Hauschka is a modern master of prepared piano music, successfully transferring this esoteric approach to the instrument into lovely melodic songs. What If sees Hauschka adding automatic player pianos into the mix, which opens up even more possibilities for this eternal sound-tinkerer. Released by City Slang.
9/10 Jamie Staff review, 28 March 2017
Volker Bertelmann has been churning out his prepared piano works as Hauschka for well over a decade now, and after a dozen or more solo albums (I’ve actually lost count) he’s upping the ante once again. I haven’t even counted his many collaborative projects and film and documentary soundtracks. Anyway, here he has added pianolas -- a type of automated piano that can go like the clappers -- and added layers of rhythmic complexity to his taut piano wires.
Using the player pianos has certainly made things faster and hugely frenetic; ‘Constant Growth Fails’ has me losing my breath and I have to pause to have a sip of peppermint tea. Aah, that’s better. ‘My Kids Live On Mars’ is a welcome change down in pace; starting with a simple metronomic 'plink' of a pulse, the track builds with layers of reverb-laden tremolo piano melodies and warmly pulsing electronics. Volker likes the ol' electronics and has confessed to being a fan of boom bap hip-hop, so this is where his fascination with rhythmic beats comes from. It all makes for some interesting textures and timbres.
Bertelmann might be making a conscious effort to break away from the 'new-' or 'neo-classical’ labels being lazily thrown about but the results can feel a little overworked and cluttered at times; even listening with good headphones there is a heck of a lot going on at once. ‘I Can’t Express My Deep Love’, however, is a more stripped-down, back to basics approach to piano -- a beautiful wisp of a melody is only gently tinkered with, classical with complementing textures. ‘Nature Fights Back’ is pure lunacy; intricate, tinnily clattering strikes wring out a rhythm to a can-can style melody on a harsher, possibly de-tuned piano. It’s great, my favourite track on the record. Hauschka may have a future in accompanying burlesque shows, perhaps.
Addendum / edit: Since this review I have listened again -- this time on big speakers -- and it all makes much more sense. The spaces are enlarged; the bass sounds particularly punchy and lively. This might just be a great record. 9/10.
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