posted on August 10, 2010 19:00
A review of the album Infra by Max Richter
Review Snapshot: While not pushing the boat out too far with this piece, Max Richter, a composer famed for his work with such bands as Future Sounds of London, has constructed an evocative and sensitive piece filled with emotion and imagery.
The Cluas Verdict? 7 out of 10
It’s hard to avoid the first thought that enters the mind when listening to this track: films. But comparing this stand-alone studio album is not an insult. In fact the thought merely betrays its true nature: a ballet, conceived alongside choreography by Wayne McGregor and artist Julian Opie for the Royal Ballet. This music on this album is developed somewhat from the original opera, so that it stands alone and perfectly valid as a studio album in itself. Yet to immediately associate it with soundtracking is a testament to the strength of imagery and atmosphere with which the composer has imbued it, not a belittlement of it in itself. In fact, the rich evocativeness of Richter’s music has been recognised numerous times and has been featured in film scores, including that of last year’s ‘Waltz with Bashir’ documentary, or Scorsese’s ‘Shutter Island’. Written for piano, string quartet and electronics, Infra is a refreshingly unembellished score, conjuring up impressions and atmospheres with apparently little effort.
Though the instrumental writing is not particularly groundbreaking or new – in fact, much of it smacks just a little too much of Glass and Nymen for comfort – Richter has clearly kept things simple for a reason. Neither is the source material of the electronic movements all that original or inspiring. Radio interference, intercepted signals, feedback and static are at this stage hackneyed ideas for electronic composition, but again Richter treats them with the same delicacy as the instruments. Found sounds from Schubert’s Winterreise make an exceptional addition to the electronic background, however, as a perfect example of mood, material and theme. Sparse textures, short beautiful motifs and an aching and unassuming sadness that (mostly) manages to stay clear of cliché are evidence of the piece’s original inspiration: T.S. Eliot’s the Wasteland. Similar to the poem, the piece is delicate, poised, outwardly calm, but hints at a roiling discomfort beneath.
By putting the instrumental and electronic parts together, Richter has created a duality that pervades the entire piece in different ways, not least in the structure of the piece itself. The work is divided into short movements named Infra 1-8 and Journey 1-5. While material is shared between the two, there are definite shifts in mood, for example the almost threatening dynamism of Journey 2 versus the calmness of Infra 1.The effect is like a juxtaposed 66e and Steve Reich, a marriage of classical techniques and contemporary aesthetics that makes for an interesting and evocative listen.
Infra 1 by max richter