Truth is, you don’t listen to enough classical music. No, I’m not talking about Chopin or Beethoven, I’m talking about Max Richter, Ólafur Arnalds, Peter Broderick, and Hauschka. Instead of old guys with wigs rocking out on a grand piano, these contemporary auteurs are known for pushing the beauty of contemporary classical into the current pop-crazed musical scene. This is the face of new classical music, aptly put, neoclassical. Sit down. Bust out your pipe or grab a cup of tea, and take a moment to realize what you’re missing out on.
Hauschka is the name of German pianst and composer Volker Bertelmann. He plays for FatCat Records, the label known for representing Sigur Rós and Animal Collective. He writes pieces that focus on exploring the intricacies and potentials of a prepared piano, i.e. a piano that has been altered with external objects in order to disrupt and change the sound, timbre, or speed. Think ping pong balls inside of a piano (and yes, these ping pong balls do fly out as a part of the planned sound).
As others before me have noted, you could call Hauschka reminiscent of highbrow artists like John Cage or Erik Satie for their similiarities in their love of experimenting with the classical, but I’d argue that Hauschka is definitely in a world of his own.
Foreign Landscapes is no different – it’s literally in a world of its own. The album is heavily nostalgic, a construction of music inspired by that feeling of dislocation that one can only experience through traveling across the world. Hauschka himself frames the theme of the album as “snapshots of a shifting series of diverse locations visited in a period of continual touring” and, with that, each song is literally a musical conjuration of a place or time and, most importantly, a feeling.
Take for example “Union Square,” the dynamic utilization of strings definitely imposes an image of hustle-and-bussle. Whereas other reviewers might note that Foreign Landscapes is a bit fleeting, I would point out that there is indeed a consistency flowing throughout the entire album. With layers upon layers of sound arranging in order to slowly paint the different environments that Hauschka himself had explored, there is definitely a level of direction and connection that the audience experiences.
With Foreign Landscapes, Hauschka succeeds in capturing a sense of dislocation that is felt through globalized travel. Simply an important listen for any hopeful fan of neoclassical.