Volker Bertelmann (aka Hauschka) has been at the forefront of what you might call 'alt-classical' for more than a decade now. His pieces always glimmer with a love of electronica and club music, and he's reached increasingly larger audiences, culminating with an Oscar nomination for his score for Lion. He remains as experimental as ever, though, and on new album 'What If' he's still clearly very much in love with the possibilities of sound.
If piano-driven music is often most suggestive of the outer surface of the instrument—the pristine, orderly black-and-white keys or the immaculate curvature of a grand piano—Hauschka’s music reminds one more of the mechanical elements within. What If, German composer Volker Bertelmann’s eighth full-length release under the moniker, is as taut as a string and as aggressive as a hammer. Like much of his output, the record prominently features prepared pianos whose deconstructed sound illuminates physicality and imperfection.
After spending several years composing music for films -- most notably 2016's Golden Globe- and Academy Award-nominated Dustin O'Halloran collaboration Lion -- Hauschka's Volker Bertelmann tells his own stories on What If. On his previous solo album Abandoned City, his inspirations were tangible and the music focused on the mainstay of his work, the prepared piano; this time, Bertelmann lets his imagination and arrangements run wild as he speculates on what life could be like in the not-too-distant future. To express these fantasies, Hauschka looks to rhythms inspired by hip-hop, superhumanly fast and accurate player pianos, and an Eventide H3000 Harmonizer and Roland Jupiter synth that add just the right amount of sci-fi wonder.
As is often the case with musicians who make their living crafting cinematic, neo-classical instrumental music, pianist Volker Bertelmann (aka Hauschka), has become an in-demand composer, creating scores for a handful of motion pictures, including 2016's Lion, for which he was Golden Globe-nominated.
With his first-non-commissioned work since 2014's uneven Abandoned City, the German composer has opted to produce something less serious and brooding with What If. Choosing to once again write his songs with his player piano, Hauschka largely abandons the traditional piano for the less-static and more adventurous sounds of a Roland synth and Eventide programmer.
For his eighth solo studio album, Hauschka, real name Volker Bertelmann, continues a thirteen-year streak of stretching the capabilities of the humble piano. The use of pianolas - automated, self-playing pianos - is prominent throughout 'What If', with Bertelmann creating layers which overlap and interplay in a tightly choreographed melee. The pianos, as on previous records, have been 'prepared' too.