Posts Tagged ‘Hauschka’
April’s mixtape opens with “I Can’t Find Water”, album opener for Hauschka’s latest full-length “What If”, yet another monumental and sprawling opus courtesy of the Dusseldorf-based artist Volker Bertelmann. Recorded mainly in Berlin with Francesco Donadello, “What If” gloriously mirrors Hauschka’s own transcendental live performances, where worlds of both analogue and digital (a mixture of various synthesisers, grand pianos, player pianos and percussive instruments) effortlessly interweave in scintillating long-form compositions. “What If” is the sound of a producer as much as a pianist, confirming Hauschka as one of brightest burning jewels in independent music today.
Berlin-based and Stockholm-born songwriter Molly Nilsson releases her much-anticipated new full-length “Imaginations” this May, the follow-up to 2015’s stunning “Zenith” LP. Night School Records have also been busy re-issuing Nilsson’s back catalogue in recent times, most recently with the re-issue of her breakthrough second LP “Follow The Light”.
One of the year’s most staggering releases comes (once again) courtesy of James Leyland Kirkby’s The Caretaker project. “Everywhere at the end of time” is the epic six-album odyssey (April saw the release of “stage two”) which will take three years to conclude. The series draws upon the conceptual framework of dementia, and how the disease impacts the mind and memory. In the words of Kirkby: “The second stage is the self realisation and awareness that something is wrong with a refusal to accept that. More effort is made to remember so memories can be more long form with a little more deterioration in quality. The overall personal mood is generally lower than the first stage and at a point before confusion starts setting in.”
April’s mixtape also features a selection of new releases from: Clark’s “Death Peak” (Warp); Forest Swords’ “Compassion” (Ninja Tune); Nan Kolè’s “Malumz” EP (Black Acre); Mary Lattimore’s “Collected Pieces” (Ghostly International); Homeboy Sandman’s “Veins” (Stones Throw) and Mount Eerie’s “A Crow Looked At Me” (P.W. Elverum & Sun).
Fractured Air x Blogothèque – S02E04 | April mix
To listen on La Blogothèque:
01. Hauschka – “I Can’t Find Water” (City Slang / Temporary Residence)
02. Forest Swords – “Arms Out” (Ninja Tune)
03. John Hassell – “Miracle Steps” (Optimo Music)
04. Clark – “Catastrophe Anthem” (Warp)
05. The xx – “A Violent Noise” (Four Tet Remix) (Young Turks)
06. Talaboman – “Samsa” (R&S)
07. Nan Kolè – “Bayefal” (Black Acre)
08. Vex Ruffin – “Front” (Stones Throw)
09. Homeboy Sandman – “Bamboo” (Stones Throw)
10. Chromatics – “Circled Sun” (Italians Do It Better)
11. Bibio – “Feeling” (Knx Remix) (Warp)
12. Dunkelziffer – “Colours and Soul” (Emotional Rescue)
13. Lewis Furey – “Lewis is Crazy” (Aquarius)
14. Scott Walker – “Montague Terrace (In Blue)” (Philips)
15. Angelo Badalamenti – “Love Theme” (Mulholland Drive OST, Milan)
16. Mount Eerie – “Toothbrush / Trash” (P.W. Elverum & Sun)
17. Dinah Washington & Max Richter – “This Bitter Earth / On the Nature of Daylight” (La French OST, Gaumont, Légende Films)
18. Vashti Bunyan – “If I Were” (FatCat)
19. Mary Lattimore – “We Just Found Out She Died” (Ghostly International)
20. Leandro Fresco and Rafael Anton Irisarri – “Cuando El Misterio Es Demasiado Impresionante, Es Imposible Desobedecer” (A Strangely Isolated Place)
21. Orcas (with Martyn Heyne) – “Into the Night” (Soundcloud)
22. Molly Nilsson – “A Song They Won’t Be Playing On the Radio” (Dark Skies Association / Night School)
23. Helado Negro – “Runaround” (Alternate Mix) (RVNG Intl)
24. Julia Holter – “Lucette Stranded On the Island” (Live at RAK) (Domino)
25. The Caretaker – “The way ahead feels lonely” (History Always Favours The Winners)
Compiled by Fractured Air, April 2017. 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.
“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 Dustin O’ Halloran.
“I mean it was important that it would be a standalone experience.”
—Dustin O’ Halloran
The highly anticipated arrival of A Winged Victory For The Sullen’s third full-length, ‘Iris’ marked the commencement of the New Year. The awe-inspiring duo of Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie and Dustin O’ Halloran have carved out some of the most vital and captivating modern-classical-infused-ambient explorations, in the shape of the band’s eponymous debut record and sophomore full-length ‘Atomos’: each record represents a beautiful time capsule, steeped in divine beauty.
On the ‘Iris’ film score, the band masterfully expand their sonic palette with use of analogue equipment. The results are nothing short of staggering as the otherworldly sound world of Mica Levi’s ‘Under The Skin’ is navigated amidst a beguiling atmosphere and forever-building wall of intense emotion. The opening ‘Prologue Iris’ is built on an achingly beautiful piano melody (similar to Wiltzie’s gorgeous ‘Salero’ debut solo score). A vast sea of symphonic sounds is combined with pulsating synthesizers on ‘Retour au Champs de Mars’. One of the album’s defining moments arrives on the scintillating ‘Gare Du Nord, Part 1’ where organic and synthetic worlds fuse together.
The recording sessions began with their long time sound collaborator Francesco Donadello in the form of some modular synth sessions in Berlin. The final sessions to what is now the score of Iris were recorded with a 40-piece string orchestra at Magyar Radio in Budapest. ‘Iris’ also features the duo’s trusted string quartet, Echo Collective.
‘Iris’ OST is out now on Erased Tapes.
Interview with Dustin O’ Halloran.
Congratulations Dustin on the new Winged Victory record; the ‘Iris’ score is really amazing. I’d love for you to discuss the making of this record? One aspect I love is – in contrast to the previous two records – the addition of all the beautiful synthesizer elements and seamless mix of analog with the strings in these new pieces.
DO’H: That was a bit of a collaboration. When Jalil Lespert – the director – he heard ‘Atomos’ and he really thought that was the sound for his film and he wanted us to explore a more electronic side for his film. At the same time, Adam [Wiltzie] and I have been getting into working with modular synth, working with our long-time collaborator Francesco Donadello. It was something we wanted to explore as well so we ended up doing some sessions with modular synth and we liked the idea of this very organic electronic element. The thing we love with the modular synth is that you can’t ever repeat it: it’s a real instrument and there’s no settings to save so you have to capture performances. It was an element that we were just exploring but we were really pleased with how it works with our sound. And it was a nice, new element to bring in and explore.
As you mentioned those sessions with Francesco, would that have been in isolation or before you ever got to writing for the string parts and so on?
DO’H: When we started work on the film – around the time he gave us the script and he hadn’t shot anything yet – so there was a lot of time to just do some experiments. So, the first experiments happened just with modular and some of the pieces are really built from those first sessions. The film has a thriller element to it so we needed also to create tension. We were bringing in this idea of pulses and things to give us movement that would move us along but still have a tonal identity and a sound identity. So, some of the pieces were really built from those first sessions.
The beauty of ‘Iris’ – and indeed all the many scores you have created – is how it’s very much a new studio album as it is an actual score for a movie as it works so well on its own.
DO’H: Yeah, you never know what you’re going to have at the end of a commission or collaboration like this. I think we’ve been lucky that we’ve been able to start in the way we make our own records and we had a lot of time. Then we took the pieces and what we released is more our vision for a stand-alone record so we’re able to go back into the tracks and rework them a bit and make more of a studio record out of it. We were happy with what we got, I think it feels connected to our sound but it’s an evolution as well.
And as you say, the atmosphere, there’s a collection of the more electronic pieces work so powerfully, such as ‘Retour au Champs de Mars’ and ‘Gare du Nord Pt. 1’, there’s something quite breath-taking when the synths come in: there’s the space for it and you’re waiting for them to appear.
DO’H: We’re happy with how the modular and the orchestra work well together. We tended to use the modular for the lower end sounds and working with space and rhythm and then having the orchestra. It’s like light and dark is a big subject of the film; it’s a love story but there’s also a lot of deceit and treachery and so the film is always like light and dark fighting against each other in this way. The modular has this more aggressive, synthetic, cold feeling and the strings are definitely this warmer love story that ultimately both elements are in the story.
I wonder for those final sessions in Budapest – for you and Adam as the composers of the music – it must be quite something when you’re all in this room and you hear this big ensemble perform the music at the final end of it all?
DO’H: Oh yeah, I mean it’s definitely a satisfying moment when it all comes alive. I love recording with real instruments and it’s always something very important to me. I think with Winged Victory too, we’re always trying to put as much care sonically into everything that we do and record it in the best way. I’m a big fan of records that are great sounding records and those are the records that usually stay in my collection so it’s something we try to put a lot of care into.
For those final sessions, is there still room for accidents to happen or surprising things happen in the sense of the music altering in any way?
DO’H: Yeah, I mean up until the point of doing the strings everything is always flexible and changing and we’re exploring different things and obviously, we hear different things. And when you’re recording the modular stuff, it’s a lot of experimenting and sometimes you find something and you’re not even too sure how you got there. By the time we got to the strings everything had to be pretty much worked out but there’s a lot of extended techniques used in the strings – a lot of harmonics and glissando effects – that we did that were really fun to do in the studio. And to get the orchestra make a lot of noise [laughs] and do less traditional sounds and that was fun so we got to explore that a little bit in the studio and then that was the last phase before we mixed.
I was interested to read how it was edited down – well everything is edited for a final mix of the album – was it difficult to see it as both a film score as well as a studio album in the sense that you needed to remove parts to reduce it down?
DO’H: There was always like a push and pull of what we were leaving in and we were pulling back. For some of the studio record we took out some elements that we needed for the film to help push the picture a bit and then there’s other elements that we decided to bring back in that didn’t work so well with the picture. We definitely approached the record because we wanted it to work on its own. I mean it was important that it would be a standalone experience.
It’s fascinating to see how you have the three studio albums (with Winged Victory) in terms of the speed in which they’re coming out, it feels that there’s a sort of flow between you and Adam where you must always be learning from this partnership?
DO’H: Well I think we’ve been lucky to work on some really great projects and each time we’re definitely learning more about our own process. I think that maybe we’re getting better at working a little bit quicker although there’s a beauty to taking your time and that’s something we just haven’t had the luxury of for a while. So, when we start working on another record, we’re hoping that we will give ourselves a little bit of time and let things percolate, you know that’s something that’s also important to me. With these projects, you have a finite amount of time to work on it but hopefully we’ll be able to take our time again soon but it’s good to know that we can do it and we can be happy with the results.
I must congratulate you also on the amazing ‘Lion’ score and collaboration with Hauschka. It’s wonderful seeing all these musicians and composers and realizing it’s this small community that you’re all releasing amazing albums in your own right whilst collaborating so much with others too. I wonder when did you begin working on this particular project?
DO’H: Yeah, as I was finishing ‘Lion’, Adam and I were starting ‘Iris’ so it was kind of a cross-fade [laughs] But it’s been great, I feel super lucky to be working with people that I love to work with and there’s been so much care. Robert [Raths] has put a lot of love into the releases and we’re grateful to work on some good projects. I mean it’s busy times, the hard part about it is the amount of music you have to produce when there’s a lot of requests, it’s the most demanding aspect but those are good problems to have, you just have to be more diligent and have more time in the studio [laughs].
For ‘Lion’, were you and Volker in the same room together for these sessions?
DO’H: With Volker, we started in our own studios for about a month working on the film and then he came to Los Angeles to work in my studio here and we finished everything here and we worked for about another month. We didn’t have as much time and we came in after the film was already edited so we were in pretty deep pretty quickly.
The same thing happened with you and Adam in the way you spend quite a bit of time in your own respective studios?
DO’H: We try to get together as much as possible (Adam and I) because part of the Winged Victory sound is really both him and I working on stuff together, there’s just something that happens when we’re doing it together, it feels different than when we’re just sending files back and forth because I think we both let go a little bit more when we’re together and we’re able to follow instinctual things quicker and we write quicker as well so it’s always good when we get together.
A very important part of A Winged Victory is the Echo Collective string quartet. I just remember witnessing your live show – and also with Stars of The Lid – and feel the hypnotic effect of the strings, it’s something out of this world when you’re at the live show in one big space.
DO’H: I mean without us finding them, it would be so hard for us to perform live and to translate what we want. We’ve been really lucky. We went through a lot of different string players and we had a lot of bad shows and a lot of shows that didn’t really work out. We’ve been really fortunate to find a bunch of string players that have been so dedicated to helping us find what we need. Our music is very slow-moving and it takes a lot of patience and a lot of string players can look at the sheet music and be really dismissive; it’s actually much harder to get a good sound than it appears on paper. We’ve been really, really lucky, they’re great players, they’re so dedicated to us and I think a lot of other people are starting to work with them because of that dedication that they have. But we definitely couldn’t do it without them, they’re a huge part of our sound.
I loved your solo EP ‘3 Movements’ that came out towards the end of the year.
DO’H: It’s the first time I haven’t collaborated in a while. I’ve been slowly working on different pieces and I’m working on my own solo record but it’s definitely nice to finally get some solo work out [laughs].
And lastly, have there been any live shows that you’ve seen in the last few months that struck a chord with you and have been blown away by?
DO’H: There was a festival that happened in Berlin that the Michelberger Hotel put on, it was at the Funkhaus. There was a twenty-piece choir who performed with Bon Iver who did this acapella piece and it was really beautiful. It was in the old East German recording studios and I forgot how beautiful just the sound of voices is, you know I’ve been listening to so much amplified music and to hear just a choir of voices, it just gave me goosebumps, that was my last moment.
‘Iris’ OST is out now on Erased Tapes.
We’re delighted to present an exclusive unreleased track by U.S. composer and songwriter Peter Broderick (Bella Union, Erased Tapes) in April’s mixtape. For well over a decade now, the world-renowned Portland Oregon-born artist has been to the forefront of the thriving independent music scene, amassing a considerable body of work across a multitude of labels and platforms in the process. While originally a member of both Efterklang and Horse Feathers, Broderick’s reputation as a gifted solo composer would be heralded by the release of both folk-based “Home” (Bella Union) and the piano-based “Float” (Type) in 2008. Since then, Broderick has released a plethora of records for labels such as Erased Tapes and Bella Union, highlights including: 2009’s “Music For Falling From Trees”, 2011’s “Music For Confluence”, 2012’s “These Walls Of Mine” and 2015’s “Colours Of The Night” albums. Collaboration has also been of vital importance to Broderick’s artistic output to date. Duos have been formed with U.K.’S Greg Haines (Greg Gives Peter Space) and France’s Félicia Atkinson (La Nuit) while other collaborations have featured: Nils Frahm, Machinefabriek, Gabriel Solomon, Heather Woods Broderick and The Beacon Sound Choir. In recent years, Broderick has produced, recorded, and guested on many musicians’ works from his home-based studio, “The Sparkle” (Corrina Repp, Brumes, David Allred).
Here is how Peter describes his track, “Boom”:
“It’s a thing I call Boom, and it’s basically just some effected casio loops with live drums over the top… I’ve enjoyed listening to it several times and don’t really have any plans to do anything with it.”
Also appearing on April’s mixtape is Irish composer and pianist Conor Walsh. Born in County Mayo, Conor Walsh released his debut E.P. (“The Front”, via Ensemble Music) last year to widespread critical acclaim. Despite it being Walsh’s debut recorded release, Walsh was a firmly established artist who had toured regularly across Ireland and additionally composed for both film and television to date. It was with such great sadness to learn of Conor’s sudden and untimely death in March. We’d both like to take this opportunity to dedicate this month’s mixtape to the memory of Conor Walsh, such an inspiring and beautiful composer and person who has touched many people’s lives with his music.
Fractured Air x Blogothèque – S1E4 | April mix
To Read/listen on La Blogothèque:
01. Days Of Heaven – “You’d give him a flower…” (Paramount Pictures)
02. HKE – “Awake” (Olde English Spelling Bee)
03. Nico Muhly/Sam Amidon – “The Only Tune: I. the Two Sisters” (Bedroom Community)
04. Nonkeen – “The Invention Mother” (R&S)
05. Peter Broderick – “Boom” (Unreleased)
06. Micachu & The Shapes – “Oh Baby” (Rough Trade)
07. Babyfather – “God Hour” (feat. Micachu) (Hyperdub)
08. Samiyam – “Animals Have Feelings” (Stones Throw)
09. Mo Kolours – “A Soul’s Journey” (One-Handed Music)
10. John Forbes, Teach, Earth, Roots & Water – “Awakening” (Summer)
11. Van Dyke Parks – “Occapella” (Warner Bros.)
12. Tindersticks – “How He Entered” (City Slang/Lucky Dog)
13. Ravel – “Pavane Pour Une Infante Défunte” (Decca)
14. Pantha du Prince – “The Winter Hymn” (feat. Queens) (Rough Trade)
15. Solar Bears – “Wild Flowers” (Sunday Best Recordings)
16. The Field – “Pink Sun” (Kompakt)
17. DJ Koze – “Marilyn Whirlwind” (Victoria OST, Erased Tapes)
18. Grizzly Bear – “A Simple Answer” (Liars Remix) (Warp)
19. Lindstrøm – “Closing Shot” (Feedelity/Smalltown Supersound)
20. Tropic of Cancer – “Stop Suffering” (Blackest Ever Black)
21. Linda Buckley – “Haunt” (The Wake OST, Soundcloud)
22. Bonnie “Prince” Billy – “When Thy Song Flows Through Me” (Drag City/Domino)
23. Colin Stetson, Megan Stetson & The Sorrow Ensemble – “Sorrow – A Reimagining of Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony: II” (extract) (52Hz)
24. Conor Walsh – “K Theory” (Ensemble Music)
25. Hauschka – “Stromness” (Eluvium Remix) (City Slang)
26. Peter Broderick – “And Its Alright” (Nils Frahm RMX) (LateNightTales)
27. Ryuichi Sakamoto & Alva Noto – “The Revenant Theme” (Alva Noto Remodel) (The Revenant OST, Milan)
28. Nils Frahm – “Our Own Roof” (Victoria OST, Erased Tapes)
Compiled by Fractured Air, April 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 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:
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.
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).