As opposed to our favorite songs, or songs we'd like to think define our listening habits, taking a look at what a person actually listens


Hilary Hahn Is Listening To Herself, Hauschka, and "No Diggity"


As opposed to our favorite songs, or songs we'd like to think define our listening habits, taking a look at what a person actually listens to can be far more revealing. With that in mind, every Wednesday we ask an artist to take a look at the most-played songs in their iTunes libraries and share with us the results. We do this on the honor system, and we ask our subjects to share a few words about each song.

The unique pairing of violinist extraordinaire Hilary Hahn and avant-garde German composer Volker Bertelmann, better known as Hauschka to his fans, is a portrait of an intriguing music partnership. Hahn made a name for herself as a prodigy and classical violinist, but went on to score soundtracks, record with ...Trail of Dead and folk artist Tom Brosseau, and enjoys, if you ask her, everything from "Postal Service to Etta James, Josh Ritter, and Woodie Guthrie." Hauschka, influenced by the likes of Erik Satie and John Cage, has released seven albums that explore the prepared piano, and has recorded with members of Calexico and mum.

The duo's debut collaboration, Silfra (named for the geographic feature near Reykjavik, Iceland, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, where it was also recorded), is an improvisational work of 12 songs, each recorded in one take, featuring Hauschka's prepared piano (whose strings rattle and reverberate with aluminum tea candle shells, bottle tops, ping pong balls, and other household items) and Hahn's serene, wandering violin. It's an absorbing soundscape from two artists who, as Hauschka says, "share an interest in wanting to find new things, combined with a true pleasure in life."

Hilary Hahn & Hauschka play their second of five U.S. dates at the Neptune next Tuesday (5/29), and Hahn submitted her top 5 most-played songs to the Questionnaire here--read on to peer inside her headphones.

Hilary Hahn: When I opened my 25 Top Most Played tracks, all of the slots were filled by two sets of recordings: Silfra tracks and rehearsal recordings of my 27 Encores project. It was a little embarrassing to see those selections staring me in the face. Because it seems unnecessary to focus here on only two projects, when one of them isn't even available yet, I'm adding what I'd estimate to be my most-listened tracks of all time from the rest of my iTunes library. I'm not cheating; they really would win my own little popularity contest.

I have to admit that I've had so much music in my head in recent days that I've preferred to listen to podcasts in my downtime. Stuff You Missed in History Class takes the cake.

"Draw a Map," Silfra, Hilary Hahn and Hauschka: I've been listening to Silfra as we've been revving up for our tour dates--but not particularly for vanity's sake. I am really happy with the album, but I do feel like it is already part of me. Hearing any of the tracks is intense and exciting. I am thrown right back to the studio experience. When we recorded, we improvised without a pre-planned score of any sort. In our shows, we are doing the same, to capture the spirit of the record. I listened to "Draw a Map" several extra times in these past few weeks, because I wanted to incorporate certain elements into our performances, namely the spikiness of the track and how that contrasts with the lyrical lines. If you listen closely, you can pick up on how and when we reacted to the new ideas we threw at each other in the moment. We were just playing in the studio, and this track happened. To me, it is kind of amazing that something can come out of the air and suddenly be a piece of music.

"Blue Fiddle," rehearsal, Paul Moravec: I recently finished touring and recording the first thirteen contemporary encores from my ongoing project of 27. Prepping by capturing the pieces in advance (through my computer's microphone) and reviewing our playing really helped. In my Top 25, this piece was my most-played of the rehearsal recordings. I know you can't listen to it right now, but you will be able to get the whole collection in a little over a year! It has been inspiring to work on that many pieces by different composers, all of whom I called up and commissioned for this project.

What is interesting to me is how much a piece can change in a couple of weeks of performing. That is the nature of interpretation. Whereas Hauschka and I improvise notes, among other musical features, I find myself improvising elements of classical interpretation every day. The two approaches, in that sense, are not that far apart. When I listen to the rehearsal recording, and then think of the session playbacks, nearly everything has redefined itself: pacing, dynamic nuances, speed, flow, flashiness, and emotional impact. I'd encourage you to check out Paul's other pieces: he is a Pulitzer Prize winner, a very nice person, an artist of our times, and of course, an impressive composer.

"Angel," Massive Attack: I cannot describe how much I love this track! The second it starts up, I am immediately in a different room from the one I see around me. The soundscape is hyper dimensional. I have rarely heard something so inexorable. The way it builds, the way it opens up, the way it releases--perfect.

"No Diggity," Blackstreet: This brings back memories. I started watching MTV and the European video channels when I was in Germany when I was 15 or 16, and that's where I heard this song. The video was the first place I saw any kind of hip hop dance. (I later took some classes that I failed miserably at.) Years later, I would come across Bill Withers' songs and appreciate his work, though in my teens, I didn't catch the reference within "No Diggity." My favorite thing about this song is the composition of it. I think it is ingeniously crafted. Very satisfying to listen to, over and over again.

"Toxic," Britney Spears: What can I say? Great production, catchy, with violin riffs! Hard to stop listening once it begins.

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