Venue: The Bush Hall Date: 09/11/10 Just after the support act, Clem Leek, had finished his haunting set, a slim, modestly dressed man quietly entered the hall and began to tinker with the piano that was on stage. So unremarkable was his entrance that many audience members barely noticed him. Yet, this unassuming character was, in fact, Volker Bertelmann, aka Hauschka. Leaning into the instrument he attached strings of beads, strips of felt and other bits and bobs to its musical guts whilst tapping the keys to see what effect he was having. Pure notes were transformed into stuttering snaps, tinny rasps and hollow thuds. Already I was fascinated. Bertelmann's exploration of the prepared piano certainly sounds great on his albums, but hearing it live you really get to appreciate the richness of what a little 'preparation' can achieve. Through some fantastic solo pieces, Haushcka presented a range of odd, but wonderful sounds. Nowhere was this more apparent than when he tipped a bag of ping pong balls into his piano and set them to clicking like an angry nest of beetles. These alterations in timbre also allowed him to create complex rhythms and beats, giving us a taste of the piano-based techno album that he will be releasing next year. If this is all sounding a bit too John Cage for your liking, don't be put off. From the opener, 'Alexanderplatz', to the encore, 'Kamogawa', every song was bursting with emotion and incredibly accessible. The brooding intensity of 'Iron Shoes', in particular, was pretty overwhelming. Thanks for this was due, largely, to the brilliant 11 strong orchestra that supported Hauschka for the majority of the evening. In one of his many charming asides to the audience, Bertelmann explained that the difficulties of travelling with an orchestra had forced him to drop the strings and brass whilst touring his last album. Finding this problem frustrating, he has opted, on his current European tour, to collaborate with different ensembles in different cites. In this case he had only met his orchestra the day before. “It feels a little like speed dating,” he joked, although based on the evening's performance you would have thought that they had been happily married for years. This was crucial, because watching Hauschka's work performed live highlighted that his art lies in affording each instrument the same individuality that he gives to his piano. Songs like 'Children' and 'Snow' were amongst the best of the night thanks to the way that the strings and brass were allowed to flourish on their own as well as unite as an ensemble. Overall, apart from a do over of the start to 'Union Square', every song was mostly tight and beautifully executed. I can only hope that Bertelmann is lucky enough to find equally talented musicians during the rest of his tour. If I did feel any disappointment it was only due to the fact that the night focused solely on Hauschka's newest album, Foreign Landscapes, and didn't revisit previous records. I had particularly hoped to hear Ferndorf's mournful 'Freibad'. That said, Bertelmann's, often amusing, explanations of the impetuses behind certain tracks, really helped to connect me more fully with Foreign Landscapes. For example, he spoke of how 'Kamogawa' was inspired by the late night walks he had taken by the Japanese river of the same name. Besides that, the calibre of the material on offer and the skill of the performers was more than enough to make up for any disappointment. Needless to say, Hauschka's exit was far grander than his entrance.