Pianist and composer Volker Bertelmann (aka Hauschka) has unwittingly created the pefect soundtrack to my week with The Prepared Piano. You see, I live in a part of the United States where the weather is odd and sometimes frustrating and sometimes so daft that you have to admit that it's funny. Entering the first week of fall, the temperatures were still hovering in the 90 degrees fahrenheit range and despite some parts of the country being bombarded with hurricanes, we hadn't received any measurable rain in well over a month.
Then, over the course of one day, the temperature drops forty degrees and suddenly I'm wearing long sleeve shirts and coats instead of sweating in short sleeves and light pants. The wind goes from muggy and hot to stiff and a bit cold and stray trash that blew by me in one direction one day dances by me in the opposite direction less than 24 hours later. None of the above has much of anything to do with Hauschka, but sometimes I hear things in music that match my environment and feel that explaining them might give a feel of the album better.
As the title suggests, Hauschka creates music based on the sound of a piano (mostly played in prepared and/or treated ways), and his work draws influence from artists as serious and minimal as Eric Satie and Arvo Part to the playful types like Vince Guaraldi (and those that fall somewhere in-between, like Ravel). At any rate, The Prepared Piano is a wonderful journey through his little, odd worlds of piano music. "La Seine" opens the release with almost music box type clicks and scrapes providing texture in the background as varied, rhythmic playing builds in lovely ways over the top.
"Traffic" is more playful, mixing more aggressive playing with plucked notes and treated pings that add texture. Bertelmann has been known to clamp wedges of felt, leather, and rubber between the strings, but also adds textural variety in numerous ways as well (placing corks on the strings, weaving guitar strings through the piano strings). The result is notes with strange overtones, odd little clicks and noises, and a general off-kilter feeling that adds a real vibrance to his recordings. On tracks like the quieter and more sparse "Two Stones," the small touches become even more apparent, and his prepared piano takes on the life of much more than a single instrument. Very nice.