Review : Hauschka - Salon des Amateurs
PitchforkLately, there have been a number of acts making variations on house music, loosely speaking, using acoustic instruments and ensemble techniques. Brandt Brauer Frick is probably the best known in dance circles, performing thumping, techno-inspired grooves with lineup of harp, strings, mallets, and other acoustic instruments (as well as the requisite laptop and 808 handclap). But there are also Nicolas Jaar, Wareika, dOP, and Kadebostan, among others; Elektro Guzzi, signed to Stefan Goldmann's Macro imprint, splits the difference between minimal techno and math rock with just drums, electric guitar, and effects. Hauschka's Salon des Amateurs is the latest addition to the canon. It has been made primarily with prepared piano, with understated contributions from múm drummer Samuli Kosminen and Calexico's John Convertino and Joe Burns.
It might seem like a bold move coming from Hauschka (Volker Bertelmann), a musician who's best known for intimate, classically inspired recordings for chamber ensemble or prepared piano-- hushed, pretty, and sometimes bordering on precious. The point hasn't been lost on Hauschka himself, who spells out his status as an interloper in the self-effacing title. (It also refers to a club in the artist's native Düsseldorf where he presents an annual piano festival.) But he needn't have: Salon des Amateurs is an inspired reverse engineering of house and techno's fundamentals, replacing the music's familiar circuitry with steel wire and felt pads.
By design, it's not really house music: There's no rhythmic quantization or bottom-heavy kick drum to appease club DJs. Compositionally, too, these songs are more ambitious than most club tracks, given to the kinds of harmonic changes that don't lend themselves to DJ tools. But it's not not house music, either. Despite varied rhythms and tempos across the album, steady 4/4 grooves are the norm. All the songs share dance music's fondness for ring pedal tones and a long, arcing shape, even if the mood and the style range from minor-key funk to steppy tango to all-out pastoral bliss. This is the kind of music you could imagine being played by DJs like Dixon, Âme, or Optimo-- DJs who know how to recognize dance music's essential thread, no matter how wooly the garment....full text
MusicomhGerman minimalist techno has its share of fans, but some reviews can flounder at the task of squeezing a fair sized critique from a genre where, by its own definition, nothing much seems to happen. Thesauruses are heavily looted in order to convey the many subtleties and minor shifts in tempo, and generally the experience is exhausting for all concerned. Thankfully Volker Bertelmann (aka Hauschka) has produced a playful and delightful techno homage that goes a long way to transcend the traditional genre conventions.
Hauschka's work as a pianist is interested in exploring the many possibilities of the piano. His past works have included preparing the instrument using the likes of gaffer tape, tin foil and even a vibrator in order to produce new sounds. This album is no less experimental - Salon Des Amateurs see the '90s Cologne electronic scene transported into a space in the middle of a post-classical/avant-garde jazz venn diagram. Whether any sex toys were harmed during the time in the studio remains a closely guarded secret.
Named after a piano bar in Düsseldorf where pianist Hauschka regularly curates music festivals, this album is far from an alienating experience. It's a bold project and its strengths lie in stripped-down simplicity. His skills as a pianist are beyond question and the sounds produced are exciting and satisfying. There is a hidden elegance in the fact that throbbing bass lines are now either curt, sharp tones or playful stabs of plinky-plonk.
The sound is boiled down to a nakedly percussive element that drags modern synths into a more organic realm and it is this driving undercurrent that leaves little room for inertia. Hauschka makes sure things move along at a steady flow, but this is not an album for the impatient - after a while it begins to suffer from the minimalist confines of the source material and at the halfway point there's little in the way of surprises in store for the casual ear. However, diligent listeners are likely to be rewarded with repeat plays. Those with short attention spans can be consoled by a forthcoming remix project that should see this album reuntied with its original influences....full text
Fluid-radioAn energetic collaboration, and a welcome stylistic departure that’s impossible to dislike…
Volker Bertelmann’s most recent last, “Foreign Landscapes”, was a collection of tracks inspired by his travels abroad and at home; an considered album of grandeur and weight. Literally hot on its heels is another album of a wildly varying type – a collaborative exploration of modern dance rhythms, filtered through organic instrumentation. Not what you were expecting, and that’s a good thing.
Why? It’s interesting and rewarding to see people add more strings to their bow. There often seems to be the popular expectation that musicians should develop in private, and surface only with releases that represent entirely considered and fully formed works. Go off and practice, and don’t come back until you’re ready to do your masterpiece. Major labels no longer develop artists over a course of releases, waiting until they’ve grown on their own to a point where they are fully formed before swooping to take a percentage. Examples are numerous. Discuss.
“OK Computer” NOW. Do “Pablo Honey” and “The Bends” yourself, in your own time.
This tends to indicate UK label FatCat do things differently, and deserve recognition for doing so. Seems unusual to see support for a creative urge to experiment with a different format, to encourage and indulge an artistic inclination. Even more so to facilitate a diversion from what proved popular last time, as well.
If “Salon des Amateurs” is the diversion where Volker B brings unbridled energy into his repertoire, here’s hoping it remains a constant. Interesting to note that in this instance two of his compatriots are Joey Burns and John Convertino from Calexico; fans of Sam Beam will recall that the Calexico/Iron and Wine collaboration EP “In The Reins” marked a point in his trajectory where he veered away from his previous roots/folk sound, and integrated more dynamic instrumentation into his recordings. Drummers’ drummer Samuli Kosminen (múm) also seems to moderate and refine the jaunty tone of Volker’s compositions, which is an interesting and welcome development.
Sound wise it’s hard to believe that the project was completed remotely – it was largely recorded at Bertelmann’s Studio Zwei space in Düsseldorf, whilst Kosminen, Burns and Convertino recorded their parts separately following directive notes from Bertelmann. This flies in the face of the essentially “band in a room” sound presented – the mixing is first rate, and it’s obviously been mastered with high attention to detail. In good headphones, the mixes shine with an obvious polish. Great to see the consistency in the album cover artwork from the last, as well.
Whilst the release information makes much mention of his take on minimalist techno and house, the strip mining of these genres for ideas is not really all that noticeable unless you’re specifically listening for it. There are what sound like occasional electronic flourishes, often buried deep in the mix. Horn parts do in some instance sound like they mirror dance staples (‘TaxiTaxi’), but thankfully it’s not glaringly obvious.
The same seems also to go for the repeated mention of the prepared piano. Whilst this is Hauschka’s main point of differentiation from many other modern pianists, it’s not often dramatically apparent to the casual listener. There’s piano there, sure, and the tones are at times unusual, but they’re never ludicrously mangled beyond recognition. Repeated listens to tracks like ‘NoSleep’ do tend to indicate that a lot of the layered percussive clatter and plink may have originated from inside a piano – albeit one containing ping pong balls, tape, bottle tops or in some instances, a vibrator. Quoting directly from the press release there, for the record. There’s not the “deliberately twisted beyond being in tune” element that’s present in, for example, Jim O’Rourke’s piano on the soundtrack for Werner Herzog’s “Grizzly Man”. Mention should also be made of the fact that there’s a mild ferocity in the playing that paints the piano as a tone rather than a solo melodic instrument in some songs – the saloon haunter of third track ‘Girls’ springs to mind. The mild splashes of piano melody that drift in and out of the pulsating bass, strings and drums seem often part of a multi-tracked melee that delivers as a whole, rather than a backing for the singular instrument....full text
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