Hauschka + Clem Leek, Bush Hall, Shepherd’s Bush, London, 9/11/2010


Posted on Nov 10th 2010 01:06 am

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Hauschka + Clem Leek Bush Hall, Shepherd's Bush, London, 9/11/2010

Located in the lively and cosmopolitan Shepherd’s Bush area, West London, a stone-throw from the cold and soulless Westfield shopping arcade, Bush Hall is like an oasis of calm and tranquility. The place has been many things over the years, from its original purpose as a ball room to a soup kitchen during the second World War, a snooker club in the seventies, before being returned to its former glory, complete with carved ceiling and chandeliers, in the nineties. It retains a level of intimacy which was perfectly suited to this evening’s performance from German musician and composer Volker Bertelmann, better known as Hauschka, who was kicking off his UK tour following the release of his recent album, Foreign Landscapes, on Fat Cat. For this performance, Bertelmann was accompanied by a twelve-piece ensemble, who, he informed us, due to the impossible logistic of taking a whole orchestra on tour, he only had met the day before for a rehearsal session, and was ‘feeling like speed dating’.

Library Tapes was due to open the evening with Clem Leek, but was not able to make it to London on time, so Leek, who’s latest album, Holly Lane, on Hibernate, is a thing of beauty, took on to the stage alone and performed a series of rather beautiful melancholic piano pieces. While the majority of these were for solo piano, there was the occasional laptop flourish, which  at one point took the rather disturbing appearance of a recurring chilling cry, sounding half way between a seagull in the midst of an asthma attack and a pig being slaughtered, floating over a pastoral melody, or at another what could have been the muffled pounding of a disco beat at a party, as heard from within the womb. If these unexpected outbursts added a layer of grain to the performance, the remainder of Leek’s set proved a much gentler affair, much more stripped down than the heavily textured electronic forms of his latest opus.

Watching Bertelmann prepare the piano ahead of his performance amd test how his various beads, balls, toys and other objects affected the sound of the instrument as he positioned them ready for his set, almost as an extension of the main performance, was in itself a rare treat. But it offered no real key to the odd and wonderful sonorities that were to fill Bush Hall when Hauschka and his accompanying ensemble took to the stage.

While his previous records were mostly solo efforts, occasionally involving a small formation, Foreign Landscapes was recorded in San Francisco with the Magik*Magik Orchestra, an ensemble with whom Hauschka had worked once before some years ago. The evening opened with the light and enchanting Alexanderplatz, named, like most of the tracks lined up, from places which hold a particular significance for Hauschka.

Prepared differently to the record, the piano rarely had any of its original tonalities. Instead, there were at time almost mechanical pulses to it, a presage perhaps of a techno record built entirely from piano sounds and noises, due out some time next year.  Between extremely shortened and muffled  resonances, truncated sounds, odd toy-like noises and tuneless echoes, the music became at times strangely alive and human, as rendered more concrete by its many imperfections. The twelve-piece ensemble redressed the balance somehow, occasionally slightly drowning Bertelmann, thankfully never enough to wipe out the alien tonal progressions and organic textures generated from the piano.

At its most abstract and, well, prepared, Hauschka’s music can be a dark and moody beast, as he proved half way through with a solo piece which involved a range of tonalities reaching far beyond those included in the standard Steinway catalogue, from deep rambling and textured noises to ping pong balls resonating against the strings of the instruments, adding quirky rhythmic sequences, off-colour tones and distorted notes, all falling into the music at seemingly random intervals.The lighter, yet hectic Union Square, written for string quintet, was an interesting counterpoint to the previous piece. A reference to the famous square in Manhattan, the composition was expectedly busy, with melodies and counter melodies rushing past each other while a recurring two-note theme was played on the cello. The evening was brought to a close with a delicate sprinkling of Snow and a solo piece for piano and ping pall balls, before which Hauschka appeared to empty the content of an entire supply of said balls into the body of the instrument, resulting in any attempt at melody being totally and utterly overwhelmed by the sound of bouncing balls, the evidence of which was clear to see in the reflection of the piano’s open lead.

There is often something intrinsically cheerful about Hauschka’s music which certainly takes a different dimension performed live with an ensemble, and while the performance was at times slightly let down by the very young formation, they largely made up for occasional lack of experience with a good level of enthusiasm. This actually worked in Hauschka’s favour, adding a further element of unpredictability and grit to the evening.

Hauschka | Hauschka (MySpace) | Fat-Cat Records | Bush Hall

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Comments (2)

2 Responses to “Hauschka + Clem Leek, Bush Hall, Shepherd’s Bush, London, 9/11/2010”

  1. Bobon 10 Nov 2010 at 10:58 am

    Nice review of a great gig. Impressed with how quickly it’s up on the web too.

  2. themilkmanon 10 Nov 2010 at 3:31 pm

    Thank you for the kind comment. If you saw someone frantically typing on an iPhone all evening, especially during the performance, it was me.