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Hauschka Continues Exploring the Unlimited Sounds
of Prepared Piano with Music Written
as Composer in Residence for Leipzig’s
Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk

New Works Include:
Drowning, a Collaboration
with Gunnar Orn Tynes, Samuli Kosminen
and Orvar Poreyjarson Smarason
from the Icelandic band, múm

Cities Seeking Its Bodies, a Dance Piece
for Choreographer Alexandra Waierstall
Written for Prepared Piano and String Quartet

Compositions for the 150th Anniversary
of Jean Sibelius’s Birth with Samuli Kosminen (Edea)
and Jeffery Zeigler (Kronos Quartet)

Film scores for Craig Macneill’s The Boy,
Karim Ainouz’s Praia du Futuro
and Yael Reuveny’s Farewell, Herr Schwarz

The Composer Recently Released Two New Albums:
2.11.2014, Improvisations Based on the Music
from Abandoned City, Recorded Live in Japan
A NDO C Y, Seven Unheard Compositions from the
Abandoned City Sessions and Remixes of
“Agdam” by Devandra Banhart and “Stromness” by Eluvium

Hauschka is a composer, songwriter and experimental musician who uses prepared piano as his primary instrument. The prepared piano refers to the technique of resting pieces of paper, marbles, drumsticks and other objects on the strings to produce odd, sometimes randomly generated sounds that move the instrument in unexpected directions. “I wanted the sound of a hi-hat [cymbal] to add a percussive effect to a composition I was writing,” Hauschka says, explaining his discovery of the technique. “I took foil from a Christmas cake and wrapped it around the strings [inside the piano]. From there, I was inspired to use other objects on the strings to get bass drum sounds. I put tacks on the piano hammers to get the sound of a harpsichord, like I did when I was a boy, first learning to play.”

His albums of prepared piano music include The Prepared Piano, a solo record of spontaneous improvisations; Ferndorf, featuring arrangements for cello, trombone, violin and piano; Salon des Amateurs, with drummers Samuli Kosminen (múm), and Joey Burns and John Convertino (Calexico); Silfra, an improvised collaboration with classical violinist Hilary Hahn and Abandoned City.

Abandoned City received outstanding reviews, as did the concerts Hauschka did to support its release in 2014, but he was ready for new challenges and accepted a position as Composer in Residence for the 2014/15 season of the Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk orchestra in Leipzig. “It changed my approach to piano and music in general,” Hauschka says. “Working with an orchestra, you have to write things down in notation to be played by other musicians. I [know how to] write music, but I come from a world where you don’t write anything out, you improvise or jam. Working with an orchestra, I had to combine the experimental piano stuff with the composed passages. I have to bring together all the things I’ve been doing that were not connected before. It’s an interesting process.”

Given complete artistic freedom, Hauschka sought out Gunnar Orn Tynes, Samuli Kosminen and Orvar Poreyjarson Smarason from the Icelandic band, múm. “We met in Leipzig and discussed how to work together to complete a proper composition with orchestration, without sitting next to each other in a room. They asked us for 40 minutes, so we spit it in half, each of us contributing 20 minutes of music. We didn’t write together because orchestration is a delicate thing. If I have an oboe line in front and someone else writes strings on top of it, it may create dissonance, so we each orchestrated our own compositions.”

The resulting piece, Drowning, was premiered on 27 June, 2015, with Hauschka and múm playing with 70 musicians from Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk, with Kristjan Järvi conducting. The dynamic range of the piece was impressive, with Hauschka and múm playing quietly and adding improvised electronic fragments to the sweeping, classical sounds of the orchestra. “Järvi had a huge role in shaping the performance,” Hauschka says. “There are so many variations possible with any piece of music. He can make it softer and more romantic, or cool and distant, according to our desires.”

During the 2014/15 season, Hauschka presented several other compositions:

Cascades, an orchestral work in three movements:
“Loss;” “From Ashes” and “Perspective.”

“I wanted to describe my feelings of abandonment,” Hauschka says. “The cycle of losing something, feeling something new rising and the perspective you get as you realize that ultimately, every beginning is the start of loss. It’s similar to Abandoned City, but more personal. ‘Loss’ used a choir repeating, ‘Nothing left, I lost everything’ in countless permutations. ‘From Ashes’ is orchestral, with clear, icy strings and on ‘Perspective,’ the choir sings, ‘Now, now, future’s coming’ before slowly getting lost again in unarticulated murmuring.”

Madeira and Children

“I composed these short pieces with the Magik*Magik chamber ensemble in San Francisco in 2010. It’s on my album Foreign Landscapes. They were never played live, so during the residency in Leipzig, I performed them with the Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk.

Penn Station

“This is an unpublished piece for a string quintet that I wrote flying to New York from Germany. I had eight hours in the plane, so I got out the computer and composed a quintet with a lot of solo viola. Unluckily, the player I had in mind for the part was sick, and it was too difficult for the replacement to play. When the residency came up, I expanded the piece and wrote orchestration for it.”

Other Projects

“Cities Seeking Its Bodies is the working title of the suite I’m composing for choreographer Alexandra Waierstall and five dancers. It will feature prepared piano, string quartet, and perhaps a modern player piano as well, that can automatically play MIDI files. It sounds like a ghost piano and adds an interesting texture
to the music.”

Hauschka and Samuli Kosminen, from the Finnish band Edea and cellist Jeffery Zeigler, formerly of the Kronos Quartet, are working on compositions to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Jean Sibelius’s birth. “I met Samuli and Jeffery last year at the River to River Festival in New York. We got together a day or two before our show and started from scratch, everything improvised. This time, we are writing pieces for dancers, so we have to be strict and play along with a time line, with Samuli on drums and electronics, Jeffery on cello and me on prepared piano.”

Hauschka’s latest album, 2.11.2014, was released on June 22 as a limited edition vinyl record and download. It includes two 20-minute improvisations for prepared piano, based on the music from Abandoned City. “The music uses patterns and structures that came out of the Abandoned City project,” Hauschka says. “It was recorded so I’d have a reminder of the concert. We didn’t position the microphones or prepare the mixing board; we just pressed the ‘record’ button. We couldn’t remix it afterwards, but I was surprised when we listened to it. I never imagined I’d make a recording at a small arts center after driving five hours through the rain, but it came out nicely. It’s good to do something less stressful, that brings attention to the music on Abandoned City and limited editions give you the cover art and a download, which is great.”

Temporary Residence, Hauschka’s American label, will release
A NDO C Y on 14 July, 2015. It includes five solo improvisations from the Abandoned City sessions and two extended remixes from the Abandoned City album - “Agdam” by Devandra Banhart and “Stromness” by Eluvium. “The piano pieces are outtakes and side projects I did while I was working on the main album.”

The composer also has a prolific sideline writing scores for films. “I love psycho thrillers, so when Craig Macneill asked me to write a score for The Boy, a story about a kid who becomes a mass murderer, I sent an hour of music to him - abstract things I’d created over the years and never used. The tempo of the film is very slow and the music brings you closer to the dark mood he establishes. I scored it for prepared piano, cello, violin and the Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk orchestra.

Karim Ainouz, a Brazilian filmmaker who lives in Berlin, directed Praia du Futuro. It’s a love story centered on two gay men and was controversial in Brazil. “There are almost no women in the film, which was interesting to me,” Hauschka says. “It examines the way men deal with love and relationships; the gay theme is incidental. I created 30 small pieces, for moments when there was no dialogue. Ainouz didn’t want piano, so I played guitar and scored it for guitar, string quartet and cello. Farewell, Herr Schwarz was scored for prepared piano, string quartet, cello and electronics. In this film, [director] Yael Reuveny touches on German/Jewish history and holocaust themes in a mystical way. After the war, a Jewish brother and sister reconnect. The sister finds her brother living with his German wife, living a German life, and discovers the men in her sister-in-law’s family are becoming Rabbis.”

Hauschka grew up in Germany in the village of Ferndorf, in the district of Siegen-Wittgenstein, North Rhine-Westphalia. The thousand-year-old village was small, with a population of about 1,000 people. “There are a lot of old buildings and the town borders a forest, so I played in the woods when I was a child,” Hauschka recalls. “It’s also a strong Christian community. Being raised around fundamentalists forced me to go into rock music,” Hauschka says with a chuckle. “I started lessons when I was nine. By the time I was 14, I could play better than my teacher, so I found a jazz pianist and continued my lessons, but I stopped when I went away to school.”

In high school, he played in a cover band that won a local Battle of the Bands contest. Being a musician was not an acceptable career path in his family, so Hauschka studied medicine at University in Cologne, although he was still playing in bands. Just before graduation, he examined his career choices and dropped out to do music full time. His first venture was a hip-hop band called God’s Favorite Dog, with his cousin Oliver Lodge-Philips. They had a couple of minor hits and got picked up and dropped by a major label. “I like the avant garde aspect of techno and started a band called Tonetraeger, with Torsten “TG” Mauss. We were a hit at the Love Parade Festival, playing to more than a million people and got great reviews, but I eventually decided to go solo. I moved to Düsseldorf and began composing contemporary music for piano, combining elements of classical and pop, without being either.”

Substantial, Hauschka’s first solo album, blended classical, avant-garde and pop impulses, with an aura of measured melancholy.
Then he discovered prepared piano. His experiments with this new instrument changed his approach to music and composing, setting him on a journey of exploration that continues to this day. “I compose on prepared piano or computer, or sometimes by singing, then sitting to write the notes down. Mostly, I hear music when I start working. I’m not standing on the street or walking to the marketplace when I hear a melody and have to run home and write it down in a fever. The advantage of a computer program is that you can change the notes until you’re satisfied, and then print the music out for people to read and play. I try to write all the time. Some days I do nothing, but I love working and making music.”
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Album: Salon des amateurs
Genre: Alternative
Mood: Driving, Energetic
Instrumental: Yes
Rights Controlled: Publishing only
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Album: Salon des amateurs
Genre: Alternative
Mood: Driving
Instrumental: Yes
Rights Controlled: Publishing only
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Album: 2.11.14
Genre: Alternative, Electronic, Indie
Mood: Ambient, Dramatic, Playful, Quirky, Suspenseful
Instrumental: Yes
Rights Controlled: Publishing only
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Album: 2.11.14
Genre: Alternative, Electronic, Indie
Mood: Ambient, Dark, Energetic, Mysterious, Quirky
Instrumental: Yes
Rights Controlled: Publishing only

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