Originally conceived as a Royal Ballet-commissioned collaboration between composer Max Richter, choreographer Wayne McGregor and artist Julian Opie, Max Richter’s gorgeous score to ‘infra’ is deservedly given life of its own in this album-length release from FatCat’s instrumental / orchestral imprint 130701 Records.
The initial setting for ‘infra’ was as a ballet - written in autumn 2008 and premiered in November of the same year at The Royal Opera House in London – although here Richter’s score is given the full scope of a standalone new album. Expanded and extended from the original piece, ‘infra’ comprises music written for piano, electronics and string quintet, including the full performance score as well as material that has subsequently developed from the construction of the album – more a continued reference to the ballet than as a “studio album” in the strictest sense. The composition resonates with Max’s characteristic musical voice – majestic, involved textures; fluent and sweeping melodies; an enigmatic and inherently intellectual understanding of harmonic complexities that compels and mesmerizes.
Richter’s work on the ballet came initially from McGregor’s invitation, a request for 25 minutes of music for his piece, inspired by T.S. Elliot’s ‘The Wasteland’ and named after the Latin term for ‘below’. This eventually became more collaborative as the project developed – Wayne would ask for Max to extend or alter certain passages of music in accordance with his own amendments to his choreography and concept, whilst logging the whole process for a BBC documentary (broadcast, along with the ballet in full, on BBC2 in November 2008). The dance performance was backed with digital images created by Julian Opie – observational scenes of street life, haunting and curiously balletic despite being of the everyday – and Max’s score is an appropriately close reference to the traveling theme:
“I started thinking about making a piece on the theme of journeys. Like a road movie. Or a traveler’s notebook. Or like the second unit in a film - when the scene has been played, and the image cuts away to the landscape going by. This started me thinking about Schubert's devastating and haunting "Winterreise" (Winter Journey), so I used some melodic material from Schubert as a found object in parts of my new piece.“
The recording of ‘infra’ took place in one day at London’s AIR Studios – recorded onto 2” tape, engineered by Nick Wollage and overseen by Max - before a return to the mixing studio (Max’s StudioKino and Trixx in Berlin) for Max’s typically intricate and lengthy process of crafting completed pieces from the recordings.
Max Richter studied composition and piano at the Royal Academy of Music before moving to Florence to study with Luciano Berio, and subsequently co-founded the contemporary classical ensemble Piano Circus - his principal musical output for ten years – on his return to the UK. As well as commissioning and performing works by several musical figureheads, including Brian Eno and Julia Wolf, Richter was largely responsible for the ensemble’s use of live electronics, which became one of the fundamentally formative elements of his own work.
An active collaborator in other media, Max received The European Film Award last year for his work on ‘Waltz with Bashir’, Ari Forman’s Oscar-nominated animated documentary. He has released four full-length albums with FatCat’s 130701 imprint - 2008’s ’24 Postcards in Full Colour’, ‘Songs From Before’ (2006), ‘The Blue Notebooks’ (2004) and last year’s ‘Memoryhouse’ (a reissue of his 2002 debut, originally released through the BBC’s short-lived Late Junction label) –‘infra’ is his first soundtrack piece to appear through FatCat.
Forthcoming scores include Benedek Fliegauf’s near-future Dystopia “Womb”, as well as ‘from The Art Of Mirrors’, a film / music performance with hitherto unseen Super-8mm films by Derek Jarman.
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