Lately, there have been a number of acts making variations on house music, loosely speaking, using acoustic instruments and ensemble techniques. Brandt Brauer Frick is probably the best known in dance circles, performing thumping, techno-inspired grooves with lineup of harp, strings, mallets, and other acoustic instruments (as well as the requisite laptop and 808 handclap). But there are also Nicolas Jaar, Wareika, dOP, and Kadebostan, among others; Elektro Guzzi, signed to Stefan Goldmann's Macro imprint, splits the difference between minimal techno and math rock with just drums, electric guitar, and effects.
Though making prepared piano the focus of his work would seem limiting, Hauschka's Volker Bertelmann has pushed against any perceived boundaries with each of his albums -- except for Salon des Amateurs, where he smashes them. Named after a club in his native Düsseldorf, the album is Hauschka's take on dance music. While merging electronic and post-classical music is nothing new -- Jóhann Jóhannsson and Max Richter are two of Hauschka's leading contemporaries in this field -- bringing an instrument as delicate as the prepared piano into an arena as forceful as dance music is certainly novel.
It’s a universally acknowledged truth that every first sentence of a Hauschka record review must mention that he’s an exponent of prepared piano. And that’s OK. It’s equally predictable that the second sentence will claim that we all know about prepared piano because we all know and love the work of Erik Satie. And that’s fine too.
The New Yorker’s chief music critic, Alex Ross, has consistently decried the term “classical” music: It’s a creative blockade, rendering the genre a stuffy, dusty antique that can’t possibly be updated or tampered with. Little wonder then that classical music is at an all-time low in terms of concert sales, radio formatting, and general public interest. The fanbase is getting old and dying, and it’s hard to get a new generation interested in the same 300-year-old sonatas.
Striking the iron while it’s hot always seems to be one of the brightest of ideas. For musicians, many dive into a new release after an erstwhile album is still fresh in the minds of various fans. While few would be quick to say some are cashing in, it’s undoubtedly one of the best ideas that, if done well, can truly create wonders. And now, fittingly so, just months after October’s Foreign Landscapes, Hauschka returns with a diversely new album in Salon des Amateurs; and in a directly positive way, presents a stunning triumph of skill.