Rearranging the rules of the piano, Hauschka creates pieces which are interested in viewing the instrument in a different way. Wedging bits of leather and other such things into the piano strings, adding guitar strings or covering the piano hammers in bits of tin-foil, the result is a band of pianos which jangle along in a childlike manner with some fine tunes on The Prepared Piano.
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Volker Bertelmann has established himself as one of piano music’s loveliest rule-breakers. As Hauschka, he’s taken a few perfectly made instruments and edited them slightly, using a variety of toys, materials and found objects to slightly derange the sonics of the grand piano’s tight strings. While it might not seem like much of a feat now, with eleven records to his name, ‘The Prepared Piano’ shows Bertelmann in the early stages of his compositional experiments, quietly working out what small changes can be made to a time-worn tradition. ‘The Prepared Piano’ is classical trespassing.
‘The Prepared Piano’ had lofty ambitions, and was based on a very physical premise that’s meant to be heard throughout the record -- the harmonics resulting from Bertelmann’s objects drastically change his instrument’s sound, and they also force us to re-evaluate how it should be played, as the percussive emphasis of a prepared piano requires a different kind of performance -- one that is more hypnotic and repetitive, less focused on the standard compositional narrative. While this record sounds forcibly different, it also maintains a gentle ambience, betraying influence to artists who use the piano as a flourish in their grander soundscapes -- from the work of expressed influence Avro Part to Philip Glass. Often Bertelmann’s objects flit between being flourishes for his pieces and contributing to their fullness: the tambourine sound on “Ginki Tree” stays with the rhythm of his piece but occasionally syncopates, at which point it sounds like little a passer-by field recording. The result is a neo-classical record broken up into specific breaks in sound.
Looking back on it now, it’s clear just how novel an idea the prepared piano was to Bertelmann at this point -- his works are full of brightness and grace, played excitably and fast to articulate the piano’s new decorations as frequently as possible. Comparing it with his work now, such as the urgent and dystopian ‘Abandoned City’, this record shines like an exciting new prospect: Bertelmann opened up his piano and realised he could lead an orchestra of inanimate objects.
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