Perhaps this is not a word that anyone can use so loosely when they describe a great album. Perhaps “groundbreaking” doesn’t really apply to anything being produced by artists in any genre these days when so many things have been tried, and given the fact that Hauschka puts objects in his piano on a regular basis, and that this album’s co-producer is Valgeir Sigurðsson, who’s collaborated with and produced artists such as Björk, Nico Muhly and Ben Frost in the very same Greenhouse Studios in Reykjavik, Iceland for years, Silfra is probably not such a groundbreaking record for them. But for a new recording by Hilary Hahn, I have to say this certainly sounds to me like a groundbreaking record, and it must also be said that this is almost completely improvised by both Hilary Hahn and Hauschka, as well as co-produced by them.
Hahn, who’s already tried her hand at playing with multiple genres outside of traditional classical (You already know which ones and who she’s played with, whether you heard it from me earlier or read it from her oft-read bio, but add to this her one-off stint with a beat-boxer, and it’s clear she’s tried virtually everything except jazz), simply likes to bring her violinistic identity to whatever the other environment is, rather than do a full-on crossover. But for this recording, it seems Hahn wanted to push the envelope on her own musical identity as well as her violin’s, going as far as clamping the violin on “Sink” (Giving us the closest sound to what a prepared violin sounds like), constricting an instrument that is famous for its broad beauty and volume, or reaching the highest possible notes on the instrument on pieces like “Draw a Map” or “Halo of Honey”–notes you will most likely never hear in any of her classical repertoire.
She even channels Lisa Germano with a blues phrase in the intro for “Draw a Map”.
But “groundbreaking” or not, Silfra clearly is a journey through two artists’ images of a specific moment in a faraway place. Essentially it is an interesting experiment between people from different ends of the classical spectrum, and though Hilary Hahn appears to be the one with the most sacrifices, we’d be remiss if her presence didn’t have its effects on Hauschka’s work as well–Improvisation can’t not produce that between two players.
Even when I’m still wrapping my head around the unusual things Hahn does here (She even appears to briefly strum the fiddle on one of the pieces), the sound experiments by Hauschka done inside (and outside) the piano are fascinating even when they seem to go on a bit long, whether it’s marbles or it’s “aluminum skins of burnt tea lights” (EDITOR’S NOTE: I’ve never even seen a tea light). On pieces like “Adash” or the 12-minute epic “Godot”, Hauschka’s prepared-piano elements (some of which seem like they’re as random just as much as they are considered) can either have a soothing effect or can be on the verge of annoying, depending on what kind of day you’re having.
But pieces like “Ashes” and “Krakow” feature some gorgeous straight piano and violin, and play like moments of intermittent calm during a restless weather period.
Hauschka’s work on Silfra is brilliant and is on par with previous works, but Hahn has absolutely outdone herself, taking her own musical identity out of the concert hall violinist in the gorgeous dress, and bringing it to a neutral, bare platform and redefining it, with Hauschka’s role being almost that of a stylistic mentor. Given the artistic work and dynamics between the two soloists and Sigurðsson, the album comes off like a classical version of Electric Ladyland.
Silfra is a twisted classic, and I hope that it is remembered for that, as well as its moments of beauty.