24/01/2014 Barbican Guide

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Max Richter website


Max Richter’s debut album Memoryhouse is the work of someone with an overactive imagination, a first glimpse into the mind of a composer, arranger, producer, piano player and devourer of music and literature. Released in 2002, this is and was an important first album for the composer, or as he told me via the phone from Berlin 'in a way making a record is a wish fulfilment, you’re making an imaginary world where you're in charge.'

What is Memoryhouse? For me this intoxicating album is all about its opening delicious moments when the down-pouring rain draws you into this new unknown world. It continues with a what-is-this? excited feeling as someone whispers poetry in your ear. And by that point, as with a good story, you are hooked. On a purely musical level, though, Max describes it as a big set of variations, with a basic theme that resurfaces. But on a non- musical level this is music written by him for an imaginary documentary (he would later be involved with work on the films such as Waltz with Bashir). He used the track Sarajevo on the phone as an example: it's 'a musical response to a well known story at the time. A pair of lovers who were killed and became a symbol of the city at that time'.

You may question why Max gave himself the task of making such an ambitious debut from composing to producing himself. His simple answer is no one else was going to do it for him. He added 'if I fall flat on my face then at least I want to have been trying something I cared about!' As with the performance in January the record included the use of the full scope of a symphony orchestra. Max told me 'at that time I had all these ideas which really needed that expansive palette, if you think of a piece such as November or Sarajevo. It needs that scale'.

Influences came from every direction with this record from a distant actresses' voice to a Soviet space dog. Musically, in 2002, post-rock was a force in music and the likes of Sigur Ros, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Mogwai were important artists on his stereo: 'There was a feeling of some kind of connection and it’s maybe to do with the gestures and the architecture those bands were using. More abstract sorts of form. There was some sort of overlap there.' Let’s not underestimate his career and studies which had let him to this point. He studied under the composing powerhouse that was Luciano Berio 'I took from his ecclesiasticism a bit, his open mindedness, and his ways of thinking and hearing music chimed with me'.

It's going to be quite a 'complicated creature' to perform live as Max himself didn't think it would ever be performed live. Since this point he has gone on to release a whole series of important albums on Fat Cat's 130701 imprint and composed countless works for ballet, opera and the film screen. But this is where it all began. Max reflected one final time on his debut: 'Personally I quite like music which allows a space for the audience to step into it and interpret in their own way and find their own route through. Hopefully Memoryhouse has that quality.' It certainly does.

Words: Ben Eshmade