Full-Length Debut for Electronica’s Arranger

In the liner notes for Memoryhouse (Late Junction), composer Max Richter explains the name of one piece, “Last Days,” as follows: “The title refers to the concept that our culture is living beyond the end of history.” It’s evident from the record’s outset that when Richter says “culture” he means “Western classical music,” for which Memoryhouse is a requiem — or, better yet, a much-needed kick in the pants disguised as a requiem. Richter is no throwback. His orchestrations graced the drum’n’bass of Roni Size’s In the MØde, and he handled various old-world musical duties for Future Sound of London’s psychedelic album, The Isness. His brand of composed music is “post-rock” in the purely chronological sense. John Cage is dead, his wizened recorded voice heard here in a scintillating setting, on “Garden (1973).” The minimalism of Philip Glass is not an idiosyncratic style but a rich form ripe for adoption, whether in a piano duet (“The Twins [Prague]”), or full orchestral grandeur (“Last Days”). And baroque music, as Richter notes, will more likely remind listeners of the Beatles’s Abbey Road than of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. He seems obsessed, to our benefit, with how the past is a matter of perception. On one track, “Quartet (1908),” he plays his music through a valve amp to simulate a 78-rpm record; on another, “Untitled (figures),” he pumps out modern digital pulses to accompany a celesta, thus making that antique sound utterly contemporary. Richter has the ability to reconcile a conservatory-trained composer’s attention to melody and counterpoint with a sound designer’s attention to timbre and production, a rare combination of pursuits and skills. He challenges us to listen through raindrops on “November” in order to focus on his light, sustained string arrangements, and we follow him through the haze, in a splendid trance.

This album review appeared, in slightly different form, in the spring 2003 issue of e|i magazine.

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