In Conversation with Hauschka, Part II
Volume 21 Issue 22 2013-06-14
Rhythms of Stability and Freedom
“The essential thing in form is to be free in whatever form is used. A free form does not assure freedom. As a form, it is just one more form. So that it comes to this, I suppose, that I believe in freedom regardless of form.”
Hauschka is the alias of German pianist and composer Volker Bertelmann. Classically trained from childhood, he used his percussive piano skills to play whatever genre happened to appeal to him. Hauschka worked with pop bands, notably hip-hop group God’s Favourite Dog, before launching a solo career in which he explored the possibilities of experimental music, altering his piano to acoustically replicate the sounds of other instruments. He recently recorded an album of improvised music, Silfra, a collaboration with famed American violinist Hilary Hahn.
Read the first part of this interview here.
The Care and Handling of Improvisatory Skill
Hauschka has always improvised. However, he adds, “the Silfra album was the first time I made a complete improvised record with someone else.”
Such a demanding artistic practice, one requiring long-term training and preparation—as well as the time and space to enter an almost altered consciousness during performances—would be impossible without the right conditions. So does Hauschka depend on chance or strategy for his musical performances? He answers with alacrity, “I use both!”
It’s doubtful, for example, whether Hauschka could have developed his prepared piano technique had he not, from an early age, had the leisure to hang out and experiment to his heart’s content. These days he’s always busy, but luckily he still has what he needs to go on with his many creative pursuits.
“I need a quiet room and no disturbances,” he says. “I like the most when my family and my fiancée are around. We all eat together and I like to have a certain rhythm that brings stability and freedom into my life.
“To improvise well, you need a place where you feel secure and people around you that you can trust in terms of their opinions of your performance. It’s also important for me to have daylight rooms and not too busy places. I need a good grand piano with a great sound.”
Working on Silfra . . .
Silfra (aptly named for the geographic location in Iceland where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet) was recorded at Valgeir Sigurðsson’s Iceland studio in Reykjavik. Of working with the American violinist, Hauschka says, “Hilary is a great colleague and wonderful musician. It was great that I had the chance to record with her in a great place in Iceland, but also that we could meet for two years to try things out. There was no pressure to actually release anything. Things unfolded step by step and I liked that a lot.”
. . . and then Touring It
How do you tour an improvised album? The studio recordings can’t exactly be copied, and to try to do so would go against the spirit of the original tracks. As Hauschka explains, on tour he and Hahn are “only playing with themes from Silfra—the rest is completely new.” This makes each concert an event that can’t be repeated.
“Hilary and I decided to put the main focus on the atmosphere in which we created the record rather then performing the pieces one after each other,” he says. “It’s a risk, but we can grow with it; we can learn even better how to create on the spot.”
On the Horizon
Hauschka’s next project is composing a soundtrack for a documentary by filmmaker Yaël Reuveny: Schnee von Gestern (a German phrase meaning “old hat”), about her family in Tel Aviv.
He’s also working on a new album of recordings with local musicians in Nairobi, Kenya.
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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