As it’s evolved, Hauschka’s music has become less preoccupied with placing things upon and between his piano strings. The Dusseldorf-based composer is still an avowed proponent of prepared piano, that recent century tradition of manipulating the innards of a grand to evoke sounds controlled as much by the composer as the piano itself. But Hauschka (a.k.a. Volker Bertelmann) has always had a pop streak, as well as a yen to explore the same strange, almost reverent electronic tones that burble through the work of contemporaries like Klimek and Mum. In other words, Bertelmann is a great fit for the Mueslix-tronic Fat Cat sound.
On Ferndorf, Hauschka’s second for the imprint, he returns again to the style of 2007’s Room to Expand. The opening suite of "Blue Bicycle," "Morgen Rot," and "Rode Null" features piano lines wrapping inward on one another, trickling into the slight cracks between other melodies, and generally having the run of each song’s cushy midsection. The work put in is definitely high-end academic. But the result? Bertelmann isn’t here to wow us with nervy or incomprehensible brain twisters. He’s here to entertain, and to interpret the memories of his childhood. As such, the music is a gentle stroll, like an idyll walk through the Rothaargebirge, the deep green mountain range adjacent to his hometown for which the Ferndorf is named.
String sections appear to add color to his work. Cellos rush to meet each other in "Morgenrot," while violins keen with an eye toward home on the subdued "Eltern." Later pieces like "Schones Madchen" and the harpsichord-tinged closer, "Weeks of Rain," draw on Bertelmann’s classically trained background. "Neuschnee" is as measured and beautiful as a chamber-music piece, or even a really artful geometry problem, and the rise and fall of some electronic unknown makes its presence felt in the margins of Ferndorf. It’s like the vestige of something darker Hauschka can’t quite escape. Luckily, he’d rather evoke the warmth of his best memories. And they’re the sort of thing we can get wrapped up in, too.