HAUSCHKA: Ferndorf (Fat-Cat Records/130701)


Posted on Oct 2nd 2008 12:45 am

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Hauschka: Fendorf

Fat-Cat Records/130701 2008
12 Tracks. 46mins11secs

The project of German composer and pianist Volker Bertelmann, Hauschka provides a space for him to explore the piano in all its prepared glory and go beyond the boundaries of classical music, which still serves as the basis for his work. Indeed, Bertelmann spent over ten years studying classical piano before embarking on a much more challenging and experimental journey. As Hauschka, he combines his academic expertise with a playful approach, which has led him to place cork crown on the string of his piano, wrapping the hammers with aluminium paper or sticking rubber or felt between the strings to draw all sorts of unusual sounds from his instrument of predilection.

Prior to joining Fat Cat’s sister label 130701, Bertelmann released two albums as Hauschka on the Berlin-based Karaoke Kalk imprint, the first, Substantial, in 2004, and the second, The Prepared Piano, a year later, and an album of interpretations of tracks from The Prepared Piano, with contributions from Eglantine Gouzy, Mira Calix, Tarwater or Barbara Morgenstern to name but a few, was also released on Karaoke Kalk last year. Bertelmann is also a member of Krautrock outfit Music A.M. alongside Stefan Schneider, of To Rococo Rot fame, and Long Fin Killie’s Luke Sutherland, and one half of electronic act Tonetraeger. In early 2007, Hauschka released Room To Expand on Fat-Cat/130701, which collected mostly solo recordings.

With his latest effort, Bertelmann has conceived a much richer record, with added textures provided by a string duo on quite a few compositions. Ferndorf, meaning ‘distant village’ in German, evokes the small village where he grew up playing outdoors and exploring the surrounding forest. Although now living in Düsseldorf, Bertelmann has in recent years realised how memories of his childhood play an important role in his work, and this informs the music on this record. Although this is ultimately a very personal process, the listener is not required to identify with Bertelmann’s history to appreciate the music showcased here. While his work has always been engaging and playful, this latest album shows a much wider and vivid scope and, the greater variety of instruments used also gives this collection a much livelier feel.

The album opens with the light-hearted and pastoral curls of Blue Bicycle, which sees Bertelmann and cellists Insa Schirmer and Donja Djember improvised freely along a loose recurring theme and develop a tight narrative over the five and a half minutes of the piece. Improvisation is also at the core of Morgenrot, Nadelwald, Alma and Neuschnee, but these are much slower in pace and more intimate in nature as melancholic cello flourishes circle around gentle piano melodies. The rest of the tracks were recorded between October 2007 and March 2008 and string elements were played by Bertelmann. Additional sting work was added later to give the compositions a much fuller aspect. While the music is often reflective and a tad melancholic, tracks such as the wonderfully wonky Rode Null, with its seemingly approximate rhythmic exchanges, the intricate deployment of noises of Barfuss Durch Gras or the busy Schones Mädchen attest of Bertelmann’s taste for mischievous compositions. Elsewhere, the record takes a cinematic turn, especially on pieces such as Freibad, Eltern or closing track Weeks Of Rain.

This fourth album sees Hauschka’s Volker Bertelmann in fine form and in clear inquisitive mood. While the prepared piano has provided a fair level of variety in his previous work, the addition of stings gives the compositions on Ferndorf a different relief and outlook. This necessity of bulking up his sound may have been infused by the live performances that followed the release of Room To Expand, or by the fulfilment of this album’s title, but it serves Bertelmann’s music superbly.


Hauschka | Fat-Cat Records
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