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Petr Bakla - Usableness Of The List/ Portfolio [Octopus Press - 2021]

Usableness Of The List/ Portfolio is a CD/ digital download that brings together two sparse, and at times haunting solo piano works from modern classical Czech composer Pert Bakla. Both works are lengthy and pattern-based, and both are played by respected Czech pannist Miroslav Beinhauer.

The release appeared late last year on Octopus Press- and I’m reviewing the CD version of the release. The CD comes presented in a six-panel mini digipak- this features a simple black text on a grey background design. Inside we find English and Czech texts, as well as a twenty-page inlay booklet- once again in English and Czech discussing the pieces and Bakla work. I’m not sure what edition this release came in, but I can’t imagine it been huge numbers- as this is Octopus Presses first release, and this type of thing is always going to be fairly niche- as is of course much of what we cover here at m[m]. Head by here to find out more.

Before this release, I wasn’t aware of Pert Bakla body of work but became interested due to it been stark solo piano composition, which I have very much of a penchant for. Heading over to the composer's website we find he was born in Prague in the year 1980-  he studied music at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, took part in several composition courses and workshops home and abroad and was awarded scholarships and residencies. Though apparently, he is self-taught.
His composition often employs basic pitch-based material (typically the chromatic and the whole-tone scales) in his compositions. He is interested in constructing situations and structural contexts in which these frugal musical elements can acquire a unique expressiveness and energy. His music has been performed in Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Armenia, Ukraine and the United States.

The first piece here is “Usableness of the list (books XX, XXI)” which runs at just over the twenty-one-minute mark. It’s built a selection of continually cascading and bonding key patterns- we have the moodily descending mids to lows, and darting mids and highs. These elements are both played out at a fairly rapid- though gloomily reverbed manner. And I must say it’s wonderfully atmospheric at times rather chilling example of solo piano composition. It's as if the patterns are feeding off their own shadowy unease, and multiply- so as we progress it feels like it's coming at us from all angles- but in reality, I suspect it’s just a set mesh of patterns.

Lastly, we have “Portfolio (measures 1-645)” which comes in at just over the forty seven-minute mark. And on this track, we have a very simplistic series of climbing and descending notion. When I first heard it, I felt it was too simple for its own good- so it left me very much underwhelmed. But since now playing it multiple times, though on good clear set-up in a largely quiet environment, it’s somewhat grown on me. Yes, it’s still simple, but the key here is the reverb and echo- which when one focuses on becomes decidedly spellbinding.

In conclusion, I’d say if like me you enjoy sparse and stark modern classical piano music I think Usableness Of The List/ Portfolio will appeal- yes the first track is certainly the stand out for me, but the seconds a subtle grower. And on the whole, it’s certainly made me keen to hear more of Pert Bakla work down the line, as well of course some more of Beinhauer piano playing as he really is astoundingly focused here.

Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5

Roger Batty
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