Patrick Pittman on Max Richter
The sound of a piano, in an empty room. Strange textures underneath.
Then, somebody sits at a typewriter, and the keys begin to clack.
Then a voice. It says:
Everyone carries a room about inside of them. This fact can even be proved by means of the sense of hearing. If someone walks fast and one pricks up one’s ears and listens, say in the night, when everything round about is quiet, one hears, for instance, the rattling of a mirror not quite firmly fastened to the wall.
The words are Franz Kafka’s. The voice is Tilda Swinton’s. The piano, and the typewriter, and the lurching sadness and pain of the new century, those are Max Richter’s. So opens his Blue Notebooks, one of the towering achievements in classical music of the last decade.
Through compositions like Memoryhouse, or his unforgettable soundtrack to Ari Folman’s Waltz With Bashir, Richter’s music pokes and prods at ideas of war and decay. His is a music which questions what it means to be human in the face of the world’s stark horrors. He’ll call it protest music, but nobody will be singing these songs around campfires.
Over breakfast, we talk about the things everybody is talking about—the collapse of the global economy, the Occupy movement, Europe crumbling. The sounds of Erik Satie are playing in the background, and then, bizarrely, Max’s own reworking of Satie begins to pipe through the speakers. Two singular composers of different ages.
The sun is shining over Berlin Mitte. Amidst the bombed out ballhauses, gentrified cafes and tourist traps, we wander down a laneway to the back of an old building, the railings on the windows depicting what appear to be children playing. Max explains that the building, before the war, was a music school for Jewish children. The burdens of history are never far from view in Mitte. We retreat up some winding stairs to a stark white room, full of analogue equipment and a grand piano.