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Hauschka - Salon Des Amateurs


Fat Cat

It is a sign of the times when music reviewers long for more organic-sounding electronica. Much contemporary music, after all, features an excess of auto-tuned, quantized, and overproduced tracks. This is hard to avoid in the age of ProTools, Logic, and Ableton, as a few clicks of the mouse helps producers erase musical imperfections or warp them into something entirely new. But it is the sense of imperfection or roughness that draws me to live music like jazz, modern classical, and many types of world music. So it comes as a breath of fresh air to find artists who craft electronica that feels like it is actually being performed by a live band. Such is the case with Salon des Amateurs, Hauschka’s (Dusseldorf-based musician and composer Volker Bertelmann) most recent studio album.

Like a number of Hauschka’s albums, Salon des Amateurs is built around the prepared piano. This is a piano method popularized by John Cage, where musicians alter the piano’s sound by placing objects on the strings, the hammers, or dampers. Such a method allows for greater depth and texture, crafting something in between an electronic and organic feel. Moreover, Bertelmann neither makes excessive use of the quantize function or audio effects. This method gives the album a live aura. Although produced by Bertelmann himself (with contributions from guest performers), Salon des Amateurs sounds like a Philip Glass-inspired percussion band trying their hand at house or minimal techno. As such, Bertelmann has given us a playful, inventive collection of ten tracks. The album is downright cool.

Salon excels in each of its uptempo tracks. The energetic compositions like “Radar,” “Two AM,” and “Girls,” mix an engaging piano with trembling bass lines, understated strings, and interesting percussive strikes and plucks. While at times it seems like Bertelmann is plunking away at the piano, these are the moves of an accomplished percussionist. And the mix of interesting piano and cello lines and prepared piano taps and clicks make “Two AM” in particular a memorable track.

Bertelmann’s downtempo compositions show an even greater degree of texture and musical virtuosity. “Ping,” one of the coolest tracks on the album, creates such a textured soundscape and uses such a wide variety of taps and clacks that I wonder whether I am in fact listening to a live performance. The playful “Subconscious” is no less interesting. Combining trademark percussion with a variety of piano lines, arpeggios, and a slow-moving accordion, this composition at times feels like a reinterpretation of Boulderdash’s “Dregs of Tar.” The following compositions evoke a similar mood, and keep the listener firmly held in Bertelmann’s domain. Whether the percussive “No Sleep” or the precise and deeply textured “Tanzbein” (a track that feels intended for a Philip Glass orchestra), they leave the listener wanting more.

In the end, Salon des Amateurs is imaginative, thought provoking, and cool as an igloo. And it is a bold combination of electronica and modern classical. Yet this album should come with the following warning: head bobbing may cause excessive strain to the neck. Let the listener beware.  

Jeremy Yellen

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