Abandoned City sees Hauschka continuing to push the envelope and raise the bar, marking a highlight in an already stunning catalogue.
The album’s expansive tracks celebrate the marriage of neoclassical composition and dance music rhythms.
Catch Hauschka live on 26th March 2014 at Cafe Oto, London
Abandoned City was recorded in Hauschka’s home studio in a burst of creative energy following the birth of his first son. “With the exception of Elizabeth Bay, which is based on a piece of music I wrote for a reinvention of Wagner’s Flying Dutchman, the music was composed and recorded in ten days”, says Hauschka. “After the baby, I had to concentrate to find time to work, so the process was very intense.”
The songs were recorded using nine microphones. Six recorded the sounds coming from the piano strings through an analogue console feeding directly into a computer to preserve the instrument’s full, warm sound. Three others passed the tones through a mixer full of effects – delay, distortion, echo – that can be triggered separately or used simultaneously. Hauschka creates the music and the arrangements as he goes, trusting the music to take him in the proper direction. “Most of the songs were played on one piano; I was mixing as I played. If I needed more piano, I overdubbed with another twiddling of effects. All the sounds – harp, balafon, Melodica, drums - are produced by the keyboard,” he explains.
The compositions on Abandoned City awaken the loneliness and unattainable romance of timeless, unfamiliar places, with cinematic melodies full of resonant overtones, bright cheerful keyboard patterns and dark percussive touches. The tracks all bear the names of actual vacant cities. Elizabeth Bay evokes a deserted mining town in Namibia with sinister Bo Diddley-esque bass notes underscoring ghostly keyboard fills that float through the air on a cloud of distorted dub effects. The suggestion of a vaguely Latin melody moves brightly through the background, clashing with sharp techno percussion patterns. “I hear the sound of the wind blowing through a piano playing in an empty room,” Hauschka says. “Jamming wooden sticks between the strings of the piano creates the drum sounds by bending the notes and giving them a percussive resonance.”
Pripyat was a city near Chernobyl, abandoned after the meltdown of 1986. The song’s structure owes a debt to minimal free jazz and the pulsations of Terry Reily’s In C. A single repeated note anchors the composition, moving it from a droning, atmospheric pulse to a jittering collection of interlocking percussive elements. Hauschka creates the sound of a brittle industrial music box by blocking the strings with his fingernails. Agdam is a deserted city in southwestern Azerbaijan desolated by the country’s civil war, but the music owes a debt to Hauschka’s current hometown of Düsseldorf, birthplace of Kraftwerk and Neu! The piano plays simple, hooky, repeated Kraftwerkian note clusters, propulsive rhythms that swish like brushes on a snare drum and bright pizzicato accents that sound like a cross between koto and violin.
Thames Town is a newly built city in China that nobody wants to live in, but its thumping melody suggests a mix of African, Latin and techno elements. Craco was a Medieval Italian village that got swallowed by a sinkhole in 1963. Hauschka shows off his classical side on this track of pure piano, marked only by shimmering echoes that give the music an aching sadness. Who Lived Here sums up the haunted feeling of nameless deserted towns with long sustained notes from the piano, the subtle drone of a double bass played by Roland Nebe and dissonant phrases from Simone Weber on clarinet and bass clarinet. Soft waves of sound ebb and flow, breaking the melody into delicate fragments, the sound of moonlight reflected off of a midnight lake.
Hauschka chose Abandoned City as the title of the album to convey the sense of hope and sadness that consumes him when he’s sitting alone at the keyboard. “I was interested in finding a metaphor for the inner tension I feel when I’m composing music, a state of mind where I’m lonely and happy at the same time,” he explains. “When I saw photos of abandoned cities, I felt it was perfect. People once lived there, but they left in a rush and now nature has taken over in a beautiful way, things are growing up from the sidewalk and the seasons are changing colors. The music is dark, but in a quiet, uplifting way. The piano is singing the melody but, because of the effects, you can’t hear it directly. It’s like the sound of a choir under the earth, something you feel without realizing it.”
Hauschka 2013/14 Tourdates:
15.01 Neustadt am Rübenberge (DE), Schloss Landestrost
17.01 Erfurt (DE), Franz Mehlhose
19.01 Zürich (CH), Exil
25.01 Köln (DE), St Aposteln Zivilisation der Liebe Festival
30.01 Rome, Chiesa Metodista
31.01 Prague, Festival Spectaculaire
22.03 Berlin (DE), Radialsystem
26.03 London, Cafe Oto
09.04 Copenhagen, Jazzhouse
10.04 Stockholm, Sodra Teatern
12.04 Brussels, Ancienne Belgique