Part 1

Name: Volker Bertelmann / Hauschka
Nationality: German
Occupation: Composer, Pianist
Current Release: A Different Forest on Sony Classical
Recommendations: Andreas Gursky Stock Exchange (Photography)
Tomás Saraceno "in orbit" (see video here)

If you enjoyed this interview with Hauschka, his website offers an excellent overview of his activities. He also has a facebook page.

When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

I was starting to write music consciously when I was around 10 … I wrote a piano piece for my grandmother but I also started to be in a band as keyboarder and I could hang out with the older band musicians.

I think I was always fascinated by exploring things and sharing my surprises with others. I think a lot of good music just moves you in moments where you do not expect it.

Sound was in this process always equal with melody and harmony.

For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?

I had many ideas about myself being a musician and I think it took me the longest time to find out what I really want and who I am. What role makes me feel well. A lot of successful musicians are sometimes very well known for something that they in general don’t like about their own career and they would love to be someone else. I also think that when it comes to copying I think you are leaving the path of creativity cause you want the quick solution … I am not a big fan of this,

What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?

I think it is challenging to value your output and to find an honest opinion inside of yourself and from friends. I always was a friend of very straight forward opinions even though I often disagree with them. At least they force you to take your own stance. By now I have a clear picture of what part of my output I want to share with the audience and when.

What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?

My first studio was in my parents' home. It was my childhood room with a 4 track recorder and a synthesiser and a drum machine.

My studio today is in a way the dream that I had when I was a boy. I wanted to have a lot of synthesisers but they were extremely expensive. I travelled many times to Bonn where a shop existed called Synthesiser Studio Bonn and I experimented with a PPG or a Fairlight. But I was 14 and could hardly afford a trip to that shop.

Today I have many of those synths and I also have a grand piano.

How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?

I don’t distinguish between the human input and the machine. The machine should feel like a human extension and be able to create a sound vision. That is not too complicated, I am more than happy to say. In an ideal world the human capability and the use of the machine both expand the creative output.

Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?

Well first of all there is me on the piano or a different instrument experimenting. Then I am using outboard gear to add another layer and then I use the computer as a recording device. Sometimes I am feeding back the recorded experiment into the room and reamp sounds to add another layer. I compare my work with these tools with a painter who is putting layers and layers of colour on the canvas and then scraping off certain parts. Sometimes, this can mean scraping the paint off entirely at some places, so that the original colour of the canvas appears.

Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?

Collaborations are there for me to stretch and accept other ideas next to mine. It is an important part to stay flexible and inspired. I couldn't be fresh and inspiring if I wouldn’t have exchanges with other artists.

Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?

I am staying up at 6.30 cause my son has to go to kindergarten. Once he is awake he is waking me and my wife up and we start to have breakfast. Mostly I am in the studio by 8 o'clock in the morning and I am starting to have an idea of the work load of a day. Once this is clear I start writing and experimenting to get new sounds and compositional ideas for the projects that I am working on … be it film, a record or a dance piece.

Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?

I am a very intuitive person and mostly the ideas for my records start materialising in the moment. I sit down on an instrument and I press record and I start playing. After I've spent one or two days just with recording I have tons of music created and I'll then do a selection.

There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?

The ideal state of mind is the state of no expectations and no attachment. To actually get the most strength out of yourself, it is better not to think about value or direction … It is better to start from purity. Which also sometimes means that you are not in a good state of mind right now.

How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?

Every musical experience helps you to grow … it doesn’t matter if that experience is negative or positive. It is all about reflecting on where you are standing right now and how to get somewhere else. So in a way playing live, studio work, collaborations ... all these things help. Improvisation is for me the source to get a clear idea what kind of ideas are pouring out of me.

How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?

Sound and Composition are for me equal and are interacting with each other. Sound can be a composition and a composition can be sound. I don’t want to draw a line between the two. Both sides of music are extremely inspiring.

Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?

Well I would describe it that way. If you are a musical person and you take a chair and you sit down on a street crossing in the centre of your home town for about an hour or two and just try to focus on sounds interacting with each other, you find out that out that our natural surrounding has to offer so many unconscious rhythmical and tonal interactions and at the same time so disconnected interactions. I personally think that the best way of making music for me is to somehow create a similar space like on a street crossing with tonal instruments.

Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?

It is always difficult to talk about your own art ... Some people want me to categorise my music but I am just doing it without a category in mind.
My approach to art is just a very personal output of creations that can either mean something for someone else, or it may only mean something for me. For me, it is essential to express myself the way I am doing it.

It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?

I hope it will be like I know it … an expression of human feelings and a description of inner and outer processes. Music has a great ability to transform you into someone who is just floating and feels otherworldly. I am a big music fan.