Hauschka – Abandoned City (City Slang)

Hauschka – Abandoned City (City Slang)

Volker Bertelmann is Hauschka. He is German. He is a composer and experimental musician. Prepared piano is his instrument of choice. And Abandoned City is his eleventh album in as many years.

The prolific nature of his output has been mirrored in the composition and recording of Abandoned City. Opening piece ‘Elizabeth Bay’ aside, the entire album was produced in ten frenetic days of activity following the arrival of his first born. The result is an intense exercise in concentration, creativity and procreation.

The place in contemporary music of the prepared piano  – a technique whereby the sound of the piano is altered when objects are placed either on or between the instrument’s hammers and strings – will forever be associated with John Cage. Hauschka has undoubtedly been influenced by the great American avant-gardist’s theoretical perspectives on the use of prepared piano as a musical medium yet has sought to develop this sound even further. On Abandoned City he uses a total of nine microphones, an analogue consul and a mixer to first capture and then treat the sounds emanating from his piano strings. It is symphonic; it is synthetic. And the end product is one that often meets at a point teetering between the old and the new, a point at which the neo-classical converges with electronic dance music.

When Hauschka’s stars are properly aligned – the minimal beauty of ‘Craco’ and the taut daring contrast of ‘Pripyat’ being two perfect cases in point – it is a bold, expressive juxtaposition. On those rare occasions when it doesn’t – on ‘Adnam’ a more conventional Eastern sound merges uncomfortably with the modern metronomic pulses of Kraftwerk – it veers towards a rather uneasy alliance of era-discordant sound. But working at such speed and across the expansive sweep of his fertile imagination, it is perhaps scant surprise that Hauschka will occasionally stumble. That he can remain upright for so long on such a tightrope of often conflicting tone, timbre, sonority and rhythm is testament to his spirit and creative stamina.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Abandoned City was released on 17th March 2014 through City Slang Records

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