Hauschka, no relation to the skin care guy at the bottom of the escalator in Brown Thomas, is Volker Bertelmann, a DÃ¼sseldorf-based keyboardist, arranger and serial piano dismantler. His instrument is the prepared piano. Judging by a graphic on his website, and by the sounds of three albums including Snowflakes and Carwrecks, a prepared piano is a baby grand with lots of bits that you might expect to be important yanked out with a pliers; or a Steinway with a breezeblock lying across the strings to give that satisfying, sought-after -clunk’.
So Bertelmann is as much a piano tech as he is a pianist. Combine this with his deliberate anonymity and his focus on trebly rhythmical playing rather than tune or texture (unlike, say, Eluvium), and there’s an eggheadedness to Hauschka that it’s a bit of work to get past; especially for those who, like me, like their post-classical stuff accessibly emotional, i.e., easy. He cites Satie and Debussy, melodic as hell, as key influences, and I don’t really see it. So it takes a while; but after a few listens, Snowflakes works; you could say it melts.
It opens with the breathless -Ginsterweg’, in which choppy, unpredictable right and left hand melody lines duel, accelerating and getting ever more distant from one another. The counterpoint on -Eisblume’ and -Wonder’ is between a fairly frenetic piano and an empathetic, restrained viola; the viola carries the tune, and is the entry point to the songs much of the time. -Tanz’, then, is reckless and vibrant – a piano/cello hoedown, if such a thing could be said to exist – and a surprising nine minutes long. (You don’t feel it going.)
From there though, the tempo comes down. Snowflakes gets softer and more meditative, with some space between the notes. It progresses, through -Kindelsberg’ and -Tagtraum’, in the way that reminds me of an eloquent description by CaoimhÃn Ã“ Raghallaigh of JÃ³hann JÃ³hannsson’s show in the Docklands last summer: ‘It started quite perturbed, lots of things going on within each piece, and over the trajectory of the entire gig, it slowly brought the entire level down to very, very still. It was really beautiful. And to me, it was quite spiritual in its aim. Its aim was to bring everybody’s level of activity way down. It was amazing.’ That’s exactly what Snowflakes does, and that’s exactly what it is. Thanks CaoimhÃn.