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Baker's Dozen

In Pursuit Of Restless Beauty: Max Richter's 13 Favourite LPs
Ed Power , July 26th, 2017 11:39

With the release of his deep dive Behind The Counter compilation, composer Max Richter talks to Ed Power about the albums that shaped his musical philosophies and encouraged him to escape the humdrum of suburbia

Max Richter drifts through many dimensions at once. An esteemed classical composer, he has collaborated with the Royal Ballet and BBC Philharmonic Orchestra in addition to scoring movies as multifaceted as gut-punch documentary Waltz with Bashir and HBO dystopian meditation The Leftovers

Yet Richter (51) is no buttoned custodian of the Old Ways. Though he might be appalled to be regarded as a classical "wild child" the Berlin-born, Bedford-raised avant-gardist has nonetheless demonstrated a determination to strip the starchiness from the oeuvre – to rip up the blueprint and try something new.

It is, for instance, difficult to think of another high level classicist who is also a gushing Mogwai fan, a credited contributor to a Future Sound of London LP or who regards the zinging opening riff of Bowie’s 'Queen Bitch' as a pinnacle of late 20th century art. Nor has he been afraid to get political: 2004’s The Blue Notebooks was a rumination on the run-up to the Iraq War featuring recontextualised readings of Kafka and Czesław Miłosz by Tilda Swinton.

In the flesh, meanwhile, he is impishly frank, with opinions on everything from the stuffiness of the classical world to the creative dead end in which chart music finds itself. 

"Pop is quite problematic right now," he offers over the course of a wide-ranging conversation. "It’s made in such an industrial way – it’s a real process. You miss that sense of the individual. Big records are made by groups of people in rooms, who deliver them to producers, and then somebody writes a top line. It’s very disembodied and abstract from the singular personal experience.

"I’m interested in the opposite of that – in the unique world view an artist brings, that unique way of living and getting through the day that an artist has."

It was in pursuit of just that singular perspective that he invited the public to gather, with their sleeping bags and cotton-socks, at London’s Barbican last May for a wee hours soiree. Sleep was billed a new way of experiencing live music, with a performance explicitly designed to send the audience nodding off. As the punters slumbered, Richter and his orchestra tiptoed through eight hours of composition custom-crafted – with input from a neuroscientist – to stimulate the subconscious mind.

"I don’t particularly like the ritual aspect of classical performance," he says. "Everyone has to sit there quietly, you’re not allowed clap. And then you ARE allowed clap. It’s all quite ridiculous. It’s been exploring different settings: galleries, industrial spaces…Sleep was another way of asking that question. What happens if you perform for people as they are in bed?"

Richter has curated the triple-disc latest entry in Rough Trade’s Behind The Counter with series, with George Frederic Handel and Arvo Pärt nestled alongside his beloved Mogwai. To mark the occasion he takes The Quietus on a tour of his favourite records. Max Richter appears in a Q&A at Rough Trade East tonight (26th July). Click the image below to read his selections.