The story behind Volker Bertelmann – known best these days as HAUSCHKA – is not necessarily what you’d expect. Although he is one of the most recognisable 21st Century proponents of what is known as prepared piano – one whose sound is altered by the insertion of alien objects between or upon its strings, hammers and dampers – he was barely aware of the champions of such a practise when he first began his experiments. Even John Cage was a largely unfamiliar name that fateful day when he sat in the studio of his friend Adam Fuest and, frustrated by the sounds he was making, starting placing random objects into the instrument.
What’s stranger still, one might think, is the fact that Bertelmann’s first forays into the public world were with major label hip hop act God’s Favourite Dog and a drum and bass quintet called Nonex. But, when you listen to his music closely, this perhaps makes more sense than you’d initially think: the sound of HAUSCHKA has always been both instinctive and fuelled by a love of rhythm. Bertelmann, you see, is clearly a man who knows his instrument – quite literally – inside out, and he’s as unafraid of approaching it with a fresh sensibility as he is capable of drawing upon an unusually broad church of influences.
Volker Bertelmann 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.
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.
Almost two decades after he began his professional career rapping, Volker Bertelmann aka HAUSCHKA finds himself in the unusual position of being regularly compared to the likes of Eric Satie, John Cage and Steve Reich. (In 2011 he was invited by London’s prestigious Barbican to perform as part of Reverbations, a festival celebrating the work and influence of the latter composer.) 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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Wagners Hörschule Hebbel am Ufer
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“What If“ reveals itself as the work of a man hungry to explore new sounds, eager to experiment with new approaches, and undeniably revelling in this irrepressible outpouring of creativity.
Overflowing with haunting melodies (“I Can’t Express My Love“, “Familiar Things Disappear“), mysterious sounds (“I Can’t Find Water“, “My Kids Live On Mars“), complex patterns (“Constant Growth Fails“, “Nature Fights Back“) and a rare dexterity that is hopefully matched by the intellectual response to the challenging scenarios its titles envisage, “What If“ crowns an extraordinary couple of years for Bertelmann.
Likely to prove one of this year’s most original albums, while at the same time inspiring questions about the very nature of the world we inhabit, “What If“ redefines the very notion of piano music in a dramatic and exceptional fashion. It stands as a rebuttal to those who lazily seek to shoehorn Hauschka’s work into the uncomfortably broad “new classical“ category, and instead underlines his status as a unique and invaluable artist.
Label: City Slang/Temporary Residence
Format: Digital, CD
Release Date: March 31, 2017
A NDO C Y, 2015
Palace in the Sky
North Brother IslandHashima Island
El Hotel Del Saito
B: Agdam (Devandra Banhart Remix)
Stromness (Eluvium Remix)
A NDO C Y is a continuation of the Abandoned City story, told as a tale of two sides. Side A features five tracks conceived during the Abandoned City sessions, a suite of songs that together form an exceptionally resonant whole.
As with Abandoned City, these songs owe as much to minimalist techno as modern composition, which makes them particularly conducive to remixes. On Side B, experimental folk icon Devendra Banhart distills Abandoned City standout, "Agdam", to barely-there, fractured clusters of solitary piano strikes and swelling synths. By comparison, Eluvium's transformation of "Stromness" sounds almost shockingly euphoric, all cascading waves of distortion washed over a plethora of plucked piano pings. Included as a special bonus download is a stunning live album recorded in Yufuin, Japan in late 2014. The 40-minute performance is split into two 20-minute improvisations built on themes from Abandoned City. It's a gorgeous glimpse of live Hauschka, a world where songs you think you know become entirely new works of art at the mercy of Bertelmann's whims.
Label: Temporary Residence - North America
Format: LP, Digital
Release: August 7, 2015
A: Yufuin Part 1 (22:07)
B: Yufuin Part 2 (20:58)
This limited editon vinyl LP documents two 20 minute improvisations that were recorded in Japan last year November and are very loosely based on his last album 'Abandoned City'.
The result is a captivating energetic stream of consciousness set to music. In parts this appears even more like a DJ set, you may dance!
The album will be available on June 22nd digitally and as a limited editon vinyl edition.
"Yufuin is a small picturesque town on the Japanese Island Kyushu. We arrived in the afternoon at the main station after a long train ride. After Yoshiyuki Tanigawa picked us up we drove all the way up into the mountains. At the center of a residential area we found a very modern museum called Artegio. We started to set up our equipment and tools around the concert piano in the middle of a room surrounded by only a handful of artifacts. It sounded just great right away. There was also a Cafe in the same house, I remember the relaxed atmosphere while ordering an espresso. They also sold homemade chocolate.We clipped 12 microphones to the Piano and used an additional stereo signal via a sub-mixer which I fused 3 different delays and included a bass drum sound created by a piano hammer.The mixing desk included a built-in recording option so the recording itself was a very spontaneous decision. We had only two tracks so it’s the same stereo-mix that the audience heard.When my sound engineer Michael Buchholz and I listened to the recording for the first time we immediately realized how special it was both musically and sound-wise, and it was then when I decided to make this recording available for everyone. It is a great experience to drive for several hours to a remote and modest place in the mountains of Kyushu only to find the ideal setting to record a piece of music so touching yet rough and spontaneous.Many thanks to Kazuki Tomita, who happens to take me to extraordinary places so often, thanks also to Yoshiyuki Tanigawa (CREEKS) who organized the concert and literally thought of everything.“
Volker Bertelmann / Hauschka Berlin May 2015
Label: CITY SLANG - Europe and the United Kingdom
Released: June 22, 2015
Abandoned City, 2014
1. Elizabeth Bay
3. Thames Town
4. Who lived here
6. Sanzhi Pod City
The compositions on Abandoned City awaken the loneliness and unattainable romance of timeless, unfamiliar places, with cinematic melodies full of resonant overtones, bright cheerful keyboard patterns and dark percussive touches. The tracks all bear the names of actual vacant cities. Hauschka chose Abandoned City as the title of the album to convey the sense of hope and sadness that consumes him when he’s sitting alone at the keyboard. “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,” Hauschka professes. “When I saw photos of abandoned cities, I felt it was perfect.”
Label: CitySlang/Temporary Residence
Format: CD,Vinyl,DoubleCD, Album,
Released: 17 March, 2014
Salon des Amateurs Remixes, 2012
(Michael Mayer remix)
(Ricardo Villalobos &
Max Loderbauer remix)
(Steve Bicknell –
5. Radar (alva noto Remodel)
6. Girls (Hauntologists remix)
7. Ping (Tolouse Low Trax remix)
8. Two AM (patten remix)
9. Ping (Vainqueur remix)
(Vladislav Delay remix)
Following up Hauschka groundbreaking 'Salon Des Amateurs' release, comes this great collection of electronically-angled remixes commissioned from a selection of highly respected producers. Pitched between the dancefloor and the more experimental edges of electronica, the cast of remixers is largely drawn from fellow German artists, friends and FatCat allies.
Released: 16 October, 2012
Salon des Amateurs, 2012
A. Tanzbein (Steve Bicknell - Lost Mix)
AA. Ping (Vainqueur Remix)
This second vinyl-only EP runs in advance of a full album of electronically-angled ‘Salon Des Amateurs’ remixes, which have been commissioned from a selection of producers - including the likes of Matthew Herbert, Vladislav Delay, Alva Noto, Ricardo Villalobos & Max Loderbauer, Patten, and Michael Mayer.
Release: 11 June 2012
Salon des Amateurs, 2012
Remix EP 1
A. Cube (Ricardo Villalobos * Max Loderbauer Remix)
AA. Radar (Michael Mayer Remix)
This 12” is the first of two vinyl-only EPs, running in advance of a full album of electronically-angled remixes of ‘Salon Des Amateurs’. These have been commissioned from a selection of producers whose work we admire, including the likes of Matthew Herbert, Vladislav Delay, Alva Noto, Vainqueur, Patten, and Steve Bicknell. This first release sees three artists, each based in Hauschka’s native Germany, get to grips with his material.
Release: 2 July, 2012
Silfra, though, works as a full-bodied entity, something even greater than its parts. As Hahn suggests, “you’re hearing exactly what evolved at the moment it came to life, in every second of this album. That is very rare. It was such a rewarding experience making the record that I get a little nostalgic when I hear it.” She’s not going to be alone. It may be unexpected, but Silfra might just end up being one of the most original and inventive albums of the year. No wonder they both sound so happy.
by Wyndham Wallace
Label: Deutsche Grammophon
Release date: 2 May, 2012
A: Macunaíma (15:31)
B: Nachts der Wald braucht so ganz viel Ruhe (18:20)
Prepared pianist Hauschka aka Volker Bertelmann and Brasilian painter Rosliene Luduvico with an ad hoc recording session in preparation for their collaborative show "Unbestimmt" at Kunstverein Schwerte, Germany from Sept 01 to Oct 16, 2011 on invitation by Christian Freudenberger and Markus Karstieß.
Losely themed around the forests near the artists birthplaces in Northern Brasil and Western Germany with its gods, myths and Maerchen, we hear stories and chants over Hauschkas trademark piano experiments drenched in dark delay.
Label: Apparent Extend
Format: 12“Vinly (Limited Edition)
Release date: 3 December, 2011
Written by: Hauschka & Rosilene Ludovico
A1. So Close
B1. So Far
B2. Paige And June
‘Youyoume’ is a unique record in Hauschka’s discography bringing together some of the styles and ideas which have come to define his unmistakable sound.
Pan Tone, 2011
Hauschka & Hildur Gu∂nadóttir
3. Black 6
6. Cool Gray 1
11. Halo of Honey
"Pan Tone" is a recording of a single concert which the duo performed on the 26th of February 2010 as part of Arctic Circle - Bubbly Blue and Green festival at Kings Place in London, and documents an event that would truly never be repeated.
Label: Sonic Pieces
Release date: 23 September, 2011
Music: Hauschka & Hildur Gu∂nadóttir
Salon des Amateurs, 2011
2. Two AM
7. No Sleep
9. Taxi Taxi
Hot on the heels of October 2010's ‘Foreign Landscapes’ album, Hauschka
returns with a brilliant new full-length, which once again sees the
adventurous pianist/composer pushing into fresh territory and expanding
his oeuvre. Where 'Foreign Landscapes' saw Hauschka shifting from his
acclaimed solo 'prepared' piano into full-scale orchestral compositions,
‘Salon des Amateurs’ sees the artist utilising the percussive qualities
of the treated piano for a unique take on techno and house music.
Formats: CD / Digital / LP
Release date: 11 April, 2011
Foreign Landscapes, 2010
2. Iron Shoes
3. Mount Hood
5. Union Square
7. Early In The Park
10. Sunny Mission
Stepping out from his established niche as a gifted and engaging
‘prepared piano’ player, he boldly extends his repertoire, resetting his
music within a rich orchestral score. Nine of the album’s twelve tracks feature a 12-piece string and wind ensemble from San Francisco’s Magik*Magik Orchestra, alongside Volker Bertelmann’s own prepared piano.
Dynamic, brimming with character and colour, ‘Foreign Landscapes’
retains its author’s distictive musical voice and leads the listener
through a beautifully balanced collection, moving from delicate solo
piano lyricism to a propulsive, robust minimalism. Now dark and
intimate, now playful, now driving, the ensemble’s fleshed-out
instrumentation enables Hauschka to bring his exuberant versatility to a vital new level. With ‘Foreign Landscapes’, Hauschka stretches for - and reaches - stunning new realms.
Format: CD, Promo
Released: 25 October, 2010
Small Pieces, 2009
“Small pieces” is hauschka’s seventh release since 2004. after the great feedback on his “ferndorf” album and the “snowflakes and carwrecks” ep the german pianist is focused on very minimal little pieces with a few or even no preparations.
Label: Secret Furry Hole – SFH 005
Format: CDr, Mini, Limited Edition
Released: September, 2009
Snow Flakes & Car Wrecks, 2009
On the heels of October’s ‘Ferndorf’ album, Düsseldorf-based pianist / composer Volker Bertelmann (aka Hauschka) kicks of the new year with a beautiful extended EP of previously unreleased material, all of which was recorded during the ‘Ferndorf’ sessions. Featuring seven new tracks (five on the vinyl edition), the EP is a great follow-up to an album which has continued to draw widespread critical acclaim.
Release date: 23 February, 2009
1. Blue Bicycle
3. Rode Null
5. Barfuss Durch Gras
8. Schönes Mädchen
12. Weeks Of Rain
Where the previous album comprised mostly solo recordings of Hauschka’s ‘prepared’ piano (with a few electronic and instrumental overdubs), ‘Ferndorf’ is a far more expansive and fully-realised album, with many of the tracks also featuring a string duo, enabling an increased solidity. More dynamic, its staccato stabbing rhythms are rendered increasingly rousing and emotive with these additional strings. Whilst he recordings still retain the shivers and tics (as by-products of) of the modified internal workings of the piano - alongside some sweet electronic touches – these are less central and instead what’s foregrounded is the melodic / rhythmic push and pull, and a development towards more orchestrated music and notated compositions.
Label: Fat Cat
Format: CD, Album
Released: 22 September, 2008
Room to Expand, 2007
1. La Dilettante
3. One Wish
4. Chicago Morning
5. Kleine Dinge
7. Sweet Spring Come
9. Watercolour Milk
12. Old Man Playing Boules
As ‘Room To Expand’ shows, Hauschka´s resulting tracks are composed both originally and charmingly, forming vivid, unconventional pieces made through what Volker Bertelmann terms a playful ‘research-enthusiasm’.
Always assured and adventurous, the album flows beautifully, from the spritely, layered sprawl of the string-backed ‘La Dilettante’ to the ever-evolving growth of ‘One Wish’; the minimalist repetition and percussive noise of ‘Sweet Spring Come’ and the sparse, delicate beauty of ‘Kleine Dinge’ or ‘Old Man Playing Boules’. There’s a lovely sense of depth and balance to the album – skipping through a range of moods, each piece is animated with its own particular character, its own weight and feel.
Label: Fat Cat
Format: CD, Album
Released: 26 February, 2007
Version of Prepaired Piano, 2005
A1. La Seine
A4. Where Were You
A5. Gingko Tree
B2. Two Stones
B3. Kein Wort
B4. Long Walk
One thing’s for sure: these “revisions” or “versions” asked a lot of
everyone involved. It wasn’t about simply putting melodies on a straight minimal track – Hauschka’s piano rather integrates itself as both a rhythmic and melodic element or presets the conditions. TG Mauss’ melancholic pop track demonstrates this procedure to an almost exemplary extent. We are dealing with something quite extraordinary here as we’re confronted with something that both functions beautifully in itself and – being constantly in comparison with the original – reveals something of the art of compositon and arranging.
Label: Karaoke Kalk – karaoke kalk 41
Format: Vinyl, LP
Released: 4 June, 2007
The Prepaired Piano, 2005
1. La Seine
4. Where Were You
5. Ginkgo Tree
8. Two Stones
9. Kein Wort
10. Long Walk
Like a child? A masterpiece of crafts, the so called hammer-string-mechanics of the grand piano, makes a little hammer strike a tightened string. Its length, perimeter and tension have been designed with expert precision, they determine its very particular pitch. The well-constructed body of the grand piano is resounding the vibration: the sounding of a pure tone. It is the result of a long tradition in constructing instruments, generations have been researching and working to perfect it. Volker Bertelmann alias Hauschka is concentrating on just one piano and still there seems to be an entire orchestra accompanying him, too.
by Oliver Tepel
Label: Karaoke Kalk – karaoke kalk cd 31
Released: 19 September, 2005
1. Orange I
4. Dark I
5. Sequence I
8. Sequence II
10. Dark II
11. Orange II
“Substantial” is a snapshot of a life spent with the black and white keys, and is simultaneously both moment and history, thought and feeling, yet without turning into a unduly meaningful concept album. Rather, “Substantial” is based upon the least conceptual of all concepts: Improvisation. Each track is based upon an opening sequen- ce, the theme of which is extended, modulated and varied with, as far as form or length is concerned, no specific objective in mind. What has come out is music of a dif- fering, well, substance: Eleven atmospheric pieces in which a variety of different techniques overlap and rhythmical images with narrative depth unfold; in which further instruments, such as double bass or vibraphone make a fleeting appearance, at once lending a hint of pop, but at no time detracting from the piano as central instru- ment; in which experimental and electronic music is accessed without compromising the directness and ease of the improvisational approach.
Label: Karaoke Kalk – karaoke kalk cd 25
Format: CD, Album
Released: 23 February, 2004