Hauschka: “You have to find music that helps the film grow and not take over”

The German composer talks scoring Hollywood films and his kids living on Mars

In the late 1930s, the American pianist John Cage, was asked to write a piece of music for a dance performance with a percussion ensemble. Restricted by the size of the venue, and his ability to only write confidently for piano, Cage decided not to include an ensemble at all. As a solution, he placed a metal plate inside the piano. He liked the sound it created, so experimented further by inserting nuts, bolts, nails and rubber into his instrument. The technique was called prepared piano. The method has since been adopted by composers looking to achieve unique and experimental sounds.

Volker Bertelmann AKA Hauschka is a German composer known for using prepared piano and lyrical music. Throughout his career, Bertelmann has performed as a German hip hop artist under the name God’s Favourite Dog, worked with his own personal orchestra and written scores for filmmakers, most recently for the Golden Globe nominated film Lion. Among his short, yet regular stints touring, composing music for collaborative projects, and raising a family, the Dusseldorf native is often fully-booked but says it is all a matter of balance and perspective.

The German composer’s latest album, What If? is the result of years of reflection, musical development and personal growth. With track names such as ‘I Can’t Find Water’, ‘Constant Growth Fails’ and ‘My Kids Live On Mars’; Bertelmann tries to explain his view of a modern world that is on the precipice.

We caught up with Bertelmann from his home studio in Dusseldorf to find out about the album.

Was the album politically or personally driven?

It’s not politically driven in the first place. It’s more personal. But I would say, nowadays, a lot of personal issues are political issues. In these times, I think it’s worth raising your own voice. We went through a period in the 2000s, maybe late 90s, where there was not much political awareness. It almost felt as if people became more and more unpolitical.

At the start of every year, people went, yeah it’s the same every year I guess. Now times are not like that. I think we need to learn how to sink into a situation and raise our voice. We should voice our opinions at the right point.

After the events of last year, I had the feeling that I was actually wandering off and carrying this thought for a long time. Over the past couple of years, I wondered what kind of world my kids will live in the next 30 or 40 years.

I was constantly asking myself these questions like, what will happen if I can’t find water? You can sense that certain people’s alarms going off because they look to outer space. They need, at some point, regions that people can move to, like Mars for example. I wanted to get a bit more pragmatic with this instead of having a utopian ideal. Like thinking, next weekend I’ll be visiting my kids on Mars. I’d leave on Friday and then the next day I’m back in time for the news.

How do you write a score?

Composing a score is always different. You have to read a book, you have to see a picture, you have to get into the mood of a film. You have to find themes. Also, your music needs to help the film grow and not take it over. So, there needs to be a lot of sensibility in finding the right temperature for a movie.

I think it is a very nice process because, a lot of the time, I rely on my own opinion. It makes total sense to do collaborations outside your own work and films are one of the most beautiful things. With Lion, I got the chance to work on a very big movie and of course that helped me to get some very nice projects.

Has Lion been your favourite project so far?

Lion is definitely one of my favourites in the form of a collaboration. The other would be with Hilary Hahn [on the album Silfra]. The other I did with the movie The Drummer was also wonderful.

Who inspires your work?

I’m totally inspired by guys like Aphex Twin. I think his way off creating stuff is pretty amazing because there’s also a kind of very restricted approach that I really like. It’s not always my world, but he’s very powerful in what he’s doing.

Also, I’m inspired by John Cage’s music theory and his way of gambling with music. I recently did a playlist for a radio show and I put one track in there of John Cage that describes the composition of his work. I was really fascinated by his confidence in saying that music is a language.