It is indeed ironic that "Litania", which appears early in Satoh's oeuvre, emerges as one of his most strikingly original and radical works. "Litania" is the first in a series of compositions for piano, all of which explore the reverberative qualities of the instrument thorough a single facet of pianism, namely tremolo technique. The ensuing drones are subjected to a subtle time lag through a digital delay process. This creates a sonic interference resulting in an extremely rich harmonic texture, which is further intensified by the overlaying of second or third piano. (All but one of these works call for more than one piano.) Satoh admits that he was not at all conscious of composing "works for the piano" per se. The instrument, with its extensive sonic capabilities, merely became the vehicle through which he could generate the necessary sonorities integral to his artisic statement.
In "Litania", the colossal massed formations that arise out of Satoh's homophonic, single-minded approach to the keyboard create bands of sound which invite comparison to the Polish avant-garde composer Krzysztof Penderecki's "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima" for fifty-two stringed instruments (1960). The penchant for sonic violence in keeping with the emotional climate of "Litania" is not without parallel associations with Penderecki's statement. The mood of "Litania" is, moreover, pervaded by that undercurrent of angst often associated with Butoh, the avant-garde, dance-theater aesthetic sometimes referred to as "dance of the dark soul" that emerged, infused with German Expressionist influences, from post-war Japan in the 1960s. It is purely coincidental, yet fittingly appropriate, that this first American recording of Somei Satoh's "Litania" should take place on August 6th, 1985, the fortieth anniverary of the bombing of Hiroshima.
ReviewsSelected as one of the best recordings of 1988 by The New York Times