[album review] max richter: infra

September 16, 2010

Album cover for Infra by Max Richter

Max RichterInfra (Fat Cat/130701, 2010)
13 tracks/eMusic credits [buy on eMusic] [buy on Amazon.co.uk]

Max Richter is a master of the muscial vignette. Most of his output comprises albums of a dozen or two short, mostly piano-led pieces, each developing a musical phrase or morpheme only to the point where its purpose can be understood by the listener – no further. His previous album’s title – 24 Postcards In Full Colour – is as good a summary of his approach as any.

Infra was originally created in 2008 to accompany a ballet commissioned from Wayne McGregor and Julian Opie by the Royal Ballet (clips on YouTube here, here and here). Richter’s composition process – captured in a BBC documentary at the time; where can I find a copy? – aimed to play the role of (in his own words) “the second unit in a film – when the scene has been played, and the image cuts away to the landscape going by.”

This feels like the effect he strives for, and achieves, in all his work. “Filmic” is the catch-all adjective, and not surprisingly he is in demand for scoring the moving image, perhaps most prominently the awards-laden animation Waltz With Bashir, a powerful meditation on the personal impact of the Middle East conflict.

But what of Infra‘s music? It is everything it should be, and nothing more: melancholic but melodic, intricate but intimate, contemplative but concise. Built around piano, atmospheric electronics and a string quintet, its thirteen tracks are made up of eight Infra pieces and five Journeys, interspersed across the album. The former act as emotional way-points, where meaning is untangled and laid bare. The latter, meanwhile, represent the space between those moments of truth, either reflecting on meaning already revealed or heightening anticipation of meaning to come.

While Infra is affecting even without this (highly subjective) conceptual interpretation, some of its power nevertheless derives from the context from which it sprang. Its three parts Nyman/two parts Reich feel – no bad thing, by the way – is in part transcended by the singular otherness of its source material. But it’s not just that. As with his other works, Richter’s unerring ability to allow his music to communicate meaning with the minimum time and effort, with no unnecessary repetition or waste, is the key to Infra‘s rewarding coherence. True minimalism.

close to 94 rating: ★★★★★★

This review is part of close to 94‘s [emusic club], which reviews one album from the eMusic catalogue every week from a selection refreshed every month.

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