Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Prepared Piano a la Hauschka

Feast your eyes on Hauschka, the Dusseldorfian prepared pianist. 

What he lacks in body fat, he more than makes up for in creativity.

Prepared piano refers to the technique of placing objects on the inside strings of a grand piano, thus completely altering its sound. Hauschka utilizes a number of household objects including Tic Tac boxes, paper clips, and ping pong balls to achieve various percussive effects, turning the already versatile piano into a percussive instrument. While he is not the first pianist to experiment with such techniques, it is certain that he is the first to achieve a wider following. John Cage originally experimented with prepared piano in the 1940's to critics' distaste. Adding hardware to inside strings was only one of Cage's techniques that wider audiences found too radical, and they questioned whether his compositions had "musical integrity." 

The early 2000's, however, saw a riper time for prepared piano, and Hauschka has achieved relative fame in the music world. Volker Bertalmann, stage name Hauschka, spent his youth in a German hip hop band and was not a classically trained pianist at all. This lack of training perhaps enables his ability to creatively see new capacities for the piano. Indeed, Hauschka compares the piano to the human brain, where only a small part of its total potential is used. 

In an interview with NPR, Hauschka describes how critical trial and error is to his creative process. His willingness to add new materials to the piano often results in failure, but certainly accounts for the brilliance of his more unique pieces. When he plays, it sounds as if the room is filled with instruments when really it's just Hauschka, a piano, and assorted Tic Tacs. The following video shows this process:

I adore the compositions that Hauschka is able to produce from a few strategic alterations to a classic instrument. His ingenuity produces countless percussive effects which he expertly uses to enhance traditional piano sounds. Herein lies his genius--Hauschka seamlessly weaves the beautiful piano sound with the novel ones he creates to produce an entirely unique music experience.

                                                                                             Above is my favorite Hauschka composition


  1. This guy has an incredible ability to work with seemingly disparate materials to create these sounds. I downloaded his album and it of course sounds gorgeous. I wonder how he conceptualizes the sounds and vibrations in his head before he prepares and as he is preparing the piano.

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  3. I really enjoyed listening to his music. It is fascinating that with technically one instrument, Hauschka can make it sound like an entire ensemble is performing. Granted I do not know a lot about the history of this technique or music in general, I find his music to be very unique and different from anything I've ever heard before.
    Hauschka reminds me a lot of architect Frank Gehry in his ability to make art out of overlooked or seemingly plain objects by utilizing them for something other than they were intended. Gehry would take scrap metal, cardboard or the chain-link fencing, something so unbelievably ordinary and even ugly to some, and use these unusual materials to construct whimsical buildings that are simply awe-inspiring. Like Gehry, Hauschka is able to take ordinary everyday items, such as pingpong balls or paper clips, and use them in an unconventional manner to create his music. I see paper clips and random pieces of cardboard lying around everyday, but I generally just throw them away. It never occurs me to use them for any artistic purpose. I found it astonishing that this individual can look at objects that I take for granted every single day, and use them for such an innovative purpose. I wonder how many items are just lying around in my apartment with unnoticed potential to be used for more than what I use them for everyday, for something creative.
    I found it very interesting that though their domains are very different, how very similar Gehry and Hauschka’s creative process and what they seem to look for in their final product are. Like Gehry, Hauschka not only comes up with his final product after trial and error, but also they both seem to relish the experimentation process. By not fearing failure and by cherishing every step in the process of creation, these artists are able to push away a lot of the constraints that sometimes hinders creativity. And not only that, but also how they rate the value of their creation is very different than how I, and most other people I feel, do. Gehry would be delighted when he created something he believed to be “awkward-looking” or “stupid,” Hauschka is kind of the same way. He seemed very pleased when he was able to add an assortment of object in a way that made his musical piece sound “funny.” Most people would be aiming to produce something “beautiful,” “great,”etc., not something that is “stupid” or “funny.” Though this may seem like an insignificant detail, it shows how they strive to think outside the box and they’re truly unique in how they see the world around them.


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