Following eighteen months after Edinburgh-based pianist / composer Max Richter’s last album comes the release of the gorgeous, intriguingly framed ’24 Postcards In Full Colour’. Richter’s fourth album is a dazzling conceptual exercise of great beauty and emotional resonance. Certainly his most concise, ’24 Postcards…’may also be Max’s most coherent and compelling work to date. Beautifully played, richly textured and detailed, the album foregrounds Max’s sheer class as a composer and producer.
An attempt an exploration of the ringtone as a vehicle for music performance , ‘24 Postcards…’ is an experimental work made up of 24 classically-composed ringtones, set to be premièred in various gallery spaces. The première is intended to be in the form of a series of installations where pre-registered audience members switch on their phones to receive SMS messages, each message alert playing back one or more of the tracks, so making up the performance. In tandem with this release, will be a micro-website hosting 24 photographic images, one accompanying each track. As Max explains: “Thinking about how we listen to music today, I wondered why it is that ringtones have so far been treated as unfit for creative music… Who says ringtones have to be bad?.. It’s like saying LPs or CDs are bad – its just a medium….”
“Because the piece is a collection of tones, where I have no control of the order, I made a structure that holds together by use of shared material – like a cloud of pieces, or a handful of confetti, or a constellation of fragments – to be navigated as you like…” Max views the writing process in similar terms - shuffling basic elements into new constellations. The palette Max limited himself to consists of string quintet; solo piano; 16 track 2 inch tape; transistors; found shortwave radio; vinyl clicks, dust, scratches and rumble; and acoustic guitars. The players on the album are Louisa Fuller (violin),Robert Mc Fall (violin), Natalia Bonner (violin), John Metcalfe (Viola), Ian Burdge (Cello), Chris Worsey (Cello), Sua Lee (Cello), Preston Reed (Guitar), and Richter himself on piano.
Fragmentary and partial by nature, these 24 brief tracks work as a varied collection of evocative miniatures - each offering a glimpse into potentially much larger pieces. The longest track here is just under three minutes, whilst the majority clock in at around just sixty seconds. Each bearing its own particular weight and measure, these haunting vignettes come across as a series of sketches on the (fugitive) nature of time and memory, stitched together to form a series of jump-cuts and foldbacks in time (the album continually reprising itself and filling the listener with a sense of deja-vu).
As though extracting the absolute essence, simple, plaintive piano and string melodies - no excess, no waste, pure concentrate - butt up against passages of rich, borderzone ambience - radio static / voices leaking through dense, shifting drones. At points recalling the likes of Boards Of Canada, Bibio, and Gas (in terms of depth / grain rather than sound or style), at others Minimalism or the Elizabethan instrumental music of Henry Purcell, there’s also something about its nature that brings to mind authors like WG Sebald, Marcel Proust and filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky.
Richter's two major influences are his classical background - he trained in composition and piano at Edinburgh University, The Royal Academy Of Music and with Luciano Berio in Florence - and what he describes as “all the other stuff that was around in the world when I was younger - electronica, early dance music, punk, psychedelia”. Often pigeon-holed alongside contemporary classical composers who rediscovered melody and tonality, such as Arvo Pärt, John Tavener, Henryk Górecki and Michael Nyman, Richter elaborately uses samples and electronics, applying them in ways reminiscent of electronic acts like Fourtet or The Books . Combining chamber music with ambient recordings, spoken-word pieces and experimental electronica, he has created a distinctive and beautiful hybrid of the traditional and the futuristic.
“I'm looking for that incredible intensity and clarity, using the minimum amount of notes possible. It's a case of less is more, definitely: getting things really concentrated. I'm a minimalist in that sense.”
Richter has released 3 albums – ‘Memoryhouse’ (2002, featuring the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra); ‘The Blue Notebooks’ (2004 - “...one of the most affecting and universal contemporary classical records in recent memory..” Pitchfork), with readings by Tilda Swinton; ; and ‘Songs From Before’ (2006) featuring texts by Haruki Murakami, read by Robert Wyatt. His role as a producer began in 1996 when he worked with Future Sound of London on their album ‘Dead Cities’. He subsequently collaborated with FSOL for two years, contributing to the album ‘The Isness’. He also collaborated with Mercury Prize winner Roni Size on the album ‘In The Mode’. In 2005, Max produced ‘Lookaftering’, the long-awaited second album by 60s legend Vashti Bunyan, and in 2006 produced the debut EP by Glasgow post-rockers The Twilight Sad.
A skilled soundtrack composer, recent film projects include ‘Hope’ (2007), by Stanislaw Mucha and Krzysztof Piesciewicz, writer of the Three Colours trilogy for Krzysztof Kieslowski; ‘Waltz with Bashir’ (2007), Ari Forman’s unique animated documentary on the Sabra and Shatilla massacres during the first Lebanon war; ‘The Art Of Mirrors’, a film/music performance with hitherto unseen Super-8mm films by Derek Jarman, ‘Penelope’ (2007), a Croatian/Australian co-production directed by Ben Ferris; and ‘Henry May Long’ (2008) for US writer/director Randal Sharp. Max’s music can also be heard in ‘Stranger Than Fiction’, starring Emma Thompson and Will Farell; ‘Elegy’, the forthcoming film from Isabel Coixet featuring Penelope Cruz, Dennis Hopper and Peter Sarsgaard; and ‘In God’s Name’, the second film from the Naudet brothers, makers of ‘9/11’.
Max is currently collaborating with Turner Prize nominee Darren Almond on a project themed around footage shot on the world’s most northerly railway in Siberia; also with dreamthinkspeak - writing a score for a large scale promenade / installation for the Anglican Cathedral as part of Liverpool 2008.
Later this year will see the re-release of ‘Memory House’, Max’s groundbreaking debut album, originally released on the BBC’s Late Junction label, but now long out of print.
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