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Hauschka – Salon des Amateurs

130701

Prepared piano always struck me as one of those ideas that shouldn’t really have stopped dead with John Cage‘s nearly-pensionable pieces. I’m no scholar of modern piano, but I’ve not heard many people having a tinker about with the inners of a piano. A real shame, as I quite like the idea of some flat-capped old fella lugging the upright into his shed to make gamelan sounds with weather stripping and bolts before rolling up a tab for when he’s trimming the azaleas.

Moreover, the piano’s capable of some pretty astonishing sounds once you’ve had a fiddle under the bonnet, as Hauschka‘s Salon des Amateurs shows. Cage’s intention with the prepared piano pieces was to extend the timbral range, and to bring out the more percussive elements for a dance piece. And, while it’s possibly a bit trite to compare Hauschka’s record to Cage just because it uses a prepared piano, it’s fair to say that he’s also got dancing on his mind. Salon des Amateurs is one of those records where I wonder why no-one’s done it before. He uses an acoustic piano to pay tribute to the dance (specifically house) scene of 90s Berlin. With his box o’tools (including, for the more salubriously-minded, a vibrator) he fiddles about with the strings to produce a set of timbres and rhythmic effects that make me wonder why we ever needed samplers in the first place (the answer is probably that it’s probably a royal ballache to figure out how to get a Steinway to sound like shoddy acid synths).

While Hauschka’s previous work might’ve been a bit on the academic side (and none the worse for it), this is a record I can well imagine getting some pretty heavy playing in the clubs. It’s beautifully recorded. The cover art looks great (though I imagine it probably looks oodles better on the LP version). What he’s done fantastically well, for me, is managing to emulate all the little percussive clicks, hums and rattles that’ve become part of a lot of dance music’s sonic repertoire. So while there’s little in the formal arrangements to suggest he’s anywhere near the beard-strokey side of matters (IDM/glitch/ microhouse etc), there’s the odd little preparations, these inhumanly swift note-decays that lend it the quality of being fastidiously crafted. But that’s the geek in me speaking – the other side of it is that it’s a genuinely lush record. And, rarely for what’s nominally an experimental dance record, you could actually dance to it. In fact, I actually did, momentarily. Then my knees clicked, I felt out of breath and I had to shake my fist at some kids having fun outside. Still. Dance I very did.

I had a scepticism, coming into this record, that it was going to be one of those terrible classical bloke does dance music things. There’s a list of special guests, most luminous of which (in my world, at least) is Hilary Hahn –  but thankfully this manages to avoid drifting into affectionless Steve Reich-isms and syrupy solos. The acoustic piano bit is almost a misnomer – this is a great record, and utterly in fitting with the usually ‘sophisticated but not arseholey’ stuff that FatCat/130701 puts out, regardless of the mild novelty of the production. It’s probably a sign of my age that I would almost certainly not object if this were to be put on at a dinner part I were attending. Thanks, Mr Hauschka.

-Kev Nickells-

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