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Otte: Das Buch der Klänge (The Book of Sounds)

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Album Review

On his fourth collection of piano works for ECM, pianist Herbert Henk brings to the stable one of the most varied and obscure of the 20th century's composers, poets, artists, and sound sculptors, Hans Otte (b. 1926). Written between 1979 and 1982 after a multi-day retrospective of his entire oeuvre at the Baden-Baden Festival, The Book of Sounds is Otte's attempt to wipe out his own history, to begin with a tabula rasa from a place of nowhere and nothing —except the present moment and the relationship of sounds to that moment, because of what they are in themselves. If this sounds a lot like John Cage, it is no doubt his influence that hovers over these proceedings. But the methodology is different. Otte's training could not help but be brought into play here; his sheer pianism (he studied with both Paul Hindemith and Walter Giesseking) touches not only upon his historical relationships, but his ideas about how simply he regards the piano as a an instrument of transcription, of delivery: simple, clean, immediate. The floating harmonies, which are the result of unresolved unions of majors and minors in interaction with one another without dissonance, are hauntingly beautiful. The sense of pushing a note or a series of small chords into one another before allowing space to reclaim them is another hallmark of the work. In this way, without just intonation at its base, it relates in feeling and unfickle sonance to LaMonte Young's The Well-Tuned Piano. This is deeply moving, mysterious piano music, like the Rosicrucian works of Satie or the later preludes by Debussy, or, in some ways, the Nocturnes by Chopin, without their reliance on strict harmonic resolution, but in their convocation of intention and fascination with the mystery of sonic interrelationships. But not even these comparisons do this work justice. In fact it is — as the late Pandit Faquir Pran Nath remarked when he heard the composer perform it in the '80s — like a prayer. Henk's performance is unwaveringly pure in its intention and execution; his reading adds no flourishes or odd angled interpretive movements, but allows the score to speak for itself, which in turn speaks volumes about Henk, as it has always done. His essay in the CD booklet is also novelistic and full of deep insight about the work and the composer; it is no wonder that he has given listeners such a memorable and thought-provoking performance of this little-known work. Truly, this is brilliant.

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Otte: Das Buch der Klänge (The Book of Sounds), Hans Otte
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