Hauschka: The Wavelength Interview

Purveyor of: Experimental, prepared piano that only sounds electronic
File next to: Erik Satie, John Cage, or you didn’t really know what to expect when you purchased your ticket, but you’ve been completely mesmerized
Playing: Saturday (April 11) @ Polish Combatants Hall

Hauschka (aka Volker Bertelmann) has mastered the acoustic electronic. He performs on the prepared piano: a lush instrument that has been manipulated by the placement and integration of objects on its hammers and strings. The resulting sound begs to be that of a synthesizer, but is instead a totally organic creation. His music is both playful and beautiful, and best experienced in person, as the familiar piano becomes an instrument of many voices. Volker hails from Dusseldorf, Germany and this is his fourth time joining us in Toronto. Marissa Janes chatted with him via the Internet.

Hi Volker! We are so happy to have you back in Toronto again. When did you first begin preparing the piano, and how did it develop into what you do today?

I prepared the piano first at the age of 12 when I put tags into the hammers of the piano. I always wanted to play a piano like a synthesizer and get as much sound out of it as possible. My Mum did not actually allow me to work on the inside of the piano, so I forgot about it and came back to it in 2001 when I recorded my first Hauschka record in Wales.

We are certainly happy you did. Does the Dr. Hauschka cosmetic brand actually use your music on their phone lines?

They were asking me, but they had to install a whole new communication system to have music running on their hold line, so I am still waiting for that because they have already chosen a track.

Ah, what a bummer! It’s great how they did not mind you having the same namesake, and the use of your music would be the perfect ending to that story!

How often do you incorporate new objects into your work? Does the new object correlate with a new composition, or do you imagine the sound you want to create before you have the object?

It is always all ways that are possible. Sometimes I find a piece by surprise backstage and I use it that evening [in performance]. Sometimes I am searching for a particular material to create a kind of drum sound. Sometimes I am working on a composition and I imagine a certain sound -— then I am running into the kitchen or to a 1 Euro Shop to see if I can find something. So, it is in a constant development. Some pieces stay in my collection, others I lose or they break.

Interesting — so there is also a whole other fleeting and momentary experience with your music, as you never know when you will lose an object, and therefore a specific sound.

Your most recent record, Abandoned City, is inspired by places that are no longer inhabited and have taken on a different life of their own. How often do places inspire your compositions, or is this mostly unique to this record?

No, if you go back into my older releases, you can find all sorts of names of places, buildings and squares. I think places have something in common with music: they store memory and always have stories around them. I think it is a wonderful combination to listen to music that describes a place or a building.

Absolutely. I love sense memory and connecting certain songs with stories or moments in my life, and places can definitely raise similar interpretations.

I have seen you perform a few times now in very different venues (a church, a hall, and a club). As you are constantly traveling with your music, you must have experienced a myriad of spaces. Do you have a preference? Do you think that the venue itself lends its own perception of your performance?

I have no preference when it comes to the changing venue, it’s one part of the challenge and the difference each concert makes. It definitely lends the sound and the acoustics to my music, therefore it is a very big challenge for me to incorporate that. A church has a huge reverb while a club is very dry. Some venues have special acoustics and others have a huge P.A. system… so it all starts when Michael, my sound engineer, and I arrive at the venue. We try to imagine what we can do with it.

Last time I saw you in concert, I became extremely aware that I was watching your show behind two or three cellphone cameras — especially during your improvised ping-pong ball piece, when it seemed everyone pulled out their phone. This is a growing practice in a live music audience, and while it is flattering that people are so excited about what they are experiencing that they want to share it with others, it is also distracting and perhaps lessens the impact of your live presence. Do you ever notice the increase in phones and cameras on you, and does it affect you at all?

It is interesting to hear you describe that, because the only time people take out their cameras is exactly during the ping-pong ball piece. During the rest of the show they are not thinking about it… they even forget to take it out. If you go on the Internet and you want to have a look at filmed shows of mine, there is very rarely any video made at my show and I am so happy about it. I think that is an expression of quality and it also says something about my audience. They actually come to see a unique show and they don’t want to destroy the memory by posting it.

I’m so happy that phone videographers haven’t been a problem for you. If anything, they are probably texting that ping pong video to a friend with the message “Look what you’re missing out on!” We can’t wait to see you this weekend!

Indeed, don’t miss Hauschka this Saturday (April 11) at the Polish Combatants Hall. Doors are at 8pm and advance tickets are still available at Rotate This, Soundscapes and TicketFly.