Listening closely. No 2 - Max Richter: The Blue Notebooks.

My listening closely No2, is Max Richter’s, The Blue Notebooks.

Most people, if they’ve not heard this record, will have heard his music on countless films, especially the second track ‘On the nature of daylight’.

Two tracks from this album were also used in the mesmerising Israeli animated war documentary ‘Waltz for Bashir’.

‘The Blue Notebooks’ record is stunning, it’s meditation in musical form. Max Richter composed this record in the run up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Richter described this as his ‘protest album about Iraq’ against ‘the utter futility of such armed conflict’.

The record’s power comes from the reflectiveness and melancholy he imbues this record with. Many of the pieces are sparse, with minimal accompaniment and written in minor keys, the tracks are often short in length and highly emotive.

Tilda Swinton narrates both of the readings on this record, Franz Kafka’s ‘The Blue Octavo Notebooks’, which were blue notebooks Kafka wrote aphorisms in, often short and on the important themes of the human condition, very much like this record. And Polish Poet Czeslaw Milosz’s ‘Hymn of the pearl and unobtainable earth’.

This record is classed as contemporary Classical or ambient, a similar artist would Olafur Arnalds, especially his ‘Re:member record, which I will no doubt include in my ‘listening Closely’ at some point.

Whilst doing research for my review, I discovered that the album had it’s own website you can contribute thoughts and feelings to, you can actually write in a virtual blue note book, I love this interactivity and attention to depth and meaning, making this more than about music, this record is literature, politics, culture, creativity, and the sharing of ideas. Here is the link.

Stand out tracks for me.

I love the introduction to this record. The title track ‘The blue notebooks’, has this beautiful, slightly roomy sounding piano, gradually increasing and positioning the piano somewhere off in the distance. The soft, intimately spoken vocal, is accompanied by the clanging of the keys of a typewriter and all the way through, in the background, is the ticking of a clock.

‘On the nature of daylight’, is haunting and hauntingly played, there’s something about the long repetitive notes and phrases that transports the listener. This track is predominately a string quartet piece, with the added electronic deep bass line coming in with the top line melody, which opens the whole piece up. A piece which is perfectly crafted for film too.

The album contains different instrumentation ‘Iconography’ is composed for organ and vocals and ‘Organum’ is composed for solo organ. The organ invokes something very dark sounding, brooding almost, it’s hard to separate any subjective bias I have for the Organ, as you generally only hear this in a church setting, funerals etc.. and I’m guessing this is why he used this instrumentation.

One of my favourite pieces is ‘Vladimir’s Blues’. Written for solo piano. It’s a piece about butterflies. Vladimir in the title, was a novelist and an expert in a family of butterflies called ‘The Blues’. The piano’s right hand has a repetitive oscillating theme, like the flapping of wings. There is something ephemeral about this piece, it’s 90 seconds long and butterflies have a short life span, a month, but I feel there is a deeper point being made, that humans have not been here long, a blink of the evolutionary eye, perhaps another comment on the meaninglessness of war and the devastation we wreak in such a short period of time.

The album ends with a peaceful, ruminative, solo piano piece called ‘Written on the sky’. A perfect and beautiful way to end this record of protest, anti-violence, showcasing music’s ability to comment on society.

Here’s a link to his tiny desk concert.

Hope you enjoy, stay well. JP X

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