Book of Sounds
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"The Book of Sounds is dedicated to all those who want to draw close to sound, so that, in the search for the sound of sound, for the secret of life, one' own resonance is discovered." These are the striking words with which the German composer, pianis
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Really????? Okay, so here's the dissenting view. If you think that the tonal and saccharine minimalism of Phil Glass represents the summit of western contemporary creation, than, sure, this cycle is equal to anything written by Glass, and has some similarities with it: less busy, more dreamy, but repetitive, easy-listening and even somewhat facile it is tonal, dreamy and nostalgic harmonies. I'm not familiar with the music of Bill Evans and Paul Bley that reviewer Scott MacFaden mentions, but I'm sure he's right: Otte's piano writing must be evocative of theirs.
I won't deny that it took some bravery to offer that kind of music on the German contemporary music scene in the late 1970s/early 1980s, when serialism and post-serialism still ruled. But if you are not inclined to think that easy-listening, soothing, dreamy and nostalgic, athmospheric, healing, praying music is just enough to make a piano cycle "one the most remarkable creations in contemporary piano music", if you're inclined to think that, in order to fit that description, a piano cycle needs to be more demanding, more imaginative, more innovative either (or both) in its use of the instrument or/and in the way it develops piano technique, you could start with Henry Cowell's mesmerizing "piano strings", Ives' awesome and romping Sonatas and Etudes, Messiaen's incredible Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant Jesus, Conlon Nancarrow's superhuman Etudes for Player Piano, the fascinating piano music of George Crumb, Salvatore Sciarrino, Luciano Berio, the bowed piano of Stephen Scott... It's a long list and these are just primers.
Don't get me wrong: I don't want to disparage the music of Otte. I'm sure there's a public for that kind of music and one that's ready to consider that this is great music. I just want to warn those (as was my case) who wouldn't know what Otte's music is about. So if you're looking for easy-listning, soothing, dreamy and nostalgic, athmospheric, healing, praying music, to complete your collection of Glass, Adams and LaMonte Young... this is for you. For sure, it is better than the piano music of Valentin Silvestrov, Nostalghia: Piano Works. And here's a further tip: those with a liking for the music of Otte should find interest in the music of Keith Barnard, Barnard: Cosmic Light.
But here's another tip: for easy-listening tonal, obsessively repetitive piano music that doesn't just give the impression of being facile but is immensely engaging, don't miss Simeon ten Holt.
TT 77:36 and extensive liner notes, no complaint here.
Otte's finely elegant music here seems odd in a way. Although the piano as a timbral resonant chamber with this work has fostered far more long solo works from Otte; for the piano as his "Book of Hours" :Studenbuch: from 1991-1998, these more a spiritual focus(what else) to be played in canonical content is placed in and around. "The Book of Sounds" is from 1979-1982 and appeared at a time when minimalism was about to take off never to return primarily however in the USA,performative artists as Meredith Monk and Laurie Anderson were also getting, starting to get invitations to Europe with again their minimalist musics as a background warm-ups for whatever they do with text,and electronic manipulations. Otte though sees the corruptibility of the context even back in the early Eighties here so his works remain within traditional frames and gesturings. The stark beauty of the piano no one can argue with and is exploited,much as Morton Feldman actually asa distant hovering mentor,"hanging beauties" or "Wohllaut"is the term or "Klangen im Fuelle" classic shapes in abundance although Otte's music has a mild caressing rhythmic charge,more direct than Feldman, more melancholic "schwermuetig" a content of predictability. And he pays a price for that, for one single listening experience is about all there is herein for the proceedings.This has been a paradigm for Western concoctions of the minimal cause, where only the late Feldman the last ten years of his life tried to resolve. This with attempting to write hours long music. And it is really still problematic. Even Glass with his operas all still fall within known tried and tested genres of traditional operas. There was no innovations as his early Farfisa Organ music had implied.
A work like the Otte makes you regain your consciousness on really how far the vagaries and corruptibility of the concept of the minimal cause has gotten,much like any genre that must go public, and blockbuster, Early USA Television was an example where the early serious writers as Sid Ceaser and Milton Berle,who had only one show a week, now had one show per day to write for. So to the composers of mini-malism had to crank it out like working in a factory of culture. We never see it thus in the USA for we have pretensions of a free democracy at work where anyone can write whatever they want. Yes then try to sell,promote, produce and distribute your product. That's a horse of a different color as they say in the Land of Oz,so write for cash box or perish. What actually has perished for minimalism has been unpretentiously its intellectual soul, its premise, where now we simply have fodder,caricatures homgenizations schemes,digitalizations of expression predictable reduced for the lowest common denominator. And minimalism I think now finds itself it much more popular formats as the "studio" expression as Om Lounge and Fila Brazilia, churn out interesting mind-numbing beats,pulses and rhythms.
So the Otte finally is like an old contemplative fixed dinosaur, meant to simply remind you of this "Lost World" and it does so beautifully. Curious how the sustainability of this same idea in the visual arts sees no boundaries, as the ongoing continuous work of Carl Andre, Richard Serra, and photographers Kathy Grannan, Axel Hutte and Erwin Wurm.The un-vigours of Music seems to eat its children or like the sea anemone when it finds a nice comfortably rock to reside for its life proceeds to eat its brain.
this disc is soooooooooooooooooooooo good.
read and weep, scott and scarecrow!