Hauschka, Salon Des Amateurs
Modernist dance music built from classical instruments
It's amazing how fast a thriving scene of post-classical music seems to be growing: music that blurs the space between club, concert hall and gig venue, and that uses orchestral instrumentation not as some badge of respectability or signifier of history, but purely for its sonic possibilities. Labels like Erased Tapes, Type+ and Bedroom Community are leading the way, and FatCat — never strangers to the undefined spaces between genres — are putting out some seriously tasty releases along these lines too. It's barely six months since they put out Foreign Landscapes, an album of wistful, painterly orchestral compositions by Volker Bertelmann aka Hauschka, yet already they have a stunning, and dramatically contrasting, follow-up ready.
Salon des Amateurs is essentially modernist dance music built from classical instruments — but while that may sound forbidding, in fact it's a thing of light-footed delight. A heavily modified piano forms the heart of it, Bertelmann's internal tinkerings with the instrument providing a range of tones that make his tinkling riffs and chords sound semi-synthetic, like something coming out of a huge and alien music box. These parts he repeats and layers, building up tracks exactly like techno, but still with a composer's sense of dramatic structuring, adding brass, string and pulsing drum parts (with assistance from Calexico's Joe Burns and John Convertino, and Múm's Samuli Kosminen) which also repeat their patterns hypnotically as if played by automata. The album, as titles like "TwoAM," "NoSleep," "TaxiTaxi" and "Sunrise" suggest, is themed around a musical night out, and exploratory club music fans will instantly recognise the funky rhythms and zoned-out moods here as their own. But Bertelmann and friends' natural musicality oozes from every chord, and you don't need to be an all-night raver to hear the magic at work here and react to it with child-like wonder. Like being drawn into a Nutcracker-style world of living, dancing toys, its atmospheres can bring a bit of weird joy to even the greyest day.