For German born composer Volker Berelmann, better known as Hauschka, beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder. His music is an amalgamation of classical composition and avant garde experimentation with a flourish of electronic elements thrown in to the mix. The unusual combination of sound that Haushcka creates is mostly a result of his use of the “prepared piano method” in which the performer alters the sound of their instrument by inserting objects int0 the strings or adding foreign objects. As seen in the video below, Hauschka’s piano looks more like a performance art piece, but the sounds that he gets to come out of it are otherworldly and his newest effort Abandoned City is proof of just that.
Prior to hearing a single note on Abandoned City, the album pulls you in and begs to be explored. From the dreary cover image to the track list (each song is named after an actual abandoned city, which in and of itself requires a few Google image searches), Hauschka has created an intriguing atmosphere surrounding the album. But when the music starts, that’s when the real journey begins. The compositions throughout Abandoned City are unsettling yet completely peaceful in their stillness. “Elizabeth Bay” and “Agdam” showcase Hauschka’s proclivity for experimentation by adding percussive elements and ethereal soundscapes all created through his piano, all the while being held together by fragile, even mournful melody’s. At times throughout Abandoned City, it’s difficult to even believe that the piano is Haushcka’s main instrument. “Stromess” is a vast, expansive piece that ebbs and flows, creating a sense of isolation that’s hard to shake long after the track ends.
In spite of some of the more unsettling elements throughout Abandoned City, there are plenty of tender moments as well. “Craco” is a gorgeous piece that brings the traditional sound of the piano to the forefront, proving that while Haushcka’s bread and butter may be with experimentation, he is a hell of a classical composer in his own right. Similarly, the cinematic sprawl of “Who Lived Here?” may be the albums most delicate instance, creating a sense of longing yet resolving with an undisputed comfort being found in solitude.
It’s rare to find artists these days that march to the beat of their own drum, yet Hauschka appears to fit this description perfectly. He use of experimentation and non-traditional composition throughout Abandoned City compliments the more common elements with such grace that it’s easy to get lost in these songs. At times the album is a haunting listen, made to make the hair stand on your neck from such unease. But as soon it begins to feel like too much, Hauschka calms the agitation with exquisite beauty. It’s a delicate balance to be sure, but one that Hauschka seems to pull off with relative ease, making Abandoned City one of the most memorable releases of the year.