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Posted: Thursday, May 24, 2012 4:47 PM

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It was folk musician and storyteller Tom Brousseau who first planted the seeds for Hilary Hahn and
Hauschka’s debut collaborative album, SILFRA, encouraging his friends Hahn, the prodigiously
talented American violinist, and Volker Bertelmann, the German master of prepared piano known
to music fans as Hauschka, to explore one another’s work. The gestation period proved long, but –
over two years later - it takes only a moment chatting to Hahn and Hauschka to recognise thegenuine enthusiasm and excitement that lie behind this ambitious, free-spirited and frequently
innovative collection.

Hahn is known as one of the world’s best violinists, “one of those rare artists,” according toAllmusic.com, “who possess both a colossal technique and interpretive acumen”. Beginning hertraining at the age of three, she played with a Symphony Orchestra for the first time at the age of eleven, signed to Sony Classical at sixteen, and was declared Best Young Classical Musician by Time Magazine at the age of 21. Though she made an early name for herself with performances of some of the better known works in the classical canon – she still considers Bach to be one of her most significant touchstones – she’s never been afraid of delving into less conventional areas, whether itbe work by Schoenberg, soundtracks like M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, or even with Texan art-rockers And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead.

Hauschka, meanwhile, has made a name for himself with seven albums since 2004 devoted largelyto prepared piano performances. Inspired by proponents of the technique from Eric Satie and JohnCage to contemporary performers like Max Richter and Yann Tiersen, he’s a prolific musician whosework has continually developed from his early solo improvisations to include electronic elements.


Like Hahn, Hauschka is no stranger to the idea of collaboration, whether with more formal outfitslike Music A.M. (where he pairs up with fellow German, Stefan Schneider, and novelist and formerLong Fin Killie frontman, Luke Sutherland) or when recording with members of acclaimed bands likeCalexico and múm, both of whom contributed to his last solo release, Salon Des Amateurs.

So when it comes to collaborative work, Hahn and Hauschka share a similar philosophy. For
SILFRA, improvisation was the foundation of their work, whether exchanging files over the net orideas in the rehearsal rooms where they united when they could. They had few specific goals, andcertainly no preconceived aesthetic, and purposefully arrived at the recording studio with nothingwritten down. There they worked with Valgeir Sigur.sson, the Icelandic producer, composer andmusician whose Bedroom Community label has helped bring the likes of Ben Frost and Nico Muhlyto the world’s attention. His airy Greenhouse studio, on the outskirts of Reykjavik, proved to be theperfect environment, and for ten days they worked with him as co-producer and engineer, theprocess inspiring, natural and often so involving that, as Hahn puts it, “we were in such aconcentrated mindset that we stayed in the album even when we weren’t playing”.

That prepared piano and violin could sound so perfectly suited is surely indicative of the musicalchemistry that their groundwork and setting created. SILFRA begins with the knowingly titled‘Stillness’ – most tracks on the album were named as some form of synonym for the music – beforebursting open with the uncontainable energy of ‘Bounce Bounce’, in which Hauschka’s piano
crashes noisily behind Hahn’s virtuoso performance. (“I love what Volker does to those pianos,” shegrins.) ‘Halo Of Honey’ is as peaceful as anything Brian Eno ever created had he worked with
stringed instruments to create chamber music instead of electronic ones to create ambient music,
‘Ashes’ conjures up the atmosphere of some of Arvo Pärt’s late 1970s compositions and ‘Draw AMap’ highlights their more playful side. In addition, ‘Clock Winder’ is an atmospheric vignette withthe charm of a music box, while ‘Krakow’ offers a deeply moving, romantic simplicity. It’s the 12minute ‘Godot’, however, that both musicians recognise as their personal favourite, Hauschka
identifying it as having captured some of the Icelandic spirit they felt while recording, and Hahn
praising the space they allowed each other therein.

SILFRA, though, works as a full-bodied entity, something even greater than its parts. As Hahn
suggests, “you’re hearing exactly what evolved at the moment it came to life, in every second of this album. It was such a rewarding experience making the record that I get a little nostalgic when I hearit.”


She’s not going to be alone. It may be unexpected, but SILFRA might just end up being one of themost original and inventive albums of the year. No wonder they both sound so happy…


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