My World: Max Richter

Posted on May 17th, 2017 in Features, Recent posts by .

Max Richter Songlines June 2017

This interview is an extract from the June 2017 (#128) issue of Songlines. To read the full interview and find out which playlist tracks Max Richter chose, order a copy of the edition at: www.songlines.co.uk/subs

Max Reinhardt speaks to one of the UK’s leading contemporary classical composers, Max Richter, the hardest working post-minimalist in showbiz, and finds out how he connects with music from around the world.

Composer Max Richter personifies prolific. In this century alone he has composed and recorded eight major works; composed more than 40 soundtracks for film and TV; scored for opera, ballet and theatre and his apparently endless list of collaborators include Roni Size, Brian Eno and Robert Wyatt. He’s also composed music to the texts of Virginia Woolf and reworked Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.

But perhaps his most unique work is the eight-hour piece Sleep – premiered 18 months ago – which he performed live with an ensemble overnight at The Wellcome Collection in London to an audience who were tucked up in beds. Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 from midnight to 8am, it instantly became the longest ever live broadcast of a single work. It carried me through the night in bed at home, working its strange magic. Every time there was a slight gear change in the music, it really did play with my different levels of sleep: hypnagogic, hypnopompic, sub-conscious, unconscious, REM level, you name it. Certainly a long, amazing journey, with the music as my nighttime guardian angel.

 

“Like many people, I feel like I’m living in a kind
of data blizzard…”

 

I suspected that Richter’s playlist choices would reflect his fascination for music that reaches beyond the conscious mind and ears of its audience. “I guess Sleep sums up one pole of what I do, which is about landscape and environmental ways of relating to music and sound… I just felt that our data universe was becoming very dense: all pervasive hand-held screens, broadband and 24/7 ‘on’ type culture. Like many people, I feel like I’m living in a kind of data blizzard, exhilarating in many ways… but not all the time. So Sleep has a little bit of the quality of a manifesto – here’s an alternative mode of experience, just inhabit that for a while. It’s obviously a kind of a pause.”

The fact that its audience share a mass sleep-in undoubtedly gives it the feel of tribal ritual. Richter speaks of the palpable emotionality invoked by the collective aspect of the piece as performers and their trusting, somnolent audience share this long journey through the night.

It’s that kind of feeling that he tunes into with ‘Tareiva’, an mbira field recording from Zimbabwe and the collaborative/collective aesthetic he perceives built into its process. “It’s sort of freeform, but it also isn’t. You’ve got this cyclical structure, return and change, which evokes maybe all kinds of early minimalist music, but prefigures all of it. And if you go into the origins of that, it has a sort of idealistic social model built into it. So yes, that campfire feeling is in the music.”

The Konono No 1 track reflects his love of the group’s incredible live appearances but also of their unique and potent communal presence. “It’s got a funky quality which I love. It’s also systems music, but it’s song based – it’s got everything.” Richter knew their original album (Congotronics) but definitely approves of DJ/producer Batida’s subtle approach to the music, avoiding the brutal house remix.

But his playlist also reflects other interests and themes. “It’s quite wide ranging and it reflects my enthusiasms really. I’ve always been quite omnivorous, so I suppose the playlist is me tumbling through the datasphere. Some things I’ve known for a long time, other things I’ve just sort of chanced upon so it’s a real mix.” A mix that reflects a restless musical life: a childhood spent learning piano and building synthesizers in his bedroom. “I never felt persuaded by the idea of music getting compartmentalised in boxes because music is actually more fluid than that and by its nature you get interpenetration of musical cultures.”

This interview is an extract from the June 2017 (#128) issue of Songlines. To read the full interview and find out which playlist tracks Max Richter chose, order a copy of the edition at: www.songlines.co.uk/subs

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