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Hauschka, Union Chapel 27.05.09

July 17, 2009

Ever since a recent interview with Fat Cat A&R Dave Howell, I’ve been itching to see their 130701 imprint artist Hauschka work his voodoo on the piano. Having warmed the inner mechanisms of my ear with album Ferndorf and recent EP Snowflakes and Carwrecks, I’ve been beguiled by Volker Bertelman’s (the man behind the pseudonym) gelatinous piano music.

Perhaps having similarly grown up in a small town in rural Germany I can relate to the Heimat-freude that resounds within in his music; his Ferndorf is my Oberjesingen (albeit with a much more evocative name: Ferndorf means ‘remote village’, Oberjesingen doesn’t sound as cool, just typical of southern Germany where lots of places end in ‘ingen’). But what I really wanted to see was how he plays with the inner workings of his piano to add new sounds to his unique take on contemporary classical music.

And no better a setting to see him in: the Union Chapel is grand and spiritual, demanding an attentive audience who won’t be prone to chit-chat after a few beers. Gangly and mop haired, Hauschka played with no accompaniment and none was needed. Texture is added to his pieces through means I was unable to determine, a little man could’ve been under the hood raking the strings in a steady staccato for all I know.

Sharing an anecdote about passing through security with a collection of mini-vibrators he’d just acquired from a vending machine in the men’s loo of Dusseldorf airport, it seems authorities don’t usually here the excuse “I put them in the piano” very often. But when he does, the results are more than worth the hassle of a few discerning looks from uniformed men with x-ray machines. A chorus of trembling strings engulf us while he plays.

He dedicates standout piece of the evening, ‘Zahnlücke’ to the women in his family who have been blessed with gaps between their front teeth (as Zahnlücke means ‘tooth gap’) but his finale ends with him throwing a bag of ping-pong balls inside his instrument and playing so rapturously that every so often one of them pops into vision.

Like the whizz kids who take their bikes apart, just for the satisfaction of putting them back together again or computer geeks who open up their computers to play with the wiring, I walked away admiring and awaiting the next time I may see the results of Hauschka’s ‘prepared piano’ skills and the number of nerd hours he must spend playing with different embellishments and learning far beyond the obvious of the black and white keys.

[Originally reviewed for Bearded Magazine]

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