There’s something about deftly controlled strings that can stir the heart and no man knows more about doing that than classical composer and audio manipulator Max Richter. "It’s a weird, emotional world’" he says of the sound of ‘infra’, "because it’s got a sort of hallucinogenic quality; some of it’s quite bleak." But don’t be put off, bleak can be truly beautiful and the minimalist nature of the sleeve is a fair indication of the stark isolation found within.
Let’s be blunt about this: Instrumental pieces are often good, rarely great. The abstract musical vocabulary, conveying feelings without lyrical assistance, requires a delicate touch and ambitious execution. Max Richter does not make background music. All four of his previous albums command your attention and ‘infra’, expanded from the soundtrack to a 2008 ballet of the same name, is no different. At times agitated and claustrophobic, at others mournful and emotive, this is an album which needs time to breathe. While the pace hardly fluctuates wildly, the constant twists and turns create an emotional collage where you’re left contemplative and euphoric in equal measure.
Speaking to Richter earlier this year, he explained the process of creating this record: "I got an email from Wayne (McGregor) who’s the in-house choreographer at the Royal Opera House, he’s really into music, and he said do you want to do (the soundtrack to) this thing? Which was great, really interesting. There wasn’t really a brief. The brief was it was twenty five minutes, which is kind of ideal. I saw some of the animation (shown above the stage performance, created by Julian Opie) and little bits of choreography. We had one or two conversations about this idea of journeys and also about there being two levels on the stage. That started me thinking about lots of images and there’s lots of things that return in different ways. It’s like turning a bit of sculpture in your hands to get different perspectives on the material. I wanted (the recorded version) to be more immersive, more complete in a way, so it could stand on its own. In recording it, I started to find new things in the material I wanted to explore and it was nice just to take another trip through it and so this whole other kind of region of music evolved which is the journey pieces."
The recurring fragments Richter mentions hold this beautiful record together and, while there’s plenty of competition for the title, this may well be his best yet.