in his band suggested that we contact members of Band of Horses and made the introduction. He knew that we were trying to get someone to sing on “Falling From The Sky” and when he made the suggestion to ask Ben Bridwell, I instantly knew it could be a good match and it blew me away. It still stands out as one of the most impressive collaborations for me. Pieta Brown is another good friend who has offered up lyrics in the past, “Fortune Teller” for example. When I read her first lines of “When The Angels Played” I felt a connection immediately. Sure enough it came together quickly and John and I tracked the song one late night in Coyoacán.
Amparo Sanchez has long been a big influence and we were excited to hear her bring some fire to “Cumbia De Donde“. Sergio has been performing with DevotchKa on tour for several years and he suggested asking Nick Urata to sing on “Follow The River” which again was a big surprise to hear his incredible vocals take the higher harmony and make the song go somewhere else. “Coyoacán” features an outstanding harp player from El Paso, Adrian Perez who we’ve worked with at live shows with Mariachi Luz de Luna here in Tucson. He comes to town a fair amount so I had him come in and try not only a pass on this song but add some Kora style lines on “Bullets & Rocks“.
JC: All the guests came about in such a natural way, there towards the end of the recordings when the songs were established Sergio would encourage us to add vocal guests, as in the case with Carla and Gabby, who we didn’t even know, and from there inviting our friends who we knew could help us out so much, it was always such a treat to hear what they would come up with, Ben and Sam living with the songs alone in their own home studios and coming up with parts that took the songs to different places. Neko taking the time on tour to drop by the studio and make one of my favorite moments on the record in “Tapping On The Line”. It really became a part of the whole record to have guests.
The stunningly beautiful ‘Follow The River’ brings the album to a fitting close. The immediacy and honesty hits you profoundly, where a soul’s heart is laid to bare. The harmonies, striking vocal delivery, accordion, lapsteel, drums conjures up a timeless and mesmerising sound. Can you recount your memories of writing and recording this particular track please?
JC: One of my favorites too. Being there in Coyoacán and hearing Joey and Sergio playing guitar and vehuela outside in the courtyard, and then stepping into the studio and recording the idea in that natural cut time feel, it quickly became a favorite because of its ease, like it was so meant to be here. And then to have Nick Urata from Devotchka add his vocal layer put the song into that blue mood even further.
JB: This was based on an idea that we came up with while writing in Mexico City. Sergio started with playing a vihuela rhythmic pattern, and I came in with nylon acoustic guitar suggesting certain chords to follow his motif. We re-recorded the idea in Tucson with a full drum sound and upright bass with a few overdubs of piano and vibraphone. John really liked the minimal arrangement, but I heard some other parts that could help make some of the transitions from verse to chorus and to bridge sections. So we added very minimal trumpet parts from Martin Wenk and Jacob Valenzuela as well as a gorgeous pedal steel part from Paul Niehaus. Some of the Brian Eno sounding synth parts were from a pocket piano synthesizer that wound up on a lot of tracks on this album.
‘Cumbia de Donde’ feels a lost sister to ‘Guero Canelo’ from ‘Feast of Wire’ or even ‘Roka’s Danza de la Muerte. I feel the energy of Calexico’s live concert is effectively translated to the sprawling canvas of ‘Edge of the Sun’. I’m sure it is an extremely exciting prospect to be in the midst of touring this new record. Talk a bit please about the space and aesthetics that inhabits each and every Calexico song? I feel this remains the trusted constant and magical spark to the unique sound of this ever-evolving ensemble.
JB: We wanted to show the variety inside our band, and so every track takes its own path and highlights different sides to the band’s musical styles. The last album “Algiers” was more focused style wise and this time out and reflecting the vibrant spirit that Mexico City exudes, we wanted to change it up. I will speak about “Cumbia de Donde” a little bit. This was influenced from spending time in Mexico and was written after the trip and recorded the first day at Wavelab Studio in Tucson. I had an idea of recording a few snippets of instrumental cumbia tracks to have come in and out of the record. This one turned out so good that we decided to make a full on song out of it. There’s a lot of distortion on the bass, percussion and vocals. We wanted to give this song the werewolf treatment and give it some teeth.
JC: Another fun one for me, I came in the next day after they had recorded this romp to a click track, and found myself a beat to play over it. In reality the beat I am playing is not a cumbia beat, it’s something else I don’t know what, but it’s not cumbia, and playing the song live I am still figuring out what to play….maybe I could try a cumbia?
Beginning back in the 90’s, you’ve been collecting musical instruments, which has been an important part to the creative process. I’m curious to know what new instruments or new tones/textures were added to the sonic palette of ‘Edge of the Sun’? One of the striking aspects to the new record is indeed the wide range of sonic timbres utilized on ‘Edge of the Sun’.
JB: The most impressive addition to the sounds on this album are the jalisco harp featured on “Coyoacán” and the Greek instruments; the kanun and bouzouki featured on “World Undone“. Oh yeah and how could I forget the addition of the pocket piano by Critter & Guitari. It’s an addicting little keyboard. Be careful when you bring it to the studio. My twin daughters Genevieve and Twyla loved playing with it at home.
JC: I did get a new drumset, something I thought I would never do, I love my vintage instruments so much. But this father and son company called C&C make these drums so much like the old ones, and even better, the tones gave me great inspiration. So much of what we do comes from tone and timbre, what the sound waves are doing that day in the room with the moisture or lack of. How high is the ceiling? The wood in the walls or the adobe, the thickness of the strings, the loudness of the amps, they all come together when the silence is broken the tide comes in.
In terms of the production, it was very much a shared experience between the core duo of Burns, Convertino, but this time out, Sergio contributed a lot to this side of the music. I would love for you to recount your memories of this process of the music-making process?
JC: Sergio is positive force; he is ready for the challenges. Coming up with something out of nothing can be like digging ditches some days, you got to have the strength. He has it. I think too, I was not there this time for a lot of the process, using email and texts don’t always translate well, so for this it was great have Sergio there to bounce ideas off of in the mixing process.
JB: It was helpful having both Ryan Alfred on bass and Sergio Mendoza on keyboards in the studio while recording the foundation for the songs. I know it helps out a lot with locking in to the groove. In addition I really enjoy recording with just John and myself as well. So we did some sessions as a two piece and came up with a bunch of basic tracks for songs like “Miles From The Sea“, “Woodshed Waltz“, “Bullets & Rocks” and “When The Angels Played”. John was there for the recording of basic tracks and Sergio was super helpful for me personally being there everyday and supportive on finishing the whole album including reaching out to guests. The studio engineers get overwhelmed with all of the ideas and possibilities, and I am sure the other band members do as well. But Sergio was good at helping me make decisions on what songs to focus on and to finish.
Please pick one song you feel most proud of and reminisce for me the song’s inception and blossom into its final entity?
JB: “World Undone” was started at home with a simple melody line. While I was driving into the studio that morning I listened to Bill Callahan’s ‘Dream River‘ album and thought it would be interesting to try a similar minimal approach. Tracked live, Sergio Mendoza and Ryan Alfred accompanied John and I on ambient guitars instead of keyboard and bass. This helped free up the form and allowed us to experiment more with a live take between my guitar and John’s drums. I like this version of the song and even though I kept wanting the dynamics to build more. That is the beauty of a live take. We did however make an edit so that the song was 4 minutes long and not 7. I think that helped a lot especially in wanting to release so many songs on the album.
Months later while on tour in Greece we added some musicians from the band Takim which really helped outline the melody with bouzouki and oud, plus doubling an electric guitar part with violin. The harpsichord sounding texture that weaves in and out of the track is the kanun, a traditional hammer dulcimer type instrument. When Craig Schumacher went to mix the song he noticed there was no bass and so he added a Moog synth bass which I like a lot and was a nice surprise when listening to his mix. When I played the album to our live engineers in Holland both Patrick Boonstra and Jelle Kuiper commented that this was their favorite song. It was hard choosing which songs out of the 20 we had finished were to be on the album. I’m glad that “World Undone” made it to the album.
JC: I like them all, and that becomes a problem because I was thinking they all should be on the record, but that makes a record long and who has time to listen to long records??? People download songs now, and that’s the world we live in. I have to believe that if all the songs are available in the digital world, people will find them and like them if they take the time to dig.
What books, records, films have served inspiration these past few months for you?
JB: Buddy Levy “Conquistador“, Natalia Lafourcade “Mujer Divinia – Homenaje a Agustín Lara, Mexican Institute of Sound “Politico”, painter Rodolfo Nieto and writer Carlos Fuentes.
JC: As I mentioned before the Donald Judd exhibit in Marfa was in my mind. I’ve been reading the Morrissey autobiography and loving it. His writing and insights to poetry and music is something I can relate to very closely. And I appreciate so much his honesty, even in the most difficult of situations being in a band, the business, fame and all the rest of it.
‘Edge of the Sun’ is out now on City Slang (Europe) & ANTI- (USA).
Just Like Anything [A Fractured Air Mix]
To listen on Mixcloud:
01. We Like We ‘I Began To Fall Apart’ [The Being Music]
02. Sufjan Stevens ‘No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross’ [Asthmatic Kitty]
03. William Ryan Fritch ‘_a renewed sense’ [Lost Tribe Sound]
04. Mute Forest ‘Volcanoes Flowing’ [Lost Tribe Sound]
05. Kenny Burrell ‘Chitlins Con Carne’ [Blue Note]
06. Bert Jansch ‘The Blacksmith’ [Charisma]
07. Ryley Walker ‘Primrose Garden’ [Dead Oceans]
08. Jackson C. Frank ‘Just Like Anything’ [Columbia/Castle Music]
09. Peter Broderick ‘Red Earth’ [Bella Union]
10. Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld ‘The sun roars into view’ [Constellation]
11. Colleen ‘Captain Of None’ [Thrill Jockey]
12. Sebastian Mullaert ‘Lat Björkarna Vissna’ [Mule Electronic]
13. Hauschka ‘Pripyat’ [City Slang/Temporary Residence]
14. Noel Ellis ‘Dance With Me’ [Summer/Light In The Attic]
15. Augustus Pablo ‘Dub Organizer’ [Kaya/Tropical]
16. Calexico ‘Cumbia De Donde’ [City Slang/Anti-]
17. Batha Gèbrè-Heywèt ‘Ewnet Yet Lagegnesh’ [Manteca]
18. Tape & Bill Wells ‘Fugue 3’ [Immune]
19. Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat ‘We’re Still Here’ [Chemikal Underground]
The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or their respective record labels. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.
Illusions and Dreams [A Fractured Air Mix]
To listen on Mixcloud:
01. K. Leimer ‘Allegory’ [Palace Of Lights]
02. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith ‘Careen’ [Western Vinyl]
03. Circuit Des Yeux ‘Lithonia’ [Ba Da Bing!, L&L]
04. Hildur Guðnadóttir ‘Birting’ [Touch]
05. The Gloaming ‘The Girl Who Broke My Heart’ [Real World]
06. Planxty ‘Time Will Cure Me’ [Polydor/Shanachie]
07. Arthur ‘Sunshine Soldier’ [Light In The Attic]
08. Cem Karaca ‘Bir Of Çeksem’ [Pharaway Sounds]
09. Calexico ‘Woven Birds’ (Cinematic Orchestra Remixico) [City Slang]
10. The Notwist ‘Scoop’ [City Slang]
11. Aphex Twin ‘xmas_EVET10  [thanaton3 mix]’ (excerpt) [Warp]
12. Theo Parrish ‘Tympanic Warfare’ (excerpt) [Sound Signature]
13. Wildbirds & Peacedrums ‘Soft Wind, Soft Death’ [Leaf Label]
14. Disappears ‘OUD’ [Kranky]
15. Mount Eerie ‘This’ [P.W. Elverum & Sun, Ltd.]
16. Dirty Three ‘I Really Should’ve Gone Out Last Night’ [Bella Union/Anchor & Hope]
17. Jonny Greenwood ‘Spooks’ [‘Inherent Vice’ OST/Nonesuch]
18. Richmond Fontaine ‘Valediction’ [El Cortez]
The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or their respective record labels. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.
Interview with Volker Bertelmann (Hauschka).
“…you have to reset your mind at some point to create something different.”
Words: Mark and Craig Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry
A wealth of magic emanates from the scintillating piano works of Germany’s Volker Bertelmann. Under the guise of Hauschka, the gifted composer has carved out a string of phenomenal neo-classical masterpieces from spontaneous improvisations (‘The Prepared Piano’); ‘Ferendorf’’s ode to his childhood home in Germany (which features intricate arrangements of strings and brass); the ‘acoustic techno’ of ‘Salon des Amateurs’ featuring drummers Samuli Kosminen (Múm) and Calexico’s John Convertino and Joey Burns; and ‘Silfra’’s gorgeous collaborative effort with violinist Hilary Hahn. This year marked the highly anticipated maser-work of ‘Abandoned City’; a captivating record of illuminating soundscapes that marks Hauschka’s crowning jewel and most staggering work to date.
Witnessing Hauschka’s Volker Bertelmann — whether in live setting during his renowned concert performances or in recorded contexts — a certain sense of magic fills the air. Sylvain Chomet’s 2010 animated marvel ‘The Illusionist’ comes to mind, as we are left in wonderment to observe the artist’s vast collection of skills and unlimited wells of talent. Known worldwide as one of the most recognizable 21st Century proponents of what is known as Prepared Piano, Bertelmann has amassed a considerable body of work over the last decade, ceaselessly weaving his own singular path — and on his own terms — to wondrous effect (much like fellow modern composers and restless souls Nils Frahm and Max Richter or such Twentieth Century masters as Eric Satie, John Cage and Steve Reich). Importantly, the album itself draws from research Bertelmann made (after the discovery of a series of photographic prints depicting the subject of abandoned cities) on the number of actual vacated cities in existence (each track title references a particular city). As Bertelmann has said: “I was interested in finding a metaphor for the inner tension I feel when I’m composing music, a state of mind where I’m lonely and happy at the same time.”
‘Abandoned City’ proves a certain milestone in Hauschka’s recorded output to date. An intriguing sense of both adventure and discovery seeps through every pore of the album’s ten compositions. Like all of Hauschka’s art, nothing is as it first seems. As we delve further into this abandoned city Hauschka has built for us we begin to lose all sense of what we initially thought was important in the process. We lose all traces of ourselves for that beautiful instant we are under Bertelmann’s sacred spell and that is what Hauschka’s divine art forever manages to do.
‘Abandoned City’ is available now on City Slang (EU) and Temporary Residence Ltd (USA).
Interview with Volker Bertelmann (Hauschka).
From your live shows, it’s really inspiring – to not only witness your music live but – to see the process. As a listener, you normally don’t get to obviously physically see how it happens so it’s amazing to catch a glimpse of that when you see your live show.
Volker Bertelmann: It’s something in a way that I was not intentionally in the beginning when I was working on prepared piano but in general the prepared piano is something that is mostly happening on the spot, you know. I mean it’s stuff that where you definitely have to create things while you are at the venue because the instrument is a lot of times different and the sound is different and the room – some pianos sound completely weird and others sound really beautiful – so there’s always a big difference between every evening.
I wonder too, Volker, with the new album ‘Abandoned City’– which I must say is my favourite of all the Hauschka albums – was it a case of using new approaches again on the new album? There is definitely a wonderful dub and electronic feel to the songs as well.
VB: Yes, it’s actually because in a way I was hoping to get back to a little bit to the roots without using any other instruments because I was doing a lot of electronic music beforehand and I was always interested in dance music and music as well like Aphex Twin or stuff like that and that was always music for me that I really love. And in a way when you go to the piano; suddenly it can happen that you miss everything like that because you suddenly have a different approach and the piano sounds so beautiful and clean, in a way. So for me, it was a really important to frame an angle that actually allows me to do as well like quite more experimental stuff and more dance stuff: the whole palette of sounds possible. On this record, all the sounds that are on there; there are no processed sounds by synthesizers and stuff like that; it’s all acoustic sounds used with delay and reverb.
That’s amazing in itself to think that it’s just acoustic sounds. On one level it’s not surprising because it does have that organic and very human feel. In one way, the music is quite sad but after many revisits, I must say I find it very uplifting where the pieces of music are filled with hope.
VB: Yeah, I mean to be quite honest that is something that I am very interested in, not that I am doing this intentionally. I mean maybe I am a person of hope and at the same time, I’m sad and I know that things at some point will be finished and life is just limited in a way and if you work on something all the time, you are always aware of the limitation of your life. And I think that creates a kind of interesting feeling in sadness and hope and you enjoy every day and stuff like that, and I had the impression ‘Abandoned City’ has a similar feel to it.
In a way there was something happening there: life was happening there; then all the life disappeared and then maybe new people are coming in or new animals are going into the village. So in a way, there is always this circle that represents hope – some new creation and at the same time it disappears at some point and there is death and from that something new is rising. So in a way I was hoping to find a circle like that and it’s not finished because I’m still interested in this theme. I mean ‘Abandoned City’ was much more superficial in the way that I just picked out the cities and now I’m working on a cycle of three pieces that are dealing with this circle of loss and death, and the new perspectives in a way.
Oh wow. So in a way, this could be the starting point of a series nearly?
VB: Yeah, and maybe it’s something because of my age. I mean I was always aware of it, even as a kid; you know I was aware that I have to find a way of enjoying every day so you never know when the circle is over [laughs]. I thought it would be a nice theme in the music and in a way it appeared at that time I was writing ‘Abandoned City’ my little son was born; Lucas and at that point I had the impression that I was very touched by that on one side. And on the other side I felt like I’ve experienced so much already myself and there was a lot of tension in myself and it felt like it was a nice expression of that.
When you did your research on each of the abandoned cities for each piece of music; this must have been a lovely process too, in a sense that you had the music but you wanted to put a certain city to a particular piece.
VB: Yes, I mean the music was already written so you know, for some people it may be strange that I have not visited some of those cities. For me it was like, first of all writing the music and then other times, I am trying to find an angle and what I feel when I’m writing the particular music. So I found a picture of an abandoned garage like a parking garage, in Las Vegas in a friend’s house, and I was telling them, “Man, I think this picture is exactly the stuff that fits totally to my music; can I use it as a cover?”. He replied “Yes it’s my picture, I actually took it when I was in Las Vegas” and so that’s actually the cover of the record.
I am very curious about the state of mind when you are performing music on one side but also when you are composing in particular?
VB: Composing is something you know, in a way you have to clear your mind constantly to start from scratch and create something new. This makes it sometimes very difficult because of course you know what you have done before and so you have to reset your mind at some point to create something different. I think this is also a life-circle which is a mental circle and particularly with this record, I was much freer in terms of form and I think I was much closer to the way I performed live than the albums before. On the previous albums, a lot of times it was conceptual albums in terms of I was using albums to create dance music or in a way, I always had songs in mind which I didn’t have with this album. This album was more like an endless stream of music.
That’s very interesting because the album does feel more like a performance in the way that you can imagine you are playing the piano in your living room when listening to it.
VB: Yes, I mean that is how I was working on it. I was creating music while I was in my studio I just pressed record and then I recorded it. I go into my living room and just start performing; that’s what I mostly do, I press record and what’s coming out of my hands will be recorded and I make the decision whether I like it or not.
And this is the Bechstein, the grand upright piano?
VB: Yes, it’s a grand upright. I mean for the last four records I recorded with this. Actually it’s my first piano that is like a real concert piano and the older records I recorded with quite old pianos that I was given by people as a gift because I had no money for affording the piano. The next step might be that I’m looking for a grand piano; you know in a way there is always developments [laughs].
It’s really interesting too, you know with yourself and other pianists/composers like Nils Frahm, Peter Broderick and so on, it’s amazing how each of you; you all have your own sound but there is also this thing that you are searching for new ways of generating new sounds.
VB: In a way I have the impression that each of those guys you mention are experimenting their way very much; they are not interested in borders even though I would say there’s always a difference in terms of the accessibility. For example, I think Nils’ music is quite accessible for a lot of people while Peter and I, we might be much more at the edge sometimes which I think in a way for me it’s very interesting because you can stay at the edge you can always create stuff that is at the edge for your whole life.
But if you start getting into accessible mode, it’s very hard to get back. I had this experience when I was younger; I was in this hip-hop band and I realized that once you are forced on making hits it makes you very vulnerable in terms of the next step you have to do. So, I’m very glad I’m not forced to make the next record a big-selling album because the places I play are so huge they have to fill them. There’s also some tension in there, of course you are always aiming for making a career but at the same time you can be a kind of bargain, you know. I’m very glad where I am right now because everything is big enough where I can travel all the time and on the other side, I don’t have to go into stadiums [laughs].
You must also be influenced by John Cage and all his theories and the whole prepared piano process?
VB: To be quite honest, I mean in some interviews I mentioned him already. But in the beginning when you are connected with hip-hop or pop music you never come across people like that you know, so I was completely disconnected from that guy. By working with prepared piano sounds, I was getting much closer to John Cage and I love actually the humour and the way he thinks about sound in general. It’s so liberating and he was doing that already like twenty, thirty years ago and so I’m such a big fan of his theory as well of his music. It’s for me a very uplifting artist.
I wonder for you growing up and stuff, what was the first kind of music you got into? Were you in bands first before you ended up on your piano path?
VB: Well the first thing is that I learned classical piano as a kid from nine years old. Then I was in my first band at the age of twelve where we played Rolling Stones covers and a lot of rock music. It was at the beginning of the eighties because I was born in ’66 so in 1978 I was twelve and so maybe it was the end of the Beatles era and I was totally influenced by this kind of music at the time and still think that the music and songs created at the time is incredible. So in a way I was trying to write songs at that time with my band.
From there, I went into all sorts of rock bands like keyboards and synthesizers and I wrote music for singer-songwriters and all sorts of stuff. Then suddenly after the hip-hop group and the whole hits discussion – it was a major record label – I had the feeling that I had to change something because it was not really me. You know, I’m not a really big fan of the show to be quite honest. If I want to perform, I want to perform aesthetically nice and I want to do every now and then something with video or more like an installation where people watch but in general I’m not interested in having a big live show with me being the focus of the set of the show; like I’m coming with smoke out of ground of the stage, you know that’s not my thing. But if you go into a poppy area, you have to do that because the stage size is so huge and you have to get more and more into light and big laser shows and you have to be the focus and all the fans are cheering even before you get onstage without playing a bloody note.
So I’m interested in creating music where it’s more about an experience with both of us like when the audience gives you something and I give the audience something. So we are both in a room and we share. That’s what my feeling is and then I made the decision at some point that maybe the only way to do it is by playing the instrument that I can really play good and that I have to find a way of experiencing me as a solo performer without any nets under me by performing improvisation. I think that’s the best decision that I have made for myself and I am very thankful that people give me the feedback that I should continue. Sometimes you can imagine that you are doing this and people are saying ‘Please, don’t come back’ [laughs] but they don’t and they’re really forcing me to do my next thing and I’m very happy about that.
Even looking ahead, Volker do you have other projects in mind?
VB: Right now, I have a one year residency with MDR Symphonic Orchestra in Leipzig which is the hometown of Bach and I’m working there with the symphonic orchestra now for a year and a conductor called Kristjan Järvi who is a very well-known classical conductor but also having a great experimental ensemble called the Absolute Ensemble so he is a guy with a real connection with more modern music and classical music. He invited me and asked me if I would be interested in writing music for the symphonic orchestra. I wrote my first two pieces in September and recorded them already. And the next three pieces – which is the cycle of three pieces I told you about – this will be a composition for orchestra without me, there’s no prepared piano by me in there, just the orchestra. I want to figure out now what does the orchestra sound like without me and then I can incorporate myself at some point and I can perform both; I’m expanding.
And do you hear the pieces performed by the orchestra along the way?
VB: They perform the pieces onwards and the pieces are also notated now and they are offered to all sorts of orchestras in the world. I don’t know if they want to play it; that’s one thing. And another thing I am working on new solo piano pieces because in a way when I was in Japan two weeks ago, I felt that my style of performing and incorporating electronics has changed. I think it was getting different so I had the impression that I have to record something and there’s also still an open record for that I want to record with my friend Samuli Kosminen, the drummer from the band Múm. The two of us, we have performed so many times that we really would love to work together. All these plans are in the air.
The other thing I want to continue with Hilary Hahn, the violinist, we have plans because we really love working together and we perform live every year maybe three or four times which is awesome that we still work together but I’m not in a rush. There’s so much stuff happening that I’m glad I can stretch this into the next couple of years.
One last thing Volker, I wonder are there certain albums or records you’ve been listening to lately?
VB: To be quite honest for me at the moment it is quite difficult to listen to music. The only thing I am listening to a lot of music on classical radio which is called WDR 3 because at the moment I am extremely interested in all variations of classical music that is written just to get an idea you know, what is the spectrum I have to work with when I’m working with the symphonic orchestra and that is for me at the moment very interesting.
If I could point out one composer that I really adore, it is Schoenberg, I am a big fan of his music. Whenever I have the time I try to listen to music of his.
And do you have a particular favourite?
VB: I mean there is one piece called ‘Verklate Nacht’ which means ‘clearing night’ in a way and it sounds a little serial and I think sometimes the music is for a string sextet. It’s an awesome piece, like really dark but at the same time very romantic. Schoenberg was also a twelve-tone composer where he started at some point to experiment with music by not using melodies and tonal music and I think this is at the edge where he was thinking ‘I have to change because I have done everything that I can do’ which is also an interesting development in everyone’s life, you know, in my opinion I have done everything I can do and now I have to change the city or change the style or change my living, you know all these things.
As you say, it’s that whole thing about circles and how everything comes back and forth really.
VB: Yes, yes absolutely and Schoenberg’s music at that time really encourages.
‘Abandoned City’ is available now on City Slang (EU) and Temporary Residence Ltd (USA).