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Max Richter


As I am sure plenty of Puremusic readers know, part of the joy of being a music lover is the thrill of discovering new music. In a London record store, not long ago, I spied a CD with a small, hand-lettered label stuck on, that said, "featuring Tilda Swinton." Now, if I am not the world's biggest Tilda Swinton fan, I sure come close (even though I have not yet seen The Chronicles of Narnia). Her exotic, androgynous--okay, alien--beauty, and self-assured acting skills make even her near-cameos in movies like Broken Flowers, Adaptation, and Vanilla Sky reason enough to see the movies…well maybe not Vanilla Sky.

The CD in question was Max Richter's The Blue Notebooks. Tilda was employed to read a paragraph from Kafka over Richter's minimalist piano, a typewriter, and some other subtle sound effects, all conspiring to create a powerful dreamlike state in the one minute and twenty second title tune. There and elsewhere on the CD, Swinton's voice is mixed almost subliminally, contributing to the somnabulant quality of the music.


On Songs From Before, Robert Wyatt's more audible readings of Haruki Murakami's text replace Swinton and Kafka but to no less effect. Like The Blue Notebooks, Songs From Before uses a brilliant mixture of spare acoustic, electronic, and found sounds to create music that is as haunting as anything you will ever hear. Elegiac (adj. expressing sorrow or regret) is an overemployed critic word that I swore never to use, but if it applies to any music it fits Richter's. Even better is the French tristesse, implying an aching sweetness tempering the sorrow and regret. That is Songs From Before to a T. Imagine the girl or guy you loved and lost, or a nostalgia for a time that you never lived in, or better yet, that never existed.

Cinematic, sure, but more than that--Richter's work is emotive in a way that only music and sound can be. Evocative of gray days and grayer moods, the strings and sonically treated pianos tug at the soul. Max Richter's compositions may make you sad, but it will be the most pleasurable sadness you have ever experienced. • Michael Ross

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a good interview with Max Richter

about Robert Wyatt      about Tilda Swinton

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