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Volker Bertelmann

As Hauschka, award-winning composer/producer Volker Bertelmann gives his music's experimental side free rein. In many of his works, he reimagines the potential of the prepared piano -- a technique that dates back to the late 19th century where objects are inserted between the instrument's strings or onto its hammers -- for the 21st century. Hauschka's music touches on the work of the technique's innovators, such as Erik Satie and John Cage, nods to early keyboard works by Philip Glass, Terry Riley, and Steve Reich, and even echoes gamelan's undulating melodies. Early albums such as 2005's The Prepared Piano focused on the instrument's distinctive sound, but Hauschka's horizons soon expanded. 2011's Salon des Amateurs drew from house and techno; 2017's What If combined hip-hop-influenced rhythms with rapid-fire player pianos, and 2019's A Different Forest delivered soothing, pure piano compositions. Though Bertelmann's reputation as a composer working under his given name grew with projects including his Oscar-winning minimalist score for 2022's All Quiet on the Western Front, 2023's Philanthropy reaffirmed the imaginative possibilities of Hauschka's music. The origins of Hauschka's wide-ranging sounds can be traced back to Volker Bertelmann's musically omnivorous early years. Growing up in a large family in the village of Ferndorf, he started playing piano at age nine by performing at church services. During his teens, he played in rock bands while studying classical piano. Later, he composed music for television and decided to pursue music full-time after studying medicine and business economics in Cologne. In 1992, Bertelmann and his cousin formed the hip-hop duo God's Favorite Dog, who released an album and the singles "Love and Pain" and "Sway" before disbanding in 1995. Bertelmann took a break from music for a few years, but began composing again after relocating to Düsseldorf. Returning to his classical roots -- and adopting the name of composer Vincenz Hauschka as his project's moniker -- he experimented with prepared piano and signed to Karaoke Kalk, which released 2004's Substantial and the following year's The Prepared Piano. The What a Day EP appeared in 2006, with Room to Expand and the remix collection Versions of the Prepared Piano arriving in 2007. Bertelmann moved to the FatCat imprint 130701 for 2008's Ferndorf, an homage to his hometown that featured a string duo and brought his music to a new level of prominence. The 2009 EP Snowflakes and Car Wrecks continued Ferndorf's ensemble approach; the limited-edition EP Small Pieces was sold at Hauschka's shows that year. Around this time, he also began to find regular work scoring independent films in Germany. Bertelmann then released a pair of albums that further expanded Hauschka's music: Foreign Landscapes, a 2010 collaboration with San Francisco's Magik Magik Orchestra, and 2011's Salon des Amateurs, a propulsive love letter to house and techno that featured contributions from members of Calexico and Múm, as well as violinist Hilary Hahn and former Kronos Quartet cellist Jeffrey Zeigler. A remix album including reworkings by Michael Mayer and Matthew Herbert soon followed. Bertelmann continued to explore dance music on 2011's Youyoume EP, while the Pan Tone EP featured Hildur Guðnadóttir on a set of pieces inspired by the colors of the ocean. Bertelmann reunited with Hahn for 2012's Silfra, a collection of improvisations inspired by Iceland's Silfra rift and released by Deutsche Grammophon. That year, he also composed the score for Doris Dörrie's film Glück. On 2014's Abandoned City, Bertelmann returned to his roots: His first solo piano work in almost a decade, it used some of the world's most famous ghost towns as a metaphor for the "sense of hope and sadness" he feels when composing music. 2015 saw the release of A NDO C Y, a collection of Abandoned City outtakes and remixes, as well as the live album 2.11.14. That year, Bertelmann had a residency at the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra and created three pieces for them, including a collaboration with Múm. Bertelmann then composed music for dance performances such as Swan of Tuonela, which found him collaborating with Finnish circus performer Ville Walo. His film music included scores for 2015's The Boy and 2016's In Dubious Battle and Lion, a collaboration with Dustin O'Halloran that earned Golden Globe, Academy Award, and BAFTA nominations. Hauschka's eighth album, What If, arrived in 2017. Inspired by Bertelmann's speculation on what life could be like in the future, it featured a Roland Jupiter synth, an Eventide H3000 Harmonizer and player piano alongside prepared piano for a sci-fi- and hip-hop-influenced sound. Under his own name, Bertelmann's 2018 scoring projects included Adrift, The Current War (which reunited him with O'Halloran), and his BAFTA-nominated music for Edward Berger's Patrick Melrose, as well as and dance pieces performed at the Royal Swedish Ballet and Germany's Bundeskunsthalle Bonn. For Hauschka's 2019 Sony Classical debut, A Different Forest, he used pure piano to express the timeless, restorative beauty of nature and humankind's responsibility to protect it. That year, he also created a sample library of Hauschka's definitive sounds. Bertelmann began the 2020s as an in-demand composer. In 2020, he scored productions including Summerland, and worked with O'Halloran on the music for The Old Guard, A Christmas Carol, and Ammonite. On the score for 2021's Upstream, he took a darker, more experimental approach that incorporated prepared piano, cello, sound effects, and synthesizer and collaborations with poet Robert MacFarlane. In 2022, Bertelmann composed the music for the films War Sailor and Berger's All Quiet on the Western Front, the latter of which won the Oscar for Best Original Score and the BAFTA Award for Best Original Music. October 2023 saw the release of the first Hauschka album in four years. Largely recorded alone in his studio, Philanthropy included performances by cellist Laura Wiek and violinist Karina Buschinger as well as Múm drummer Samuli Kosminen on pieces ranging from playful to somber. Bertelmann worked with Berger once more in 2023, composing the score to the thriller Conclave.
© Heather Phares /TiVo

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