Fluidity and seamlessness seem to go hand in hand. It’s a great accomplishment for an artist to find a certain flow in their writing that captures the seamless transitions most often found in regular life. For Hauschka’s Volker Bertelmann, music has always been the extension of his voice into a melodic line. And with a musical voice that is always travelling down a linear path, Foreign Landscapes is a spellbinding new journey into the wave of sonic explorations.
Enlisting the help of the San Francisco Magik Magik Orchestra, Bertelmann adorns his music with a 12-piece string and wind ensemble that colors his expressions with vibrant flash. Songs are delicately layered with violins and horns that resemble vocal passages; it’s as if there is a choir being presented in the manner of trumpets, clarinets and cellos but instead, Bertelmann’s melodic sense crafts such impressions through careful attention. On “Iron Shoes” the sounds are layered in such a manner that dynamics are almost non-existent: the music’s addition of instruments does all the work. And meanwhile, there is a distinctive melody that is continuously being passed from tone to tone, with superb ease. There’s always a strong sense of progression in how every theme tends to call for an alternative response; for Bertelmann, the wherewithal to understand such pacifying demands and to be able deliver them is an astounding aspect.
The album’s overall sequencing – playing out like a concert where one takes his/her seat and readies for an hour session of music – is easily one of Bertelmann’s best decisions. The songs creep into each other, always with blunt entrances and releases but with a focus on tonality, more so than rhythm. “Kamogawa” opens to a clarinet section that feuds scattered eights notes against a triple meter; Bertelmann leaves mistakes in, providing the music with a greater air of organic vitality. The process is remarked in the overall meshing of sounds and in the end, the all-encompassing moments come when everything just happens to come together. Before you know it, like on “Snow”’s majestic atmospherics, you’re lost in a haze of new styles and dimensions. The gorgeous subtlety is one of Foreign Landscapes’ finest qualities and it’s mostly responsible for the album’s stellar concepts.
There’s surely an overall tone to the music but as noticed with other newly-inspired composers, the actual pieces of work will always be variously dissimilar. Bertelmann is a composer of his time, experimenting with sounds and modifying how they work with, and against, the diverse realms of other striking sounds. The piano on “Early in the Park” is jagged to remind the wistful feeling of early mornings and it’s such a fitting recollection of many of Hauschka’s tendencies, foreign or not, the ride is always smooth.