Hauschka: Salon Des Amateurs

Salon Des Amateurs is great fun and probably the most floral piece of belle époque kitsch you’ll hear all year: perfect background music for your Baudelaire reading group, but it might be a bit much for less adventurous ears.


Salon Des Amateurs

Label: FatCat
US Release Date: 2011-04-12
UK Release Date: 2011-04-11

It’s a universally acknowledged truth that every first sentence of a Hauschka record review must mention that he’s an exponent of prepared piano. And that’s OK. It’s equally predictable that the second sentence will claim that we all know about prepared piano because we all know and love the work of Erik Satie. And that’s fine too. For the uninitiated, prepared piano is a technique in which a musician tampers with the piano’s strings or hammers, infiltrating them with “preparations”, which can take the form of just about any object in the whole wide world. This extends the range of sounds the piano can make. Hauschka’s distinctive take on this leads us to hear a whole host of weird and wonderful textures: delicate pops, glottal and stunted prods, lingering pealing sounds. It’s essentially high-minded chamber music filled up with a post-rock aesthetic. Sure, this means that a Hauschka record is approachable rather than being too smart for its own good, but it makes no apologies for being conceptually pretty hard work and quite emotionally complex.

While Hauschka’s most recent album, 2010’s Foreign Landscapes, wasn’t particularly well received by critics, it remains an interesting idea – a post-classical Trans Europe Express, or a Jules Verne plot adapted for the Information Age. Salon Des Amateurs sees him develop his game even more, and he ploughs his plinky-plonky furrow into new ground. Here, he explores the buzzing percussive implications of stuffing a piano with gaffer tape and ping-pong balls. This embellishes what is basically a polished pop album that just happens to follow Max Richter’s post-classical philosophy. And there are a few surprises along the way, too.

There are real life drums here (“Subconscious”, “No Sleep”), provided by múm drummer Samuli Kosimen, set alongside electronic sputterings (“Two AM”, the final minute of closer “Sunrise”) and dubby brass stabs (“Radar”). There are also contributions from John Covertino and Joe Burns from Calexico, which should please the adult contemporary audience, while the presence of Grammy-award winning violinist Hilary Hahn will make classically attuned heads nod their approval.

Salon Des Amateurs is certainly Hauschka’s most animated record. His piano still is still delicate and chiming, as on “Girls” and “Taxitaxi”, but overall, it’s a clanking, mechanical album. Make no mistake, it has a heart of pop, but it’s shielded by a wrought iron ribcage, and all the sounds on every track buzz and whirr away. It’s as if each time Hauschka prods at the old ivories, he sets off a series of curious and more curious chain reactions. But it’s not ever clear if the parade of textures that march through these songs is deliberate or created simply by chance – dexterous, elaborate musical mousetraps like “Cube”, or “Sunrise”, self-consciously imperfect, or the product of hours of endless tinkering? Is Salon Des Amateurs itself a steam-punk science experiment, a clatter of the rationality of making a well-paced record, and the pure imagination involved with making something as delectable as “Two AM”? Or, on the other hand, is Hauschka the director of a Dadaist marionette theatre, self-consciously challenging the modern music industry's dollar sign smile?

As with all of Hauschka’s music, Salon Des Amateurs takes place at an awkward apex between being “beautiful” and being merely “pretty”. This is actually quite an important distinction, because the album never decides whether its pop music or classical music, and tracks like “Girls” or “Ping” are challenging more because they sit right on that apex, arms crossed, refusing to dictate how we should listen to them. It’s not at all clear whether, say, “Tanzbein” has the force and depth of contemporary classical music or whether it's mere wallpaper. How are we to listen to “Cube”? It’s not clear whether it’s helpful to get all chin-strokingly Adornian about it, asking whether its structural properties are relevant to its consumption or whether it’s just dinner party music. On Salon Des Amateurs, is Hauschka reaching for the stars, or has he merely painted his ceiling black with speckles of white to emulate outer space?

Nothing here is as conceptually challenging as his earlier work – particularly the difficult, studious Substantial and The Prepared Piano. But that doesn’t mean that Hauschka is selling himself short or that the listener is left unfulfilled. This is a flawed album, and it’s not easy to describe it without going overboard with the old onomatopoeia, but it’s unashamedly fun. While techno-inflected “Radar” reminds you that you are, definitely, in the 21st century (It wouldn’t sound that out of place on a Kompakt release), it’s a little too rigid. While “Sunrise” closes the album quite abruptly, completing the sense that this album isn’t quite as good as you'd perhaps like it to be, it still sounds like it was made on the inside of the most deliriously fun toy chest in the world. Salon Des Amateurs is probably the most floral piece of belle époque kitsch you’ll hear all year. “Two AM”, “Girls”, and “Ping” are brilliant little oddities, and it’ll all be perfect background music for your Baudelaire reading group. But if that’s not quite your thing, then it might end up being an unromantic uphill struggle.






Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.


Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.


Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.


Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.