Experiment must necessarily be carried on by hitting anything – tin pans, rice bowls, iron pipes -anything we can lay our hands on. Not only hitting, but rubbing, scraping, making sound in every possible way. In short, we must explore the materials of music.  John Cage – “Goal: new music, new dance” (1939) in Silence: Lectures and Writings (1968)

Since his début as a solo artist in 2004, Hauschka has been exploring the sonic and percussive range of the piano, literally deconstructing and reverse-engineering the internal mechanics of grand and upright pianos to compose a fascinating and modern-classical corpus which is never too far removed from electronic music. “Usually, a grand piano is an instrument for the elite” says Düsseldorf based German pianist Volker Bertelmann (aka Hauschka). “It’s an instrument you’re hardly allowed to touch because it’s so valuable”.

Hauschka is of course following in the steps of Erik Satie and John Cage and their experiments with prepared pianos in the 1910s and 1940s/1950s respectively. And in doing so, he has introduced a contemporary edge to the technique.

Hauschka - Abandoned City (2014)
Hauschka – Abandoned City (2014)

“Preparing” a piano involves the most diverse assortment of small objects which are taped, fixed or placed on the strings, the hammers and the dampers of the piano to mute or alter their sound. Felt wedges and wooden chopsticks jammed between the strings, bells, shakers or keys hung on the string pegs and joined with guitar strings or dental floss, duct tape, aluminium foil, plastic film or bottle caps etc. emulate magically the sound of a mini orchestra which could well include harps, kotos, balafons, music boxes, thumb pianos, violins, drones and percussions.

The songs were recorded using nine microphones. Six recorded the sounds coming from the piano strings through an analogue console feeding directly into a computer to preserve the instrument’s full, warm sound. Three others passed the tones through a mixer full of effects – delay, distortion, echo – that can be triggered separately or used simultaneously. Temporary Residence Ltd

Hauschka’s latest studio album Abandoned City was released on the CitySlang/Temporary Residence record labels on 17th March 2014 last and features nine instrumentals whose titles refer to the names of actual vacant towns or cities like Pipyat in Northern Ukraine, Craco in Italy or Stromness in South Georgia. After the chamber music feel of Ferndorf (2008), Salon des Amateurs’ (2010) nod to dance music or the classical improvisations of Silfra (2012) with violinist Hilary Hahn, Hauschka’s Abandoned City is a gorgeous sonic, melodic and retro-futuristic return to solo piano.