Max Richter – Memoryhouse (12/06/2010)

Elegance #1 for Strings and Piano.

Max Richter is no stranger to our modern world.   He’s played and commissioned pieces from Arvo Part, Philip Glass and Steve Reich–he’s also worked with Brian Eno and The Future Sound of London, working with a great deal of  famous artists and television shows (most notably BBC). However, he’s got as much a grasp on our modern electronic way of life as he does on the dusty, warmly worn classics of centuries ago.  He’s woven a mesh of subtle influences, creating very timeless pieces of music through understandings of electroacoustic manipulation and modern classical and baroque compositions.  All those fancies to say: gorgeous, powerful music with humility.

Memoryhouse was the first album Richter released of his own solo compositions back in 2002, and it must have been a welcome treat.  Beauty in simplicity.  The album is comprised almost entirely of pieces for strings and piano, sometimes together and others apart, and with some pieces carried by solo vocals from a talented female singer,  occasionally featuring beautifully subtle electronics that don’t become pervasive or overbearing, exemplifying a knowing subtlety about his ideas and how he wants to achieve them through music.  His work and enjoyment of modern music is evident, but still within a solidly “modern classical” notion of composition.  Without being bad.

What separates Richter from a seemingly inundated mass of modern composers, from a multitude of styles, is the understanding of simplicity; the ability to craft gorgeously memorable sketches of music knowingly treading familiar ground, but putting every ounce of soul and passion that he has into it, keeping it exquisitely composed without scrambling for pretense or pointless originality.  Rather than relying on other contemporaries for inspiration, delving into avant-garde territories or imposing the trappings of cliché, Richter keeps things his own, but shows very lovingly crafted influences into his music, not just copying but allowing for his interpretations of his baroque inspiration to be shown proudly.  I’m sure this seems like pandering, but it’s not. There’s a lot of passion in this music, be it slow or uplifting.

Much of tracks fall within the 2-3 minute range, feeling often like sketches or snippets of more realized pieces.  Indeed, while most songs, even short, feel realized and well done, often you can be left wanting more; songs like The Twins (Prague) have an almost Chopin feel, but ends before you know it.   It’s a gorgeous pieces, but with things this well done, you’ll alway find yourself in wanton.  There’s a very distinct and elaborate idea of repetition within the album, building on itself through the use of minimalist theories without every losing a focus or its hold on the listener–whether it be a more frenzied solo for violin on songs like November,  still using a theme within the album or a slow, building piece like Arbenita (11 Years), everything is strongly rooted in minimalist stylings.

Don’t let the jargon fool you (or the minimalism tag, either).  This is very accessible, inviting music that holds to no pretense or sense of arrogance.  There’s a certain humility in it. The best kind.

The album also features several collages of natural ambience, as well as poems and monologues read in a variety of languages, some arguably more effective than others, and a few rolling into harder to hear territories.   This isn’t a huge feature, but it is a theme in the album, as much of his other works, so it does make an impact on the overall sound.

I’ve given a lot of indication of the Classical side, but almost any budding or veteran ambience fan should fall in love with the album, because atmosphere and ambiance are a specialty of Richter’s, having the album replete with moods and feelings, there’s a great deal of crossover appeal, especially considering his ability to weave it into the sound.  It certainly is too active and too, I’d say organic, to fall under any literal definition of ambience, as well as for some purists, but the energy within is often similar, as well as the ideas used.  It’s also gorgeous, so that works, too.

An album there to be heard.  To appeal to baser human appreciations of music and emotion, without saying.   Music for everyone.

I’m sure I’ve said the word gorgeous enough, so I won’t.  But this is an album that is not hard to appreciate, nor does it take an intense or even passing understanding of mechanics to appreciate; it can appeal to anyone looking for beautiful music to enjoy; there’s a humble simplicity, but also a humble elegance.  Max Richter is a composer that lets the instruments speak for him, creating timeless pieces of art that don’t need flash or concept to be appreciated, be the themes and styles as old as they are, and realizes that he is not the first to do so.  It’s old, but familiar.  It’s dusty, but warm.  It’s been done before, but the beauty hasn’t diminished.



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