Music Reviews
24 Postcards in Full Colour

Max Richter 24 Postcards in Full Colour

(Fat Cat / 130701) Buy it from Insound Rating - 6/10

I listened to the latest effort by the pianist, composer, and former Future Sound of London collaborator, Max Richter, without realising that there was a concept behind the album. I won’t spoil it for you yet if you don’t know, but you may guess from the description that follows. Richter’s previous work exists in the space that overlaps more or less contemporary “post-classical” music (Cage, Eno, Pärt) and experimental electronica. It is music that could be heard as performed by the London Sinfonietta or composed by outfits such as Hauschka.  

His work as a composer has also featured in film, including Stranger than Fiction and the animated documentary Waltz with Bashir, and the cinematic scope of his music has drawn much comment. His previous three albums have been strongly literary in inspiration, including readings of texts by Kafka and Haruki Murakami, and the fragmentary nature of his work suits both literary re-workings and use on screen.

24 Postcards differs from previous efforts in a number of respects: songs are shorter than before, with twenty-four tracks covering around half an hour in total; literary readings take a backseat; the vocal and choral elements that lent a haunting, mourning air to other works are absent; and new instruments, including guitars, feature. What is not lacking is innovation: there are phrases at once familiar and novel, and instrumental combinations new both to Richter’s work and the wider genre.  

The difficulty, above everything, however, is the format: the art of the postcard is to be brief but self-contained, but Richter’s work suggests, frustratingly, that many of these phrases and themes would have lead to much more fulfilling longer pieces. Some of the less satisfying efforts fade into the background of a film – in my mind’s eye by Kieślowski or Almodóvar – with only rather hermetic titles for clues (Broken Symmetries for Y; Cold Fusion for G).  

So, the concept? A brave idea (which is only partly to damn Richter with faint praise or to accuse him of foolhardiness) and one that may well work in practice: Richter’s works are, as Fat Cat’s website announces, “24 classically-composed ringtones, set to be premièred in various gallery spaces. The première is intended to be in the form of a series of installations where pre-registered audience members switch on their phones to receive SMS messages, each message alert playing back one or more of the tracks, so making up the performance. In tandem with this release, will be a micro-website hosting 24 photographic images, one accompanying each track.” Does it make me a terrible stuck-in-the mud to wonder what Adorno would have said?