Listening to “Blue Bicycle,” the first song on Hauschka’s fourth album “Ferndorf,” is like jogging through the woods. Grazing elk. Towering trees. Amorphous shadows on a dirt path. A brook that cannot be forded: Water sloshing, fish jumping. Staccato played on the piano.
Alternatively, listening to “Blue Bicycle” is like dreaming before waking up to a Manhattan investment banking job, returning to the cubicle that has become home.
Herein lies Hauschka’s drama: The schizoid, nostalgia-ridden album seeks a balance between the dark wood and the mundane urban world. The German avant-garde pianist experiments with the mind and the internal conflict we all face: Wanting to break free and needing, well, a job.
The album, absent of any vocals, depicts the outdoorsman, one who will walk through woods at all times of day. The explorer. Or, it narrates the iconic middle-class office junkie; one is subjected to the worker’s wild, meandering thoughts and observations of nearby men and women who are walking back and forth through the city like clockwork, left hand on the Blackberry, right hand fingering through $100 bills.
“Ferndorf” evokes images of the canonical village, the midpoint between the forest and the office. (It is appropriate, for Hauschka’s album pays tribute to the village of his birth, Ferndorf.) In “Schönes Mädchen,” the quick piano scales and the ticking of the clock portray the afternoon bustle. Men and women catch taxis, meet for lunch and enter banks. The bank runs! The bank runs! Meanwhile, the song can’t help but instill the thought of fishing by a brook, setting the bait while eager carp open their mouths for the grub. These are the extremes, but in the end Hauschka yearns for the middle.
The clock ticks, the clock ticks. Hauschka only has 46 minutes and 11 seconds to enrapture his audience. He lets the mind meander while the body works. During “Heimat,” the mind lets loose (perhaps it is lunchtime?), and one is thrust into a circus carousel while carnival music plays in the background. Only to be countered by the funeral scene of “Nadelwald,” a moment of solitude. Perhaps the mind strays too much.
By the end of the work day, the ferocity of the woods and the bustle of the city die down. It is raining on “Eltern.” As the sun sets, one sips on a mug of hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps while strolling through the muddy flora of “Alma.” One puts on pajamas in “Neuschnee.”
Sleepy. So sleepy.
Sleeping. At album’s end, one is jogging once again through the woods. The carousel. The next work day. The bank notes. The rain. The clouds above loom over the elk that graze near the towering shadowless trees. Hauschka partly successfully forms a balance, an uneasy unification. Perhaps this can only happen in dreams, one’s inner home. The sun does not shine at the convergence. Good night, and sleep tight.