Interview: Hauschka

08 Sep 2015 — Andrew Darley

Volker Bertelmann’s Abandoned City, released in 2014, has grown into a family of records. The artist known as Haushka has just released a live performance of the album in a museum in Yufiuin, a small picturesque town on the Japanese Island Kyushu, and called it 2.11.14. The record is made of 20-minute sections loosely derived from the original record. He has also released an album of additional songs that did not fit the main record and related remixes called A NDO C Y, a wordplay on Abandoned City. Together the three records sit side-by-side to complete a picture of Hauschka’s creative period that spans two years. His career to date is marked by his experiment in the prepared piano in which he used everyday materials to transform and challenge the sounds of the traditional piano into electronic soundscapes. We chatted with Volker about his approach and the many phases an artist can achieve in their career through reinvention. Read the interview after the break.

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Your new live album, 2.11.14, is a recording of a performance you did last year in the remote town of Yufuin, Japan, in its Artegio Museum. Can you tell me about the lead up to the performance?

Yufuin is a very picturesque small village – if there weren’t so many Japanese tourists, you would think that it’s a rice farm village or something. We found the museum, which had very modern architecture in between all these traditional houses. I was quite amazed since I was expecting an older concert hall. It only had the capacity for about 200 people and they came from all over Kyushu. Musicians who tour in Japan usually play in Tokyo or Osaka and then go home. I had played seven times in Japan and I’ve always tried to play in further out places. I realized that the sound in the museum was very good, and by chance my sound guy pressed ‘record’ which captured the whole concert. We listened back to it afterwards and we were pretty amazed by the sound.

You mentioned the architecture of the museum. Does the space and design of a venue impact your performance?

Totally. Also, the travel is something that always influences me. Travelling is very tiring; bands who are constantly touring need to be very strict in their rhythm or they are extremely loose. It’s very hard to find the balance and the right energy. This room we played in was long and rectangular with a very high ceiling. It was unusual because normally you play in square rooms or rectangular rooms and play at the small side of the room but we played the length of the room so people were very close to the piano. I was very surprised by the effect that it had on the whole sound. Even the piano I was playing was an unusual brand I didn’t know where the company came from.

Since the show was set in the museum, how important is visual art to your work and music?

It really depends. I love people working with my music and I love creating music to pictures too. But it depends on the purpose and the person who you work with. It can be great using visuals but sometimes it doesn’t make sense at all. I never do visuals for the sake it for it. Imagery can be destructive to music; I feel it takes focus away from the sound and sometimes you cannot properly hear the music. With big rock shows, everything has to be so visual and powerful with effects that it becomes hard to concentrate on the music.

The record contains versions of "Craco" and "Stromness" – it’s almost as if the songs themselves have disintegrated into a new form that mirrors the overall theme of Abandoned City. Do you see your songs as being fluid, with no definitive version of a song?

I think that there are elements that are defining of a song with regard to my prepared piano pieces. My orchestral arrangements are more strictly written and performed in the same way as they are written. With my album songs, it would restrict me and the audience if I was always playing the same kind of version over and over. Again, a venue can change the song. When I play in a church "Craco" would sound completely different to when I play it in a rock club and that’s because of the natural reverb of the place. Of course, mood comes into play– both mine and the audience's. Time is a big factor too – the way I feel at a Sunday afternoon show will be completely different to how I feel on Saturday night. I want to adjust my music to the situation.

How do you rehearse for a tour? Do you loosely know the songs and the way you want to present them or is it a more disciplined process?

I loosely know the themes and patterns that I will use but I give myself the freedom to decide on the spot. I start from scratch and work myself into a mood where I feel confident and then I try to find elements of older albums to implement them into the situation. With Abandoned City, I had the impression that the mood of music would change and develop as I toured it – I would find a new style that I could use for a new record. I would say that my style is now disappearing from the idea of the piano as an instrument and I see it more as a soundbox – something that I can use for all sorts of sounds.

Live albums can sometimes be risky to release in that they can either capture the magic of the performance and artist in the room or they don’t. Do you feel this album offers an extension of your work to listeners?

If you put me into perspective of the beginning of my career when me, Max Richter, Dustin O’Halloran, Jóhann Jóhannsson – all these guys were working on piano music in an independent context – I’m very far away from that. I feel I could release this record on a very pure electronic label. I believe that there is a lot of romanticized clichés around piano music and its piano players. I want to escape all of that and create something that actually kicks me. As an extension of my work, I would see 2.11.14 as setting the path for the next album. It’s a bridge into something new.

In light of your prepared piano work and how you experiment with different materials to sculpt sound, do you think that we may be on the way to creating a new instrument altogether?

The piano is already quite great and I just expand its opportunities with other materials. I don’t think I or others have created a new instrument but you’re using 100% of what is already there, whereas typically only 40% of the instrument is played. All the people who have tried to renew the piano, in making the body bigger or strings longer, so far from what I’ve heard is not convincing. I have the impression that it doesn’t add too much to it. I think it’s worthwhile creating new sounds with the piano but also keeping its pure sound that is beautiful. I don’t hate the original sound of the piano but I’m trying to find how far I can go with music that interests me.

Can you remember the first item you used to experiment with the sound of the piano?

I was in Wales recording my first album Substantial and I used Christmas cake cellophane wrapper to create hi-hats, which made me realize I could use something different on each string and use it in a way a sampler would work.

You mentioned Max Richter, whose work is continuously called ‘neo-classical’ alongside your own. In its broadest sense, this refers to music that incorporates classical instrumentation with modern technology and electronics. Similarly Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds have been framed in this way. Do you identify with this term?

No, not at all. Comparing or putting Max Richter with Ólafur Arnalds in the one box is impossible. There’s a completely different attitude behind it. I would say Richter’s music has a much deeper impact – it was already there, way before Ólafur, and I feel it is very deep in a way. I have the impression that guys like Ólafur and Nils are much younger and they pick up on all the stuff that is working well and put it together – which is totally fine.

All the guys I know who work with piano would never consider themselves neo-classical composers. I think this term is completely irritating. It suggests something that is already there or existed because ‘neo’ means “new” suggesting a new invention in classical music, but I don’t hear any classical music in any of those composers, besides some of Max Richter’s work. All the rest have so much independent rock and electronic music involved, rather than Debussy and Ravel.

When I started in 2004, I was never thinking about being grouped with Richter or Jóhannsson – I just liked what they were doing. I really tried to find my own language. Of course, you are attracted by certain things but on the other side you want to find your own identity. With this neo-classical genre, it suddenly becomes a brand. There’s this assumption that everyone in the historical line of piano music all know each other. It was very funny because when I played in Moscow someone said to me that they love neo-classical music because we all support each other. But that’s not true – we may know each other but there’s some that I don’t know at all. There is also difficult relationships between people, they may have met each other at some point and didn’t work out. There is a possibly a renaissance of piano music with a huge amount of young piano players coming up.

Sometimes I feel that music journalists have no idea about who they writing about and put so much personal empathy in their review and forget to write about the music itself. I’m very glad about positive and negative reviews because I can get a perspective of where I’m standing at any one time. Maybe a guy from Pitchfork is reviewing one of records as great, then the next one is bad; sometimes this helps to form your own opinion of yourself. You can choose to accept or reject what they say. I would love to discuss my music with someone who wrote about me to find out why he is thinking in a certain way.

We all have stagnation and we all have phases of growth. You can’t always grow in the same direction – you have to make decisions of where you want to go. I would say that the potential of an artist starts when you discover that he has the possibility to make a lot of moves in his career. Not only by recreating his art that was once successful because that will cease at some point, so you have to constantly find new angles or things that are interesting to you. You should never be scared that your main audience will disappear.

In 2013 you made a documentary piece with Tori Amos called Through The Night, in which you travelled around Berlin sharing your experiences, exploring the piano and playing music together. Both of you studied classical music at some point in your lives and ultimately found your own path and relationship with the piano. Did you learn anything from her or take away anything from that night?

Tori Amos is a wonderful person. It’s not often you become close with someone you’ve been listening to their records since you were fourteen. You can always learn by meeting people that have a career; you can learn from their attitude towards things and what they are struggling with. She’s a great example of an artist who has a lot of periods in her career; you can see that there have been phases when it doesn’t have the edge it did at the beginning. Yet she has reinvented herself and tried new things. I think her last record, that came out after our documentary, was very good and I was delighted to see she was playing Primavera. With Tori, when you sign to a big label like Universal, you can lose the attachments to who you are because you become a product and sometimes you can’t even do what you want to do. I think she feels she is now coming back to her own roots.

I’m a huge fan too. From what I understand, she had a difficult time in turning fifty and her place in music amongst all the younger artists. 

That’s an issue of course; you see younger guys and they pick up their audience and maybe they are closer to them. I was always surprised that my audience was so young – normally you would expect that people who come to your shows are as old as you. I feel my music escapes the hipster area, which I like. You see how they follow a certain musicians for a while and and then jump when something new comes along. They don’t stick with you. I’m a big fan of continuity and the only way I can continue is if people stay with me and are interested by what I’m doing.

 It’s about building a relationship between the artist and the listener.

I totally agree. Even if you take a break from the artist that you like, it doesn’t really matter because you can come back and find something new. At some point, every artist faces their peak and find their original energy is not there as much anymore. If you are able to reinvent yourself, that’s a big gift, and I think Tori is someone who is able to do that in a very nice way.

Have you ever felt like you had to reinvent yourself?

I’ve done twelve albums now and I feel like I’m reinventing myself with every album because I don’t want to bore myself. I could play every night with my ping-pong balls and make the same jokes at every show for years and years but people will come back to my show and say “Oh man, this guy sucks completely!”

You also have another record out, A NDO C Y, which cleverly uses letters as if the original record title has disintegrated. What relationship does this have to Abandoned City?

There was so much music unreleased that we wanted to put it out separately. I was a fan of doing little side releases, 2.11.14 which is live component and A NDO C Y is the remix and extra songs that couldn’t find a way on the main album. They’re not B-sides because I really love them. Now we have three vinyl records that sit together as a set, which reflects two years of work. I wanted these side releases to feel as if they complete a picture. The cover of A NDO C Y is the same album cover as Abandoned City; we left the cover out for a couple of months in the rain and wanted to see which letters were left over and that’s the title!

The theme of Abandoned City focused on the idea that when something ceases or dies, something new is born out of it – the world around is limitless. Does this sentiment stretch to your musical approach in that where other musicians may see an instrument in a very uniform way, you try and see past that?

What I’m trying to do in a way is a very simple thing. I was born a lover of music that is very physical, like dance and hip-hop. I love music with bass and rhythm but here I am as a piano musician. In piano music, rhythm and bass is not happening intentionally; it’s much more to do with movement, melody and warmth. I try not lose the instrument to my other love. That’s why I’m trying to expand the sound of the piano as well as integrate it in its traditional sense. My performances are not there to make a show – if I wanted that I would install a big light show and I would get bigger but I’m not interested in that. Inner growth is totally fine but I don’t believe in things needing to grow constantly, that’s a big mistake. It puts you under pressure and awakens a weird sense of yourself.

Why should I change from the prepared piano if I’m not finished it? If I want to make a guitar album as my next record, I will do it. I don’t know if the fans I have are coming with me. I don’t want to lose my fans but I’m not also there to please them. That’s the difficult part because some fans may think you have to be loyal to them and I don’t know what loyalty is in that situation because you don’t know each other. You are connected through a love of music. People who I adore like Nick Cave or Tom Waits, they are older but always remain fresh in what they are creating. I feel this is most important ¬¬– you do what you want and people will come with you.

2.11.14 and A NDO C Y are out now.

Review: Helen “The Original Faces”

24 Aug 2015 — Evelyn Malinowski

One must rifle through something in order to reach Helen's The Original Faces full-in beauty, and it isn't distortion. The barricade between the album's heavenliness and our ears may or may not result from being over-familiar with Liz Harris' modus operandi; experiencing her vocal-puddling grandeur under a different guise partially informs this suspected barrier. The structural rock and friendly shoegaze, not to mention the application of a tambourine, distances us from longing, pleading, predictable, addictive Grouper. The Original Faces lacks any type of lull or shrugging shoulders. Executed in twelve short tracks, the band knows exactly what they want to accomplish and does it most succinctly. Be that as it may, I had a strange memory lapse in learning about the release. I thought to myself, "Oh, of course this is coming out, and that's great, and it feels deja-vu-y, and of course it's shoegazy, and there's a song called 'Allison,' which is probably a Slowdive cover." 

It's not; it's an original "Allison," and it's absolutely lovely. Throughout the album, lyrical layers accumulate and chantey with Jed Bindeman's hi-hat-heavy drums and Scott Simmon's slowly progressive electric guitar. "Dying All The Time" is a tight-knit snare, floor tom, and ride tapestry, one that digs and digs and digs through seemingly impassable surfaces. The tension and focus lifts every time Harris reenters, no matter the track. Finished in only thirty-three minutes, one might feel as if something has quickly washed over them, like an unnoticed storm that alters the temperature. Hit play again, and focus more. Find something to grab on to, such as the lingering vocals at the end of "Violet." 

Harris' indecipherable lyrics leave us fulfilled. The project is unique, and some Grouper fans likely rejoice in her appearance in a shoegaze band. The sound of Helen, on the other hand, is heavily habitual. If such is the case, how does the project still feel anomalous, a forces which satiates and calms someone who has been suffering from musical frustration? Gorgeous though it is, something about the album is fleeting, unavailable for grasping fully. Some people certainly love and prefer music like that.

Helen's freshman full-length will be out on September 4 on Kranky. You can check out their 7" from 2013, whose tracks will likewise appear on The Original Faces.

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Guest Post: Efterklang’s Rasmus Stolberg Recommends By the Lake Festival 2015

16 Aug 2015 — Editor

Rasmus Stolberg, member of Copenhagen veteran experimental luminaries Efterklang and Liima, is not only in charge of acclaimed radio station The Lake Radio but is also hosting and curating Berlin's By the Lake Festival, which is set to happen at the Freilichtbühne Weißensee on August 29. In anticipation of the event, Rasmus is introducing each of the performing artists. Watch videos by all of them and read his thoughts after the break. (ed.)

Find more details about the festival over here, and buy tickets here.


2:30pm Liima
4:00pm Lonnie Holley
5:30pm Burnt Friedman & Jaki Liebezeit
6:50pm Omar Souleyman
8:40pm Wildbirds & Peacedrums

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Burnt Friedman & Jaki Liebezeit

We are absolutely thrilled to have these two gentlemen playing By The Lake. Jaki Liebezeit is of course famous for being the innovative drummer of krautrock legends Can, but this duo has a language of its own and it is a wonderful language. Burnt Friedman skilfully runs the electronic machines, Jaki Liebezeit plays the drums and together they conjure music that is captivating, foreign and totally mesmerizing.

Wildbirds & Peacedrums

Mariam and Andreas are married, they are good looking, they are master musicians, songwriters and performers. We’ve been fans and jealous for years.

Omar Souleyman

We are proud to have Mr. Souleyman from Syria headlining this very first edition of By The Lake. He knows how to conduct a party and he will be visiting in the wake of his brand new album Bahdeni Nami.

Lonnie Holley

Most people fall in love with the music of Lonnie Holley the minute they hear it. Just take a listen below and you might be in the same situation. Afterwards you should read up on him. An underground hero in the visual arts and now also in music.


I’m in this band together with my two band mates in Efterklang (Mads and Casper) and then the fourth member is Tatu Rönkkö, a finnish percussionist who is a dear friend and great musician, in fact I just read somewhere else on the internet that Tatu is inhumanly tight :-). We will open By The Lake with a set of entirely new music that still has to be recorded and released.

Auscultation “L’étreinte Imaginaire”

13 Aug 2015 — Evelyn Malinowski

Auscultation, in case you didn't know, is the name of technology used for listening to internal organs. The stethoscope is the best known and most timeless form of such technology. Not to comically liken recent Portland transplant Joel Shanahan's more cuddly project to stethscopic techno, "Promise You'll Haunt Me" is indeed a gentle harkening to what is up with the heart, whether it is that of the artist's or our own. The coating of analog film on the top layer of the album only briefly feels like the cold shock of the metal ring around the horn of a doctor's stethoscope. If you're accustomed to analog fuzz with house beats, this tape is your home. By the time lonesome-sounding "Drop Off" plays, the listening experience has evolved into a source of comfortable reflection via aurality. Each track is a soothing, melodic jam representative of Shanahan's particular craft, attention to detail, and willingness to do inner-work, which tends to be vaguely muzak-y, yet persistently enjoyable. Such qualities are found in the sounds of both Auscultation and his other moniker, Golden Donna.   

The latest Auscultation is out Friday, August 14, on 100% Silk.

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Watch: Kepla “Ordinant 6”

12 Aug 2015 — Henning Lahmann

What has made London blog/label No Pain In Pop so important in the past years is not so much the fact that mastermind Tom King has impeccable taste and the right ear to predict what the world the Internet wants to listen to tomorrow; others surely have that ability, too. No, it's rather that King somehow knows how to look at places no one else seems to even have access to. In this sense, the title of NPIP's ongoing series of compilations – The Bedroom Club – is anything but arbitrary. The new talent showcased here is almost exclusively composed of artists who indeed seem most comfortable in the reclusive semi-anonymity of their bedrooms; the music produced is not exactly depressed, but there's a certain noirish feel to almost all of it. A sentiment that of course has quite a tradition at NPIP, with a past roster including A Grave With No Name, Echo Lake, and of course Forest Swords. The compilation series' third edition is by no means an exception to this rule. The six tracks are slow, careful and intimate, exuding a gloomy atmosphere. This is music that not only seems to be made in isolation, but just as much made for it. For rainy Sundays after long club nights perhaps, when there's really nowhere else to go. The press release tells us accordingly:

Liverpool producer Jon Davies aka Kepla is one of those highly talented bedroom producers that I would likely never have got to know were it not for NPIP; and his track "Ordinant 6" is the prototypical Bedroom Club contribution. Informed by both noise and fading rave memories, the track only reluctantly unfolds over the course of five minutes. Largely rejecting discernible structure, it implies distant troubles, an effect that is beautifully augmented by the accompanying video with its abstract frames and occasional, disconcerting interruptions hinting at other things that might be going on here. We're premiering the video below.

The Bedroom Club III is out August 21. Pre-order the compilation on vinyl now over here.

Kepla will support William Basinski on his UK tour in September:

Tues 15 Sept - Cafe Oto, London
Weds 16 Sept - Islington Mill, Salford
Thurs 17 Sept - The Kazimier, Liverpool

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Visionist “Victim”

11 Aug 2015 — Henning Lahmann

After a string of 12" releases over the course of a few years on labels like Lit City Trax, Ramp Recordings, and Berlin's Leisure System, London's new grime pioneer Visionist has finally readied his debut full-length proper. Safe will be released by PAN on October 9, a new home for the artist which, of course, makes a whole lot of sense. Not only did PAN's Bill Kouligas and Visionist recently announce the merging of minds with new label Codes, which has had a terrific start with inaugural release by Acre & Filter Dread.

Even more significant seems to be the fact that by way of its still growing expat community, the reconfigeration of grime that has reinvigorated the UK scene in the past two or three years has slowly but steadily started to infiltrate the more challenging and captivating undercurrents of contemporary Berlin music, be it DJ sets or the local artists' own productions – think Janus, of course, but also a large part of CTM's focus as of late, and most recently the output of Joe Shakespeare and Kuedo's Knives imprint. In that sense, 'new' grime may be, alongside variations of Chicago footwork, one of the few actually forward-looking styles that have managed to break into and undermine the city's puristic techno/house prevalence. With Kouligas' open-minded and farsighted approach to signing, PAN has played an important role to pave the way for this welcome shift – last demonstrated with Janus affiliate M.E.S.H.'s excellent LP Piteous Gate. 

Visionist's Safe is music that, for the time being, could only really come out of London. But having found PAN as its creative home, the album will enable further change in Berlin, too. And that's something we should be grateful for.

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Review: Ducktails “St. Catherine”

11 Aug 2015 — Zachary Taube

Ducktails – the solo project of Real Estate's Matt Mondanile – has played a very important role in my life for reasons that I'm still unable to really put my finger on. Perhaps it's because Mondanile's earliest music never took itself too seriously; Ducktails' first few albums were filled with nothing more than the joy of experiment – lo-fi bedroom pop made by and for the 21st century suburban daydream. Mondanile wrote songs about pizza, the mall, about everyone's favorite importer/exporter, about the vibe and how not to kill it. When I first got on the Ducktails train some six years ago, I fell for Mondanile's effortless, even coy ability to produce no-pressure songs for no-pressure times – songs to get stoned, borrow your mom's honda and drive around the suburbs to. 

Since signing with Domino in 2011, Mondanile has left his hazy bedroom pop behind for a cleaner sound, more complex song structure, and, on his latest LP St. Catherine, a lyrical honesty that's been unseen in any of his catalogue up to date. St. Catherine is, in his own words, “mostly a breakup record. It’s a story, the beginning of the record is moving to the west coast and experiencing that, and then falling in love and then falling out of love, and then going back into it and then eventually it dissolves at the end.” It is in this effort to tell a story through an entire album that we find Mondanile pushing Ducktails into a completely new direction – one driven more by honesty and emotional exposure than by effortless, tongue-in-cheek pop experiment.

As far as production goes, St. Catherine is impeccably clean. Songs like "Surreal Exposure" are formally straightforward, combining baroque countermelodies with the Ducktails' classic phaser-ed guitar tone. "Heavens Room" – perhaps the most impressive song on St. Catherine – pairs a silky bass line with Romantic string orchestration and a chorus hook distantly sung by Julia Holter (the song is slowed down and revisioned on the last track of the album, "Reprise", which ends the record with a melancholic and nostalgic shudder). Mondanile's voice is equally present and his lyrics precise – he approaches feelings of frustration ("Headbanging in the Mirror"), amorous captivation ("Heavens Room") and jealousy ("Medieval") with unabashed emotional transparency – and he's no longer afraid to hide his voice behind a multiplicity of effects.

Yet it is the very concept of St. Catherine that sets the album apart from any other Ducktails release. The motif of religiosity is abundant; song titles like "Heavens Room", "Church" and "St. Catherine", as well as the cover art – a photo of religious sculptures in a seemingly Italian Renaissance church (pardon my inability to distinguish classic works of art from a distance) – point to a certain holiness, and assert that the entire album should be taken as a work or "high(er)" art. St. Catherine is certainly sentimental, and even a bit melodramatic at times, yet it is precisely this fearless sentimentality that makes it Ducktails' most riveting album to date.

St. Catherine is out now on Domino.

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Graham Dunning “Retort”

31 Jul 2015 — Richard Greenan

Some time back Henning mused on the death of the music blog, and the rise of the micro label in its place. I'd say this is a fair assumption. A good case in point would be London's Seagrave – a steady stream of neon-tinged cassettes and the occasional 12", etched with everything from harsh noise (Cementimental) to rough-around-the-edges hip-hop instrumentals (Mute-Tiny). Cycling through these releases is a bit like tapping into a stranger's iTunes playlists, or indeed blog – except you now make a small donation, and are sent a colourful artifact in return. It's this inclusiveness and affordability that marks the transfer from 'blogosphere' to a DIY democracy of small imprints.

Seagrave's recent digital comp is a good example of this shift. An extensive collection of lolloping, transgressive electronics, hand-picked by label founder Tim Matts, Agave Res can be yours for three quid. These tunes fizz with the awkward menace of a pirate radio rip, or some discarded demo that came too hot through the mixer. Perhaps the centrepiece is Graham Dunning's "Retort" – a cut from his mad mechanical techno project. That's right, Dunning stacks records like pancakes, adorning the tower with contact mics and other gizmos – swinging like the arms of some deranged Rube Goldberg machine – to create woozy, aleatoric techno. Long live little labels.

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