Hauschka - Abandoned City - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Hauschka - Abandoned City

by David Bruggink Rating:8.5 Release Date:2014-03-17

Since the release of Ferndorf in 2008, I had unfairly categorized Germany's Hauschka as yet another modern classical musician making vaguely cinematic piano-based songs. Expecting an inferior version of Max Richter or Ludovico Einaudi, I was surprised by the creative use of the prepared piano on Ferndorf, as well as the album's emotional restraint. Where Max Richter might present a gorgeous chord progression that tugs at the heartstrings from the beginning of a song and then gradually flesh it out, the arrangements of Hauschka (born Volker Bertelmann) are more complex, taking their time in subtly unraveling and often building to powerful crescendos.

While Philip Glass-like repetition of short melodic lines is a feature in his music, Hauschka also incorporates scratches, creaks, taps, rattles, and other nontraditional piano sounds, the result of placing assorted objects - for example, bottle caps, ball bearings, and pieces of wood - on the piano strings. This gives his piano playing an uncommon sense of texture, as notes that would normally ring out pristinely can sound more like plucked violin strings or a hammered dulcimer. In addition, Hauschka often uses those aforementioned unusual sounds to create driving rhythms that one is more used to associating with microhouse or minimal techno than modern classical.

Hauschka's newest, Abandoned City, sees him growing even more capable of channeling his diverse palette of piano-based sounds towards the structures of electronic music. In the same fashion as its predecessor, Salon des Amateurs, it succeeds in replacing stock-in-trade elements of dance music with piano counterparts; for instance, rather than a hi-hat, there's the tinny bounce of a metal object on the piano strings. It's an approach that works well - Hauschka seems to be an artist equally at home in the worlds of electronic and classical music, and never really comes off as a pianist merely trying his hand at a new style.

If you didn't already guess from the name, the mood of Abandoned City is considerably darker than Salon des Amateurs. 'Elisabeth Bay' starts the album with echoing tones rippling like thunder through the sky as a melancholy, classical chord pattern gradually imposes itself, only to then step back and allow a single persistent minor chord to overtake it.

The album's push and pull between the emotiveness of classical music and the aloofness of techno are part of what makes it interesting. Stretches of Abandoned City often recall Dawn of Midi's brilliant Dysnomia from last year in embodying the rhythms as well as the atmosphere of minimal techno in a more organic context.

Unlike Dawn of Midi, Hauschka clearly retains a passion for the vividly beautiful melodies of his previous work, and whether this impulse wins out or merely introduces itself can vary from track to track. The foundation of 'Craco' is a plaintive piano melody that could sit alongside any by Einaudi, Richter or Jean-Yves Thibaudet, while highlight 'Pripyat' features little but a ghostly fragment of melody that is sidelined and deconstructed multiple times to breathtaking effect.

Abandoned City is the rare sort of album that could make fans of two, or maybe even three, styles of music happy. Modern classical listeners would probably enjoy the cinematic quality of his work, as well as his unique approach to the piano and focus on texture. Fans of electronic music would probably recognize an artist that's working with a less-than-common medium and injecting more emotion and creativity into his songs than expected.

 

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