These days I associate The Prepared Piano with Hauschka, in the 60s, it was John Cage and alcohol, I am not sure which I discovered first but I have an image in my mind of me sticking objects like knives, pencils and ping pong balls on the strings of a grand piano, hitting random notes and loving it going back to my time at art school.
Some years later, I found myself with a Korg ms20 a copycat and a drum machine, making endless hours of random noise tapes in near darkness for days on end. I loved it. After all there’s nothing wrong with self indulgent nonsense in the privacy of your own home, particularly when it’s a semi-derelict warehouse in an abandoned (part of the) city.
These days however, it seems anyone with a laptop and effects rack can indulge themselves in public and under the umbrella special guest intently twiddle and tweak sound sources and random noise bursts to their hearts content, maybe that’s fine too and i am just getting to old for this, whereas I would just have adjourned to the bar, I now sit tight on the cushion I have carefully brought with me.
NB. Chapels are religious buildings, they have pews, pews are wooden planks on legs, they are not comfortable unless you have a large bottom or deep religious conviction. I have neither but I do have a bus pass, a love of art, abstraction, experiment and the avant-garde and I like Union Chapel as a venue and an idea.
Hauschka was charming, the two young women behind me said as much when the set finished and he announced he would be at the back of the selling his merchandise in order to wind down. I believe he abandoned a course in business studies in his youth, presumably in order to purse his love of hip hop, which as he told us in his introduction was at odds with his upbringing in Ferndorf in rural Austria.
The place seems important to him, Ferndorf being the title of the fourth studio album by avant-garde musician Hauschka, released in 2008. The album features more electronic and instrumental overdubs than previous efforts, while still retaining the prepared piano.
His set was taken from work on Abandoned City, his new album, the title apparently being descriptive of the state of mind he likes to record in. The piano sat silhouetted and spot lit, tape beads hanging from the edge of the open lid, one he had seemingly prepared earlier as he touched the keys for the first piece several pieces the train then left the station. The journey was not the stereotypical procession of tracks, but feelings, almost hypnotic, almost magical, occasionally teetering on the brink of amplification overload, there was an alchemy here. Grand pianos are great machines and if you sit close to one whist its being played, they creak, grown and sigh like boats at high tide. The tension between the material is the dynamic. If you think about it, the idea of making music by hitting metal with felt is as preposterous as laying or sticking objects on the strings.
After a couple extended of pieces Hauschka stripped the taped objects from the still resonating amplified strings, poured on a bin bag of plastic balls and continued to play. This was playtime, theatre and the end of an all too short musical journey aside from an encore which required the re-bagging of the balls and gave him further time for interaction with his audience and some merchandising.
Did I rush to get the album? No, but I have gone back to his earlier works in the Snowflakes and Carwrecks Ep and The Prepared Piano. I whole heartedly recommend listen to these and then for the keen seeing what else you discover via the remix albums.
Words: Kevin Nessling
Photos: Annelie Rosencrantz
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