Today's Artist is an independent experimental musician based in Düsseldorf, Germany internationally recognized as a 21st century exponent of prepared piano technique, a tradition dating back to late 19th and early 20th century French composer Erik Satie. The piano is prepared when "preparations" (consisting of nearly any conceivably applicable object or material) are inserted between the strings or onto the hammers of the instrument; a wider application of the term takes in all manner of additional modifications that expand the sonic and operative possibilities of the piano. Hauschka has successfully combined the chamber music aspect of prepared piano (see composers Henry Cowell, John Cage, Christian Wolff, Max Richter, Maurice Delage, and Arvo Pärt) with pop, rock, and electronic sensibilities ........N'Joy
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Volker Bertelmann was born in Kreuztal. He grew up in the village of Ferndorf in the district of Siegen-Wittgenstein, North Rhine-Westphalia. The fifth of six children, he discovered piano playing at the age of nine at church service. He first began to study the piano when he was nine after an epiphany while attending a Chopin performance in his hometown near Düsseldorf, Germany. Despite seven years of classical training at school, and then a further two years with a private tutor, his interests were never as pure as the tutelage he received. Soon he was employing his new musical skills to play along with his favourite records on keyboards and synthesisers – he had a particular fondness for Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds – and, later, to perform with covers bands. After coming of age, he redirected his attention towards a medicine and economic education, but soon turned his back on this to study Popular Music in Hamburg.
By the age of 18, Bertelmann had already composed his first film score, and having picked up a deal with Sony Music in 1994, he spent much of the next few years rapping and playing keyboards with God’s Favourite Dog before forming Nonex, with whom he released two albums in 1997 and 1999. As the 21st Century got underway, he hooked up with Torsten Mauss to form Tonetraeger – who blended post-rock and electronica with significant panache – and also with Luke Sutherland (Long Fin Killie) and Stefan Schneider (To Rococo Rot) to work under the name Music A.M.
It was during this period that he became more and more fascinated with electronic music, developing a particular interest in stripping back anything that he considered redundant within his compositions, until the obsession led to him trying to achieve a similar effect without the use of electricity at all. He discovered that placing material within a piano opened the doors to a whole new sonic world in which he could transform his instrument so that it loosely replicated the sounds of all sorts of others, whether bass guitar, gamelan or the hi-hat cymbal of a drumkit.
The first fruits of this work were released by Karaoke Kalk, with Substantial dropping in 2004 and The Prepared Piano a year later. The combination of Hauschka's classicist training, chamber music sensibilities and pop-cultural interests ensured that the often playful – but never disposable – results were far more than an academic exercise in experimentalism. Critical acclaim was matched by respect from his contemporaries: a second version of the album – Versions Of The Prepared Piano – was released later that year, featuring new interpretations and mixes by the likes of Barbara Morgenstern, Mira Calix and Tarwater.
Hauschka's music might be said to reference (inadvertently perhaps) all of these aspects of the prepared piano equation, and he could even be regarded as a conceptual cousin of Denman Maroney, Erik Griswold, Sylvain Chaveau, and Anthony Pateras. His playfully repetitive constructs, which certainly reflect the influence of Satie, are also at times reminiscent of early keyboard works by Philip Glass or something from out of the minds of Terry Riley and Steve Reich. His best work suggests the achievements of Frank Pahl, Pascal Comelade, Yann Tiersen, and Henry Brant as well as the self-perpetuating modalities associated with gamelan.
In 2007, Hauschka signed with 130701, an imprint of Fat Cat Records, who provided an early home to Sigur Rós and who have also championed artists with a similarly adventurous spirit to Bertelmann’s own, including Max Richter and Sylvian Chameau. He has remained with the label ever since for his solo work, releasing a series of increasingly high profile albums and never afraid to explore beyond his initial parameters. Since 2007’s Room To Expand, he’s integrated both electronic and more traditional instrumentation into his work, with 2010’s Foreign Landscapes finding him working with the Magik Magik Orchestra, and his most recent solo release – 2011’s Salon Des Amateurs – inspired by his experience of Düsseldorf’s club music scene. Collaborators include drummer Samuli Kosminen (from Iceland’s Múm), Calexico’s Joey Burns and John Convertino, and celebrated violinist Hilary Hahn, while the project’s success was underlined in 2012 with the release of remixes by prominent names including techno legend Ricardo Villalobos and Michael Mayer, co-founder of Cologne’s highly influential electronic label, Kompakt.
Bertelmann’s taste for collaboration is again revealed by his next two projects, the first of which features Hilary Hahn in a more high profile role. Silfra, released by Deutsche Grammophon under the artist name Hilary Hahn and Hauschka, is a remarkable album borne of improvisation and recorded in eminent producer Valgeir Sigurðsson’s Iceland studio. A new album is also in the pipeline, with Bertelmann having recently spent time recording with local musicians in Kenya.
Ever prolific, Bertelmann has continued to work on numerous other projects throughout the last decade, most notably in the fields of film, theatre, dance and art. As well as various short film soundtracks (including one for the winner of the 2007 Akira Kurosawa Short Film Award, Blotsky, in which he also starred) and four film scores – including Doris Dörrie’s Glück, nominated for Best Film Score at the German Film Prize in 2012 – he has also composed for the stage. There his work has included 2006’s remix of Wagner’s Parcifal (in collaboration with Stefan Schneider) for Berlin’s Hebbel Theatre, while in 2011 he composed an 18 minute overture for Rittberger’s Puppen, part of the 2011/2012 theatrical season at Düsseldorf’s Schauspielhaus. He also founded Düsseldorf ‘s Annual Piano Approximation Festival, which features an always-imposing line-up of internationally renowned experimental artists.
Hauschka collaborated with San Francisco's Magik Magik Orchestra on 2010's full-length Foreign Landscapes, while 2011's Salon des Amateurs featured members of Calexico and Múm. Bertelmann returned the following year with Silfra, a collaboration with violinist Hilary Hahn that was inspired by Iceland's Silfra rift. That year, he also composed the score for Doris Dörrie's film Glück. For his 2014 solo album Abandoned City, Hauschka used some of the world's most famous ghost towns as a metaphor for the "sense of hope and sadness" he feels when composing music.
2015 saw the release of A NDO C Y, a collection of Abandoned City outtakes and remixes, as well as the live album 2.11.14. Bertelmann then focused on scoring work, providing music for dance performances such as Swan of Tuonela, which found him collaborating with Finnish circus performer Ville Walo. His film music included scores for 2015's The Boy and 2016's In Dubious Battle and Lion, a collaboration with Dustin O'Halloran that earned Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations. The eighth Hauschka album, What If, arrived in 2017. Inspired by Bertelmann's speculation on what life could be like in the future, it featured a Roland Jupiter synth, an Eventide H3000 Harmonizer and player piano alongside prepared piano for a sci-fi-influenced sound.
Always unpredictable, Hauschka continues to offer only one certainty: that the next step he takes will no doubt be as unexpected as the direction from which he has come.
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It is not so common to hear albums where the piano is the main instrument. It is the risk that took Volker Bertelmann (Music A.M.) accompanied on some pieces by the bass of Stefan Schneider (To Rococo Rot, Mapstation, Music A.M.). "Substantial" is the type of disc that requires total concentration to be able to perceive all the subtleties of the compositions. When we say piano we often think of Wim Mertens, Michael Nyman or at worst George Winston. The comparison stops here because Hauschka is certainly not one of those who make recipes for them. Besides, we feel it right away. From the first moment we know which way we are going but we also know that the trip is likely to be interesting. Hauschka's music has this little post-rock side mixed with bits of jazz sounds unheard of with a piano in this way.
It is therefore on a sweet melancholy that evolves this "Substantial". At the same time melancholy is not something necessarily unknown on the other side of the Rhine. There is this kind of romantic German tradition that emerges from this record. Yes "Substantial" is a really beautiful album, which is self-sufficient and hardly needs explanation. Everything is obvious. Yet this evidence does not necessarily jump to the ears. You have to be able to absorb the moods and subtleties of each title. When this step is accomplished all the barriers fall, we come to forget everything else and think that the piano is really one of the most beautiful instruments. Did you doubt it?
Hauschka - Substantial (flac 144mb)
01 Orange I 4:09
02 Vielleicht (maybe) 2:54
03 Golden 4:38
04 Dark I 3:46
05 Sequence I 3:17
06 Fragile 3:28
07 Wait 2:10
08 Sequence II 3:59
09 Cardiff 2:07
10 Dark II 3:05
11 Orange II 3:19
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Hauschka's The Prepared Piano is the distillation of Erik Satie's stripped-down languor, John Cage's innovations, and Klimperei's toy pop. Or in other words: the prepared piano technique applied to simple tunes that have a childlike quality to them. Cage had desecrated and reinvented the bourgeois instrument par excellence in the 1940s, taping, screwing, and placing almost every small object possible on its strings to conjure up new sounds. Since then, the prepared piano has mostly remained a tool of the avant-garde. Few artists have tried to use it outside that niche. Homemade instrument aficionados like Frank Pahl, Pascal Comelade, and the French duo Klimperei have occasionally turned to it, but generally preferred to "prepare" guitars and toy instruments. Hauschka, aka Volker Bertelmann, conceived a series of short tunes that sound like delicate piano melodies backed by a gamelan orchestra with small toys added to its ranks, except it's all solo piano (plus a touch of bass and electronic drums in "Morning"). The writing is graceful, accessible, maybe a tad too repetitive. The preparations never sound like a disposable add-on; Bertelmann uses specific regions of the keyboard to create rhythm, introduce a metallic overtone, or simply create a larger-than-life persona for his piano. The result is a charming feel-good album, slightly inconsequential despite its cleverness, but enjoyable and fresh-sounding.
Hauschka - The Prepared Piano (flac 225mb)
01 La Seine 4:02
02 Traffic 4:11
03 Fernpunkt 3:03
04 Where Were You 4:45
05 Ginkgo Tree 3:26
06 Firn 3:21
07 Twins 4:44
08 Two Stones 2:47
09 Kein Wort 3:04
10 Long Walk 4:35
11 Kreuzung 3:59
12 Morning 2:22
Hauschka - The Prepared Piano (ogg 108mb)
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This here pits a selection of artists against Bertelmann in a somewhat inspired skit on the traditional 'remix album' concept. You might be pretty burnt out on remixes alltogether, I know I struggle sometimes, but where Bertelmann excels is in his ability to choose artists that will do his work justice. Picking tracks from his 2005 album 'The Prepared Piano' the artists lend their stylistic advances to pieces of music that were just stripped down enough for a 'remix' to actually do the tracks justice, and the album is kicked off in style by French lady Eglantine Gouzy. Gouzy instantly shows a masterful restraint, lending her lovely vocals to Bertelmann's instrumental work 'Two Stones', this is a perfect example of a remix that can enhance the power of the original, and Gouzy's romantic delivery sounds totally at home pitted against Bertelmann's piano work. Elsewhere we have German chanteuse extraordinaire Barbara Morgenstern coming straight from the commercial and critical success of last year's 'The Grass is Always Greener' and producing an equally addictive slice of electronic pop, using haunting motif's of Bertelmann's 'Where Were You?' as a guide. It's not all pop music though, Japanese experimental deity Nobukazu Takemura jumps straight in with his glitchy and chopped up version of 'Kein Wort', melting it beyond all recognition, and the album's surprise highlight comes from 12k/Mille Plateaux/Raster Noton stalwart Frank Bretschneider - adding his distinctive rhythm and electronic grind to the track, resulting in an intense soup of dreamy post-shoegazer electronics. The album draws effortlessly to a close with Tarwater's simply gorgeous take on 'Two Stones', a track which ended up dropping into the band's recent Morr Music album in revised form, and you suddenly realise you've just listened to a remix album without having to skip a track or remove the cd altogether. It's quite an achievement really, and with a keen ear for picking very differing artists who are all respectful to the source material Bertelmann has managed to put together yet another hugely enjoyable album. It seems there's life in the old piano yet - highly recommended!
Hauschka - Versions Of The Prepared Piano (flac 245mb)
01 Èglantine Gouzy - Mr. Spoon (Two Stones) 2:58
02 Barbara Morgenstern - Im Schlaf (Where Were You?) 3:02
03 Nobukazu Takemura - Assembler's Mix (Kein Wort) 6:41
04 Wechsel Garland - Es Waren Einmal (Two Stones) 2:08
05 Takeo Toyama - Kotoba Naku (Kein Wort) 4:01
06 TG Mauss - Things (Twins) 4:18
07 Vert - Rocket Man (Traffic) 3:22
08 Frank Bretschneider - Stumm (Kein Wort) 4:45
09 Mira Calix - Without Morning Mix (Morning) 3:27
10 Chica And The Folder - Para Bien (Ginko Tree) 3:30
11 Hauschka - Flying Horses (Traffic) 3:43
12 Tarwater - World Of Things To Touch (Two Stones) 2:50
Hauschka - Versions Of The Prepared Piano (ogg 99mb)
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German composer Volker Bertelmann--aka Hauschka--writes imaginative, pop-derived experimental pieces for piano that truly sound like nothing else out there. Compositionally, he works in a mode similar to that of Harold Budd, alternating between subtle melodic movement and rhythm-focused circularity, but his piano--which is often chopped and jerry-rigged and tampered with--possesses a unique timbre. Unlike many modern artists who use the recording studio to mess with sound, Bertelmann messes with sound and then records it in stunningly clear audio verite. The results are hypnotic.
Hauschka - Room To Expand (flac 207mb)
01 La Dilettante 4:06
02 Paddington 3:57
03 One Wish 5:20
04 Chicago Morning 4:56
05 Kleine Dinge 4:04
06 Belgrade 3:33
07 Sweet Spring Come 3:53
08 Femmeassise 4:03
09 Watercolour Milk 4:29
10 Zahnluecke 3:44
11 Fjorde 3:37
12 Old Man Playing Boules 3:21
Hauschka - Room To Expand (ogg 110mb)
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The Prepared Piano and Room to Expand summed up their purposes in their titles, with the former demonstrating Hauschka's finesse with the prepared piano (a piano with objects placed between its strings or on its dampers and hammers) and the latter, prepared piano expanded with strings and electronics. In its own way, Ferndorf also conveys its purpose with its title; named after Hauschka (aka Volker Bertelmann)'s hometown, this set of pieces goes beyond the cleverness of his previous albums, digging into childhood nostalgia and other more complex emotions while retaining Hauschka's essentially playful approach. Unlike The Prepared Piano and Room to Expand, only about half of Ferndorf's tracks were improvised -- but even these tracks show how much Hauschka's range has expanded. "Blue Bicycle" is as delicately lovely as anything else in Hauschka's repertoire, but there is a unique urgency in its rippling piano that suggests spinning spokes and rushing air; "Neuschnee," on the other hand, has a languid, end-of-the-day calm. Insa Schirmer and Donsa Djember's cellos add richness to "Morgenrot," a piece inspired by the red dawn peeking through Bertelmann's window when he was a boy, and intertwine lazily on "Alma." As good as the improvised tracks are, the composed tracks make Ferndorf some of Hauschka's most accomplished music. "Rode Null" showcases the album's propulsive, percussive sound with Schirmer's driving playing and Sabine Baron's brisk violin. The prepared piano's sounds come to the fore on "Freibad," its metallic rattling underscoring the chilly quality of the strings and Bernhard Voelz's trombone, and on the excellent "Barfuss Durch Gras," melding its rustling with electronics into a taut, sparkling mesh of sound. "Heimat" and "Eltern"'s hesitant beauty exemplify how happily technique and emotion reside together on this album -- though the influences of Michael Nyman, Philip Glass and Steve Reich still loom large in Hauschka's music, Ferndorf's appeal is closest to the work of Bertelmann's FatCat labelmate Max Richter: Richter and Hauschka both have a remarkable talent for honing in on the sweet spot where classical, avant-garde, electronic and pop music meet.
Hauschka - Ferndorf (flac 234mb)
01 Blue Bicycle 5:37
02 Morgenrot 3:29
03 Rode Null 4:01
04 Freibad 4:30
05 Barfuss Durch Gras 4:19
06 Heimat 3:40
07 Nadelwald 3:34
08 Schönes Mädchen 3:40
09 Eltern 4:21
10 Alma 2:40
11 Neuschnee 3:42
12 Weeks Of Rain 2:38
Hauschka - Ferndorf (ogg 114mb)
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