The compositions on Hauschka’s forthcoming album Abandoned City awaken the loneliness and unattainable romance of timeless, unfamiliar places with cinematic melodies full of resonant overtones, bright cheerful keyboard patterns and dark percussive touches. The album is set for release on March 18 in North America on Temporary Residence Ltd and March 17 in the UK on City Slang.
The first single, Elizabeth Bay, has a new video which features a fascinating interplay between Volker Bertelmann and his prepared piano. It premiered via The Guardian’s Tumblr and can be seen on YouTube. Hauschka will also be bringing his new live show to North America in 2014 as well with an expanded list of April tour dates announced including Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Boston, Montreal and others.
Abandoned City was recorded in Hauschka’s home studio in a burst of creative energy following the birth of his first son. Hauschka explained: “With the exception of Elizabeth Bay, which is based on a piece of music I wrote for a reinvention of Wagner’s Flying Dutchman, the music was composed and recorded in ten days. After the baby, I had to concentrate to find time to work so the process was very intense.”
The songs were recorded using nine microphones. Six recorded the sounds coming from the piano strings through an analogue console feeding directly into a computer to preserve the instrument’s full, warm sound. Three others passed the tones through a mixer full of effects – delay, distortion, echo – that can be triggered separately or used simultaneously. Hauschka creates the music and the arrangements as he goes, trusting the music to take him in the proper direction. He explained: “Most of the songs were played on one piano; I was mixing as I played. If I needed more piano, I overdubbed with another twiddling of effects. All the sounds – harp, balafon, Melodica, drums – are produced by the keyboard.”
The tracks all bear the names of actual vacant cities. Elizabeth Bay evokes a deserted mining town in Namibia with sinister Bo Diddley-esque bass notes underscoring ghostly keyboard fills that float through the air on a cloud of distorted dub effects. The suggestion of a vaguely Latin melody moves brightly through the background, clashing with sharp techno percussion patterns. Hauschka said: “I hear the sound of the wind blowing through a piano playing in an empty room. Jamming wooden sticks between the strings of the piano creates the drum sounds by bending the notes and giving them a percussive resonance.”
Pripyat was a city near Chernobyl, abandoned after the meltdown of 1986. The song’s structure owes a debt to minimal free jazz and the pulsations of Terry Reily’s In C. A single repeated note anchors the composition, moving it from a droning, atmospheric pulse to a jittering collection of interlocking percussive elements. Hauschka creates the sound of a brittle industrial music box by blocking the strings with his fingernails.
Agdam is a deserted city in southwestern Azerbaijan desolated by the country’s civil war but the music owes a debt to Hauschka’s current hometown of Düsseldorf, birthplace of Kraftwerk and Neu! The piano plays simple, hooky, repeated Kraftwerkian note clusters, propulsive rhythms that swish like brushes on a snare drum and bright pizzicato accents that sound like a cross between koto and violin.
Hauschka’s new album Abandoned City will be released on March 17 (UK) and March 18 (North America).