It’s hard to pinpoint when I first became attached to Max Richter’s work.I had a promo of ‘Songs From Before’ that I think was given by Norman Records. I wasn’t all that aware of modern ambient music at that point and the joys of Erased Tapes were still a few years away. However, it became clearly pretty quickly that there was something special in the early albums by this particular composer and artist. Never one to shirk a concept, his debut was designed as documentary music, ‘The Blue Notebooks’ featured Kafka readings by Tilda Swinton and his wonderful 2010 offering ‘infra’ was born out of a ballet score for a piece by Wayne McGregor of the same name. Add in a modern take on Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’ and an album of music designed for use as ringtones – ‘24 Postcards In Full Colour’ and you get the idea.
A lover of capturing environments, Richter uses in-ear microphones which look like headphones to record sound as he walks around. As can often be the case with neoclassical music, his work seems able to capture elements of the human condition in a way that one might struggle to verbalise. He one said that “writing music is dreaming out loud.” Well, never has he realised that notion mores than on the eight-hour piece ‘Sleep’ from which this more manageable sixty minute selection is culled.
The hypnotically subtle variations across the ten minutes of ‘Path 5 (delta)’ strangely conjure a sense of painfully sad moments in Doctor Who, while ‘Space 11 (invisible pages over)’ seems to capture the sense of falling into sleep, the sound gradually becoming submerged. It is tricky to adequately describe these pieces and I suspect this is entirely the point. The full version of this project is meant to both aid the act of slumber and somehow give musical form to this most private of acts. Peter Broderick released ‘Music For A Sleeping Sculpture of Peter Broderick‘ back in 2009 with similar goals, if not scope, and touched on the idea of music expressly designed to aid sleep rather than simply being calming.
That said, ‘from Sleep’ is exactly that. As an album, it works beautifully, fluctuating enough to sustain attention, holding its ground enough to subdue concerns. ‘Dream 13 (minus even)’ is a particularly warming piece that might make an ideal way in for the Frahm fans amongst you who’ve yet to have the pleasure of Richter’s work. Intended as an antidote to our frenetic, twenty-four, always on, internet word, it is perhaps telling that this project is far more likely to connect in its abbreviated, easier to consume format than at length. Not that I’m not tempted by the imminent physical release of the whole lot, including an uninterrupted run at the complete piece on blu-ray. Ultimately, ‘from Sleep’ makes it into this list because it’s a collection of delicately crafted and lullingly ambient music that is, at times, profoundly moving. As with all of those concepts I mentioned earlier, however Richter gets there is largely irrelevant: what he creates is always good enough to function free from gimmicks.