May 30, 2014 Web Exclusive
One thing about Hauschka's music is that once you've seen it performed live—hell, a YouTube clip will almost suffice—it's impossible to dissociate the visual from the sounds you're hearing. The German composer plays the prepared piano, meaning that he tampers with the instrument's insides to produce new and unique sounds. Bottle caps are taped to strings to produce a tambourine-like rattle; strings are wrapped in foil to alter their tone; he's even set pocket-sized vibrators rolling loose across his keys to work their persistent buzz into his sound. The bulk of this setup is done pre-performance, but some of it even comes mid-song, and watching him reach one hand into his instrument's guts to jam sticks into its strings—while still playing with his other hand—makes for one of the more visually interesting piano performances you'll ever witness.
Hauschka has imbued his latest record, Abandoned City, with an overarching feeling of loneliness, which fits the album's high concept: eight of the nine instrumental tracks are named after vacant, real-world metropolises. Several tracks, such as opener "Elizabeth Bay" and the closing piece, "Stromness," let their dark melodies echo out into what sounds like massive, empty spaces; the compositions immediately evoke images of wrecked buildings and forgotten skylines with almost every note. (Even the gorgeous, more traditional-sounding number "Craco" has an unshakeable sadness to it.) But despite the bleak cover art and the morose, recurring theme, the album isn't all about gloom: tracks like "Thames Town" and the pulsing "Agdam" feature propulsive, dance-like grooves. (Hauschka has some background in techno music, so his rhythmic, percussive tendencies are no surprise.) Abandoned City is an enthralling collection of compositions, as invocative as any ambient, electronic recording. That so much of it was recorded acoustically—on an instrument that was practically custom-built for each song by the musician himself—makes it all that much more a wonder. (www.hauschka-net.de)
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Average reader rating: 6/10