Max Richter, a British-based, German-born pianist and composer evokes an almost overwhelming atmosphere of nostalgia and something forlorn in this beautifully recorded instrumental album. Nostalgia, because of the instrumentation (piano, strings, organ, harp, speech), the amount of applied reverberation and the subtle use of ambient sound effects; something forlorn, because of the near exclusive use of minor triad chords.
The cinematic atmosphere created at the onset of the album is retained through all 11 tracks. Having trained at the Royal Academy of Music and with Luciano Berio, Richter's approach to producing is that of a classically trained composer, which makes 'The Blue Notebooks' more of a composition with 11 movements than an album with 11 tracks. A typewriter and actress Tilda Swinton reading passages from works by Franz Kafka and Czeslaw Milosz are effectively used almost like a ritornel throughout the album.
Richter has ten years of experience commissioning and performing works by Arvo Pärt, Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Brian Eno with his ensemble, Piano Circus. 'The Blue Notebooks' is his second solo album. His music reveals an equal fascination for acoustic instrumentation and electronic sounds, particularly beats. It is repetitive but never stringent in the way a lot of minimalism can be. On the contrary, the pieces are performed with rubato and sensitivity. The pieces are more intimate than melancholic, and at times the simplistic harmonic progressions seem slightly self-indulgent.
In particular 'The Shadow Journal' is a wonderfully effective track. Harp arpeggios, ambient sounds, a typewriter and speech establish the mood. A solo violin plays a four-note motif to be much repeated. Then, an electronic beat in guise of a quantized heartbeat glues it all together. Particularly clever is the use of the extracted reverberation from the harp, used as an eerie synthesizer patch in its own right. Near the end of the piece a jay croaks!
The sparse soundscapes are entirely convincing, however they are best explored with a great set of headphones or a capable stereo to make the most of the nuances that create an interesting listening experience.
Like This? Try These:
Terje Rypdal: Lux Aeterna
Steve Reich: Three Tales
Uri Caine: Diabelli Variations --Hans BiÃ¸rn Lian
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