In Conversation with Hauschka, Part I
Volume 21 Issue 19 2013-05-24
“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I'm frightened of the old ones.”
“Ideas are one thing and what happens is another.”
Replicating Electronic Experimentation on an Acoustic Instrument
Hauschka is the pseudonym of German pianist Volker Bertelmann. Classically trained from childhood, he used his percussive piano skills to play whatever genre happened to appeal to him, even working with pop bands (most notably hip-hop group God’s Favourite Dog). Eventually he launched a solo career, in which he has explored the possibilities of electronic and experimental music.
Give Me a Bottle Cap A
Hauschka recently recorded an album of improvised music with famed American violinist Hilary Hahn. Working with a world-renowned classical violinist was quite a change from the pop bands he’d once played with, and tuning up her violin to a prepared piano was, well, interesting.
“A funny thing . . . always happened when we were on tour,” Hauschka says. “When we would go out on stage for sound check, Hilary had to tune her violin to an A on the piano and I always had some bottle caps on the A. So she would say, ‘Can I have some kind of an A?’ And then we had to laugh about it because it seemed so right.”
So what, besides bottle caps, does Hauschka jam into the strings of his grand piano?
“I use all sorts of bottle caps, light filters, and papers on my piano strings for high-hat and tambourine sounds. To create bass sounds I use a lot of the kind of felt mutes that piano tuners use.”
Hauschka adopted the practice of prepared piano not out of adulation for its originator, John Cage (about whom he actually knew little), but after his discovery that inserting objects between and around the piano strings could help replicate the sounds of many other instruments in a way similar to an electronic synthesizer.
“I actually was more interested in modern pop and electronic music, but did not want to leave the piano as an instrument behind,” Hauschka says. “Somehow I couldn’t accept that to do modern music I would have to choose amplified electronic instruments like keyboards. So I tried to work on sounds on the piano that sounded like electronic music.”
“I grew up in a very small village in Germany called Ferndorf . . . it was a pleasure to be there, at least until I became interested in things in the outside world, like rock bands and travelling. The only thing you could do in a small village with no good clubs was to make your own music, and so at the age of 12 I rented my own rehearsal room. Me and my friends hung out there until I was 18.”
Memorable Musical Encounters
“One of my most mesmerizing moments was listening to different trains by Steve Reich while I visited a lecture of Alvin Lucier at Wesleyan University. I had a concert there and the next day I sat in on this course because a friend had told me to check it out. Alvin Lucier was talking about the music of John Cage, Meredith Monk, and Steve Reich and it was the most wonderful experience . . . [hearing] music that felt very close, but it was already written way back in time, when I was starting with piano lessons.”
(To be continued.)
Wanda also penned the poems for the artist book They Tell My Tale to Children Now to Help Them to be Good, a collection of meditations on fairy tales, illustrated by artist Susan Malmstrom.
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