An inexplicable, irreplaceable, and immortal bond exists between music and nature. Not only does nature conduct its own symphony of sounds, but it serves as a wellspring of inspiration for artists of all kinds. Academy® Award-nominated German composer, pianist, producer, and artist Hauschka - Volker Bertelmann - transmits the power of this bond on his 2019 full-length debut for Sony Classical, A Different Forest. Once again embracing the passion, poise, and power of pure piano, he delivers thirteen compositions that immediately illustrate his virtuosity, vulnerability, and vitality.
“In my life and behavior, there is a very deep connection to nature,” he exclaims. “I wanted to combine that with my experience using the forest as a resource. It’s where I learned to orientate, relax, and had great conversations with my father as a child. A lot of times, the jungle of the city can feel like a forest and you experience the same phenomena. You don’t know where you’re going and you’re looking for orientation. I took all of the noise away and explored my link to nature and ultimately to the purity of the instrument.”
A fascinating journey set the stage for such reflection. Under the name Hauschka, he released a series of albums highlighted by the likes of The prepared piano , Ferndorf , Abandoned City , and, most recently, What If , which earned acclaim from NPR, Mixmag, Uncut, PopMatters, and Q, to name a few. Simultaneously, he established himself as one of the film and television industry’s foremost composers. Teaming with Dustin O’Halloran, his 2016 score for Lion garnered nominations for “Best Original Score” at the 2017 Academy® Awards, Golden Globes®, BAFTA®, and more. Among a prolific slate, he also scored the HBO mini-series Gun Powder, Adrift, The Current War, and Showtime’s EMMY® Award-nominated limited series Showtime limited series Patrick Melrose.
In 2018, he re-approached his instrument from a new perspective. After incorporating strings, electronic elements, and various preparations for years, Volker took a step back and stripped the sound to its very core.
“I decided to find a different approach to the piano,” he affirms. “It was the right time to take those preparations away and see how I could work without all of the little gadgets. I simplified the setting. All of the pieces were written by improvisation first. In a way, it was an homage to my older piano playing as a kid. It’s a completely different record than I would normally release. It’s truly A Different Forest in that respect,” he smiles.
While recording in Berlin, the sonic sparsity of the music conjured childhood memories of time in the forest with his family. Weekends often consisted of backpacking through the woods with nothing more than a compass, flasks of water, and food. Every once in a while, they spent the night in a makeshift hut, enjoying “the most wonderful conversations together.”
The project’s creative freedom rekindled a flurry of inspiration, opening up the proverbial flood gates.
“My solo music is like my wild nature,” he continues. “I can just run where I want to, set my tent in the fields anywhere, sleep wherever I want to, and take a snapshot and show the world. If I’m working on a film score, I have to consider the director, the producer, and the studio. This is truly my own inner voice set free, so to speak.”
That voice resounds throughout A Different Forest. The delicate piano of first single “Curious” courses through stark and spacious production. Each note rings out with intense emotionality and urgent power.
“When you’re walking in the forest, you’re always curious to see what’s around the next corner,” he goes on. “All of your senses are in open, in a way, to what’s coming. I was always a curious guy, but in nature, your curiosity gets an extraordinary boost to look in to where animals live or other things grow. It really drives you.”
Elsewhere, lush tones and mysterious energy cover “Dew and Spiderwebs” like morning moss, depicting a silvery “vision of humidity in the woods.” On “Ghosts,” piano materializes like a midnight apparition between vacuous breaks that prove heartfelt and hypnotic. The six-minute-plus “Woodworkers” serves as an homage to his grandfather who worked as a smith and “family members who chopped wood to stay warm in winter.”
In the end, Hauschka takes listeners on a journey into an inner wilderness that feels equally familiar and thrilling.
“I would appreciate if this music stays with listeners or accompanies them for a certain amount of time,” he leaves off. “No matter how stressed you might be, you can put on a record and suddenly be in your own space. It might help you disconnect for a moment, which is important. Music is one of the few things that allows you to dive into some place new. You can be yourself in the moment. If that happens with anything I work on, I’m totally happy.”