Release Date: Jul 20, 2010
Record label: Fat Cat
Genre(s): Electronic, Electronica
Max Richter's music could broadly be classified as neo-classical, or ambient, or electro-acoustic chamber music. These descriptors give you an idea of his sound, but they don't tell you what the music feels like. So while I can recognize those generic touchstones, I hear Richter's music first as night music, sound that makes darkness feel alive. I don't tend to associate music with a mood or a time of day or a season, but I like to listen to his albums when I'm working late.
Max Richter embarks on many scoring projects -- most prominently, his music for the award-winning Israeli film Waltz with Bashir -- and it’s easy to hear why: albums such as The Blue Notebooks and Memoryhouse feel like, as the cliché about instrumental music goes, soundtracks for films that haven’t been made yet (though a piece from The Blue Notebooks was even used in the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island). Like Bashir, an animated documentary about the 1982 Lebanon war, Infra is another high-concept project, a ballet inspired by T.S. Eliot's classic poem of yearning and regret, The Waste Land.
Infra was originally conceived as a 25-minute score for a Royal Ballet collaboration between composer Max Richter, choreographer Wayne McGregor and visual artist Julian Opie which premiered in November 2008 and was also broadcast on BBC2. Fleshed out to just over 40 minutes through the inclusion of outtakes and extended sections, the soundtrack was recently revisited and recorded by Richter and a string quintet with a view to documenting the ballet and giving the musical accompaniment a life of its own. Unsurprisingly, he achieves this and more with his fourth studio album on FatCat's classical imprint 130701, further solidifying his reputation as one of Britain's most versatile and identifiable classical voices.
Max Richter faces the depressing double-bind that all modern composers do if they manage to appeal to wider audiences and gain some attention. Too austere or clever, too off-putting or complicated and he’ll be branded another avant garde intellectual “normal” listeners couldn’t (and shouldn’t, the subtext runs) get into; too obviously melodic or moving, too consonant or broadly appealing and suddenly he’s a New Age-y schmaltz factory “discerning” listeners know better than to pay attention to. Richter’s a talented composer, and one that’s shown an admirable desire to keep things interesting; he’s worked with everyone from Future Sound of London to Vashti Bunyan, and the ravishing melancholy of “On the Nature of Daylight” from 2004’s already-kind-of-seminal The Blue Notebooks has started popping up in soundtracks.
Max Richter’s Infra begins with a faint transmission in the background. In what sounds like the turning of a radio knob, the thin electromagnetic waves suffocate in a vast, empty chamber of strings. Seeking a call for action, the frequencies gradually become clearer, journeying in what appears to be a cosmic, desolate open space that brings to mind an absence of confidence.
Roll over, Beethoven: Richter blurs the boundaries between indie and classical. Wyndham Wallace 2010 Once upon a time, rock‘n’roll was for the kids. Parents recoiled at its immoral noise, clutching Perry Como records to their chests as their children rolled their eyes. For years the generations were separated: teenagers craved guitars, elders praised violins, youthful tastes discarded as newfound responsibilities demanded they behave like adults.
I forgot who it was that originally told me, though it’s a pretty well-known argument, that if the best composers of all time – like Mozart, Beethoven, and Haydn – were alive right now, they’d be writing scores for movies. Instead of focusing on many of their famous symphonies or string quartets, these composers would write gorgeous scores and display them on the cinematic stage. In hopes of garnering more attention and publicity, it’s an honorable way to get one’s name out there, as well as creating something both memorable and moving.