While most people spent their Easter holiday either surrounded by family or at Golden Gate Park celebrating 420, Volker Bertelmann, aka Hauschka, found his way to Yoshi’s for an intimate performance at one of San Francisco’s best jazz venues.
It was a snug setting. Five minutes before the 7pm start time, a piano sat on the stage with a dark a red backdrop. Beaded necklaces and other foreign objects lined the piano’s top while a mixer and a sampler sat to the left. The setup was simple yet intriguing and heretical, much like Hauschka’s music.
Making his second stop on his tour, Bertelmann came out to a warm applause. Before he started his set he explained himself and his experiences in San Francisco, and how being German presented some challenges for him playing in the states. He praised one of his first connections and work partners, John Vanderslice, and their work with the Magik Magik Orchestra.
He was also very grateful of the audiences attendance, “usually I’m a little scared playing on a holiday, because most the time I think I’ll be playing alone,” he said. His sense of humor was a pleasant contrast to his emotive and imaginative music.
In support of his 2014 effort, Abandoned City, Bertelmann was conscious of his approach and set list. He eased the audience into his songs, making it more comfortable and listenable as his music often carries a juxtaposition of subdued abstractions that taps into one’s subconscious.
What Haushcka accomplishes with a piano and a few machines is impressive, but it’s the tools he uses to create these sounds that are even more admirable. Bertelmann uses an array of odd objects that he strews across piano chords to create certain sounds. In his bag of oddities that include more than 60 objects mainly from “dollar stores” were duct tape, beaded necklaces, a lock of hair, clocks and many other foreign extremities that most pianists would never dare use in their instrument.
Haushcka, the one man “band” that was initially signed by a hip-hop label, played his beautifully melodic and rhythmically driven songs from his newest album. After playing tunes like “Elizabeth Bay,” and the song “Craco,” about a ruined city that lives in the shadows of their past rather than their future, Bertelmann explained the compositions of his program and how he wasn’t playing the songs like they were on the album.
His improvisations made the experience more impressionable and special, and his awareness is astute, explaining how he plays to his audience, “I play to the silence, or the chatter” that the particular crowd evokes.
Other notable songs include “Clock Winder,” where he turned a bunch of ticking clocks to create an off-beat rhythm that he layered with a reverberant piano track, the track “Paddington,” with short muted backing notes that insinuate heavy hip-hop influence, and his last tune of the night, “Ping-Pong,” which he used plastic Easter eggs in fitting fashion to replace the Ping-Pong ball he typically uses.
Bertelmann is an innovator and really exemplifies creativity in music and the exploitation of dollar stores around the world.
[Photo courtesy of Hauschka]