Hauschka is the stage name of the German musician Volker Bertelmann. I went downtown and saw him perform a solo concert at the Contemporary Arts Center a few Fridays ago. Hauschka plays what’s known as a “prepared” piano. That means he opens up the piano, sticks foreign objects on or around the strings, and then plays his songs with those knick-knacks inside. The resulting sounds are sometimes dissonant and off-putting, but more often than not the music created is strangely beautiful.
An arty guy who thought he was important came out before the show and told us exactly how we should feel when we hear Hauschka live. I wanted to throw my beer bottle at him for being so presumptuous, but I decided to bite the inside of my lip instead. His blathering introduction eventually ended and Hauschka came out to talk for a few minutes before settling in for the show. He was so charming that I immediately forgot about the pompous guy. I stopped biting my lip.
The Contemporary Arts Center had set up their performance space in a theater-in-the-round style with Hauschka and his piano down in the middle and the audience surrounding them in concentric circles. The piano didn’t have a lid and we could see the strings and knick-knacks inside. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen.
Hauschka’s main set lasted about 70 minutes. I have no idea if he played three songs or ten. The audience only clapped three times, but there were slight breaks in the middle of the longer pieces that may have been song endings. Hauschka used these breaks to remove some knick-knacks and replace them with others. I kept wondering if we were supposed to applaud during these breaks, but I decided it would be undignified to clap for a guy taking chopsticks out of a piano.
I didn’t recognize any of the songs and Hauschka didn’t announce any titles. My setlist notes looked like this: 13 Minute Song, 18 Minute Song, Almost Normal #1, Weird, Almost Normal #2, The Removal of Objects, Ping-Pong Balls, Duct Tape. As a big setlist guy, I found this frustrating. It really doesn’t matter; what matters is that I liked most of what I heard, and the parts that grated against my ears did so in interesting ways.
One of the highlights of the night was when Hauschka played with ping-pong balls inside his piano. Some of the balls bounced up and out of the piano when he really got into it. None of the balls came my way, but it got me thinking about the proper way to deal with catching a foul ball at a concert. Do you consider the ball a souvenir and keep it, or do you return it to the performer after the show so he doesn’t have to stop and buy more on his way to the next night’s venue? I thought about this a lot during that evening. I never did decide.
That’s the one and only picture I took during the concert. I didn’t bother with settings or aiming or even holding my hands still; I just held the camera off to the side and snapped a quick shot and then stuck my camera back in my pocket. I manipulated the heck out of it, but I think the picture turned out surprisingly well. I can almost hear the sound of ping-pong balls bouncing around when I look at it.
I felt freer to take more pictures after the show. Hauschka left his piano open so people could have a closer look inside. Everyone rushed over to look at the ping-pong balls and duct tape. The guy pointing is wearing my shirt and looks so much like me that I thought he was, in fact, me. It really threw me off when I first noticed him while putting this post together. Who is he? How did he get to be so handsome? Would we explode if we shook hands?