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Max Richter

Max Richter : Songs From Before  

Written by: Thomas Bell

If you like the atmospheric worlds created in Brian Eno’s Ambient records or Durruti Column (Vinny Reilly), or if you enjoy the indie chamber music sounds of Rachel’s, you should consider adding Max Richter’s Songs From Before to your collection. File it under “electro-acoustic-ambient chamber music.”

Songs From Before was released on FatCat’s 130701 (Set Fire To Flames, Sylvain Chaveau) imprint, which was established for music that is orchestral and instrumental in nature. The album features cello, violin and viola with the composer at the piano as well as mixing and producing. Between some tracks there are grainy dubs. Around the edges of the sounds are electronic atmospherics and the sounds of quiet voices at times. The instrumental tracks are punctuated by Robert Wyatt’s pensive, subtle readings of text by Haruki Murakami (“chosen by Richter for it’s haunting, Kafkaesque tone).” 

Richter’s background sheds much light on the heart-wrenching yet compellingly comforting, bittersweetly soothing sounds of his music. He trained in composition and piano at Edinburgh University, at The Royal Academy of Music, and with Luciano Berio in Florence. He co-founded the prestigious ensemble Piano Circus and worked with them for 10 years, commissioning and performing works by Arvo Pärt, Brian Eno, Philip Glass, Julia Wolfe, and Steve Reich. He was active in developing the group’s use of live sampling and was immersed in the early electronic music scene. This and his broad listening tastes are wonderfully apparent throughout Songs From Before. FatCat  indicates that the sources and inspirations for the music on the record range from music between 5 and 300 years old. And indeed one hears Chopin and Schumann, Bach and Eno lurking in the shadows here.

Richter has also worked with Vashti Bunyan, and composed music for films with Derek Jarman and Krzysztov Kieslowski’s long-time collaborator, Krzysztof Piesiewicz. This is music that both classical listeners and astute indie fans can enjoy. Songs From Before is painfully melancholic. The songs weave a spell around you, capture you, and seem to alter the very atmosphere in a room. This music will make you long for a place you’ve never been or can’t remember, yet are certain exists somewhere.


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