01. Stillness (1’45″)
02. Bounce Bounce (2’29″)
03. Clock Winder (2’43″)
04. Adash (5’30″)
05. Godot (12’37″)
06. Krakow (2’46″)
07. North Atlantic (6’49″)
08. Draw a Map (2’28″)
09. Ashes (3’17″)
10. Sink (2’06″)
11. Halo of Honey (3’00″)
12. Rift (6’31″)
LP/CD. Release date: 22nd May, 2012.
All music composed and performed by Hilary Hahn and Volker Bertelmann.
Co-published by Songs of George Music, NYC and Bosworth Music GMBH, Berlin.
Produced by Volker Bertelmann, Hilary Hahn and Valgeir Sigurðsson.
Mastered by Andreas K. Meyer at Meyer Media Mastering LLC.
All music recorded and mixed at Greenhouse Studio, Iceland by Valgeir Sigurðsson from May 21st to 31st , 2011.
by Hilary Hahn and Hauschka
Silfra, just outside of Reykjavik, marks the divide between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. It is preternaturally still, colored in shades of blue and green not found anywhere else. To snorkel there in a snowstorm is to be suspended in an ancient space, feeling tiny and surrounded in all directions by an unending otherworldly landscape. Silfra feels more like a seam binding two entities than a rift.
We recorded this album in Iceland, which was a symbolic location for us between our continents of origin. It was a place to meet in the middle, but not because it combines Europe and America. It has its own character. We felt that we could go anywhere we wanted within the music if we created it in surroundings that would give us the freedom and independence to explore.
We prepared for two years. We didn’t start out to make a record. Silfra grew out of our efforts to find an integrated musical voice as a duo instead of simply mixing together what we typically do on our own. We met regularly for improvisation sessions. Eventually, we had taken our work as far as we could in rehearsal and it was time to challenge ourselves further, so we went into the studio. We showed up with virtually no pre-planned material but with a clear sense of how we wanted to proceed. We were surprised by how far the process pushed us. Our decision to record in Iceland made a big difference. That country is small, vibrant, and hardy, an environment in which artists are encouraged to follow their creative instincts. We could not have made this particular album anywhere else.
When you listen to this record, you are hearing the music the first time it was played. There were no retakes. These are the moments that brought these ideas to life.
‘Stillness’ was the last track we recorded. The afternoon was ending, and we had reached a point of calm. This piece was an experiment. We began with the violin layers, a blend of harmonics and flitting melody in the upper register, and added into the texture a couple of notes drawn by an ebow touching the piano strings. This soundscape hung in the air as if in anticipation.
Between sessions, each track would be “bounced” down to the backup hard drive. While this was happening, we would listen to a playback to get a feel for how the music was sitting. This piece doesn’t want to rest. In one section, a rubber ball was bounced against the internal framework of the piano, evoking a bass drum. The music builds an unrelenting energy. This was our way of releasing some of the pent up focus of the first few days of recording. It was very satisfying. The studio’s grand piano got a workout, as did the violin bow.
Some mechanisms still need human interaction in order to function. ‘Clock Winder,’ as a title, suited this track, in which unrelated sounds jump around like springs and stacks of notes develop structured dimensions — an almost mechanical effect, but not quite: its emotional pull gives it away. Miniature parts of this song kept showing up in our rehearsals, for no apparent reason.
‘Adash’ is the name of a boy who loves music and scratches lines into his CDs to create unpredictable catches, so that he can hear a section over and over again before it skips ahead to the next part. While living a whole life inside his head, he is good natured and has a gentleness about him that is incorruptible. In this piece, you can hear things buzzing around inside the piano: aluminum skins of burnt tea lights, and electric motors interacting with the vibrations of the strings.
This was one continuous take from start to finish. We were careful to not constrict the music while recording , and afterwards, we didn’t mess with it. For us, it evokes a vivid combination of nostalgia, calm, certainty, and vulnerability. In the piano, the tapping that begins like a little hammer bouncing against a metal bowl turns more and more into the clanking of an old engine, while the violin switches between singing and noises, between talking and describing. This track is hypnotic when heard in surround sound and the volume turned all the way up.
This contains the only part of this album to have been made in advance. A year or so before the sessions, while we were experimenting with different ways of rehearsing, Hauschka recorded a track at home on a Bechstein upright. The title was ‘Krakow,’ named for a poignant melancholy that is palpable in that city. During a break at the studio, we played that piano recording over the monitors and were surprised to discover that it stood its ground next to the tone of the grand piano we were working with. We threw out the violin parts we had previously mocked up and started over, building new layers atop the original piano track.
On one of the days we were supposed to be indoors, we took a walk to the ocean. The wind was bitter cold and could have knocked us over, yet there was a settled peace at the edge of the water. The lighthouse we wound up at was accessible only at low tide, which, coincidentally, was when we stopped by. The ocean looked vast. Salt spray leapt like fish. The waves heaved in slow breaths, inexorable.
In front of the microphones, in the rhythm of improvisation, we began this track with a call and response pattern. Throughout the piece, we gave each other the liberty of spinning melody without interruption, so that the music could take its time if so inclined.
Draw a Map
It is difficult to map the center of Iceland. It is too harsh to inhabit in the winter, with its massive blizzards and crevasses that open underfoot. When summer comes, however, people hike out to someplace peaceful to camp and revel in the extended daylight hours. Plants of all colors cover ground that was starkly black and white. Only a few roads break the landscape.
The piano in this track has an electronic sound, like a broken drum machine, altered by marbles and duct tape stuck to the strings for an unpredictable effect. We switched off taking the lead, letting our performance shift shape as we played.
This music illustrates a feeling that nature brings when it seems to take on greater proportions than usual, prompting both fear and astonishment. A few days into our sessions, the volcano Grimsvotn erupted on the other side of the country. A fine film of ash drifted through an open door onto the floor, the baseboards, and the desk of the production room. We closed everything possible and hunkered down. Ashes describes the colors of the sky as it changed during the eruption, from grey to yellow, then supernaturally dark to a dingy haze. It was fascinating but ominous. No one walked outside. The birds went silent. No vehicles or planes stirred. The only sounds we heard were the ones we made.
We switched things up for this track, recording the violin parts upstairs next to a large window to capture an immediacy in the acoustics. At the same time, we clamped a mute on the violin, forcing the sound to fight to assert itself. The piano remained downstairs in the main studio; we listened to each other through headphones. This setup drove us to pay attention in a different way. When one person changed direction, the other turned on a dime. We toyed with dynamic extremes. It was thrilling.
Halo of Honey
This title is from a haunting song by Tom Brosseau, who is responsible for our first meeting in Germany. Shortly after that meeting, we crossed the ocean to a little venue in San Francisco and performed together for five minutes, almost as an afterthought, on the same show as Tom. That was a very memorable concert. We went away from it thinking that we would like to work together again, and so this collaboration began.
‘Rift’ refers back to Silfra, as a tribute to the deepness and isolation there and the sense of being engulfed by a beautiful phenomenon. The water in the rift looks like ice, it is so serene. Nothing moves except for billows of underwater dust stirred by divers. The scene is timeless. Sound seems to travel in slow motion. It is an affecting place.