Hauschka: “Constant Growth Fails”

Photo by Mareike Foecking

Almost eighty years ago, the experimental composer John Cage helped popularize the idea of “prepared piano”: by placing objects like nails or screws on or between strings, you can turn the piano into a percussive instrument. But Volker Bertelmann has taken that idea well beyond Cage’s somewhat-limited, avant-garde-inspired boundaries. As Hauschka, Bertelmann has turned the prepared piano into an instrument for beauty. He also understands the inherent showmanship: there’s something awe-inspiring–and yes, kinda funny–about seeing ping-pong balls bounce around a piano’s guts.

Hauschka’s music isn’t some novelty, though. Across eight albums (as well as a few soundtracks, including one for the Oscar-nominated Lion), he’s steadily expanded his sound, from Erik Satie-like stateliness to more fluid, free-flowing compositions. What If, Hauschka’s eighth, takes its title literally and throws more electronics into the mix. On the bubbling, nervy “Constant Growth Fails,” he makes a player piano sound like a synthesizer. You can almost hear the piano buckling under the weight of all the complex layers. The pointed song title suggests there’s a ceiling to growth. For Hauschka, this synthesis–between ugliness and beauty, analog and electronic–is a way to crash right through.

“Constant Growth Fails” appears on What If, out now.

–Art Levy // host, Sunday 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., producer, My KUTX

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