Hauschka Finds Solace in Abandoned Cities

Known for making beautiful classical music using various objects inside a prepared piano, the concepts behind the work of German pianist Volker Bertelmann, aka Hauschka, are transcendental. From a technical standpoint, his instrumental music is unique because he places objects on or between the strings of his piano to alter their sound. After building a reputation for using bottle caps, tin foil, ping-pong balls, and many other items, many of his fans have sent him an infinite amount of random objects to add to his piano.

Border Blaster: Hauschka Finds Solace in Abandoned Cities

His followers have also contributed to the makings of his music video for “Thames Town,” a song on Hauschka’s latest album “Abandoned City,” which was released in 2014. The video features a collection of fan-submitted Instagram photos of deserted cities, the theme behind Hauschka’s album. When he completed the entire album, he sought a thread that would bring all nine songs together. He realized that thread was the beauty found in uninhabited places, which can be depressing but attractive in their isolation. Some of the cities he chose have been ravaged by war, while others have never been inhabited. In the absence of activity, these places can be desolate yet peaceful -- a contrast much like the state Hauschka finds himself in while composing music. “It reminds me a little bit of my inner world when I’m writing music, where I feel… a kind of loneliness, a kind of melancholy, a kind of sadness. At the same time, I feel hope,” Hauschka said in a Redefine interview. “I felt that this was kind of a very nice metaphor for this kind of dualism between the catastrophe and the beauty in a way.” Beginning with “Elizabeth Bay,” the album’s first song remembers a mining town in Namibia. Despite the discovery of diamonds in the early 1900s, the zone was only active in the 1990s and was deserted again by the year 2000. Other towns highlighted in the album include Pripyat, which was founded the Soviet Union in the 1970s for the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The city was evacuated following the plant’s explosion in 1986. Recent drone footage of Pripyat shows a town overrun by trees, standing still since the tragedy. Agdam is an abandoned town in Azerbaijan, which was destroyed during 1993's Nagorno-Karabakh War.

On a more playful note, Thames Town is a Chinese city designed to imitate European architecture and built for 10,000 people who never moved in. The town is a popular backdrop for wedding pictures, fitting for a place that looks more like a movie set or amusement park than a hometown. Hauschka says the song “Thames Town” itself was inspired by urban music, “something like those early wild and crazy M.I.A. records.” Another song on the album is named after Sanzhi Pod City, a cluster of buildings that looked like flying saucers. Amid several suicides and accidents during its construction in 1978 and rumors of ghost sightings at the site of the former burial ground, the dilapidated pods have been demolished to make room for a new resort. “It looks almost post-apocalyptic, from a science fiction film, and it has just been left as it is – in the jungle – as no one wanted to live there,” Hauschka told The Quietus about Sanzhi. “I wanted to look at what makes abandoned cities attractive and weird." Hauschka continues growing and evolving as an artist, remaining as spontaneous as the nine-year-old he was when he began studying the piano after a Chopin performance in his hometown of Düsseldorf, Germany. He has transitioned through full-fledged phases as a rapper and keyboardist, and as founder of a drum and bass quintet, and now is an accomplished prepared piano maestro compared to the likes of Erik Satie, John Cage, and Steve Reich. Outside of his solo albums as Hauschka, Bertelmann also is involved in various film, theater, dance, and art projects, including the soundtrack for “The Boy,” a thriller to be released this year.


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