Hauschka, aka Volker Bertelmann, has been very busy of late. Just last month the Düsseldorf-based composer released his newest album, Foreign Landscapes, on Fatcat Records and now he is in the midst of an extensive European tour. Bertelmann was kind enough to take some time out of his hectic schedule to talk to The 405 about his work with the prepared piano. Can you start by telling us a little about what a 'prepared piano' is and what drew you to playing it? A prepared piano is a normal piano, it can be an upright or a grand piano. I paste thing onto the strings or put material between the hammers and the strings to create another sound on top of the normal piano sound. I wanted to do electronic music without a laptop and without any technical gear, so that O am independent and that is why I tried to find an opportunity to get sounds out of the notes that I am actually producing. How difficult is modifying your piano and how does it impact on live performances? It’s not difficult at all and I can prepare it in 15 min or It can take 2 hours, depending how deep I want to get into the instrument and the room I am playing in. How do you compose your pieces? Do you generally start with the piano and build around that or do you follow a different technique? I do both. I sometimes start with an improvised piece and I add overdubs on top of that. Sometimes I write down a composition and add a piano on top of that afterwards. I want to be free to start a piece however I like it, as I think the more variety the better. What musicians have influenced your work? My work was influenced by a record that was released on my label Karaoke Klak long time ago and it was called Wunder. The other people are Glenn Gould, Keith Jarett, Aphex Twin and Mouse on Mars, Schoenberg and Michael Mayer, Rachmaninov and Mapstation.
Your earlier records, like Substantial and Room to Expand, were made up mostly of solo piano recordings. Since your last album, Ferndorf, you have started to include a wide variety of instruments in your pieces. What was the impetus for this change? Was it a sort of natural progression or was it more a response to being limited by one instrument? Do you think you will put out an album of solo recordings again? Of course I will produce more solo piano records and of course there is a wish of expanding and changing the opportunities. I want to be challenged and so the work with orchestras is a challenge for me but also a learning process of composing. I like the idea of having music in my head and writing it on the plane or in places where I don’t need a studio and then I send it away and people can play it. It's been about two years since Ferndorf. You're said to have taken inspiration from your childhood and the landscape in which you grew up for that album. A number of songs on Foreign Landscapes, such as 'Iron Shoes', sound a lot more dark and desperate than your previous work. There also seems to be an eastern European influence on certain songs, 'Union Square' for instance. Have you drawn upon any particular experience for this latest album? For me this album is inspired by places in the here and now and not by places from the past, like Ferndorf somehow was a romantic , even more than a romantic view back to my childhood. Foreign Landscapes is dealing with the reality that I am in today and so I wanted to create compositions that are for me one step towards even more complexity and longer pieces. This album was a start for a long learning process in working with classical musicians and I hope I can get it to my limits... You've experimented with a lot of music in the past, I read somewhere that you even rapped in a band once. Have these past experiences had much of an impact on your present work? Is there a genre that you would like to move into/experiment with in the future? I think I always carry the music I grew up with in me and so all the music I made so far is a big part of me. I’ve already finished a record with music that is inspired by techno and hiphop elements and I am really glad that I could collaborate with great musicians from Modest Mouse, Calexico and MUM. So I am totally excited about what is going on at the moment. It often gets said (At least in the UK) that a lot of people, especially the younger generation, have no interest in 'classical' music. Is this ever a worry/consideration for you when composing? No I don’t think about that at all, but I have the impression that young people have an interest in classical music, it’s just the way it is presented that makes them not go to concerts. Plus I think it would be great if the old composers could stand next to the young once and hopefully one day that will happen and we will have again people like Tchaikovsky or Bach that are born today or at least 20 years ago. What can we expect from Hauschka in the future? I will release a techno and hiphop orientated record in April 2011 that I recorded at the same time as Foreign Landscapes. It will mainly have all the sounds produced by the piano besides drums by drummers from different indie bands that I collaborated with .....besides that I will get deeper into composing and all the rest we will see.
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