Rough Trade Presents Behind The Counter with Max Richter

by Rob Taylor Rating:9 Release Date:2017-07-14

Max Richter presents the first in a series of Behind the Counter compilations released by Rough Trade. 

It’s a stroke of genius to have Max Richter present the inaugural release. Richter is perceived by most as an apostle of contemporary classical music but in fact, Richter has always rejected the traditional division of music and has collaborated with artists such as Mogwai, who feature on this double disc/vinyl compilation.

The marriage or fusion of musical styles is not a revolutionary idea. Richter however has created a programme of music that at its core is inherently consistent, in spite of including renaissance music, modern classical, pop ambient and post-rock. Each selection is either a minor symphony, or a piece of music which evokes a meditative response. The relationship between the selections is not necessarily comprehensible as an intellectual concept, but certainly can be understood as a visceral one. Richter’s Behind The Counter is an emotional journey, and far from being a random contrivance, represents human endeavour through the sensory impact of the music itself.

It begins with ‘The Unanswered Question’ by Charles Ives. This piece of music in itself has provoked much discussion about whether the conversation between string ensemble, woodwinds and solo trumpet asks the perennial question about human existence. The strings flutter while the solo trumpet plays short mournful phrases. The woodwinds become more and more agitated, the atonalism in contra-distinction to the vaguely beautiful, though edgy strings.

Richter’s mix also includes pieces from Johann Sebastian Bach. The kind of music that is dignified and majestic but has an underlying quality that Richter describes as ‘a kind of grammar, an order behind the notes which makes sense, an [inherent] logic’. Renaissance music, where featured (Handel, Purcell), is the ‘fusion of vigorous technique and emotional impact’. Richter’s own ‘Merry’ as played by violinist, Hilary Hahn is an example itself where the doleful theme is exemplified by Hahn’s beauty of tone.

Contemporary music featured here includes Mogwai’s ‘Ether’ from the album, Atomic; Boards of Canada’s ‘Zoetrope’, and Godspeed You Black Emperor’s ‘Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls’, which although is edited to extinguish its full apocalyptic context , still retains its metronomic dissonance and threat of violence. One interesting choice is Let's Eat Grandma’s track ‘Deep Six Textbook’ a slightly menacing though playful song about playing truant by the 17 year old Norwich teenagers. The sophistication of this track belies their youth, the apparent desolation never really in accord with the sentiment but nonetheless musically it’s fascinating, right down to the glockenspiel solo and foggy synths.

John Luther Adams piece ‘Canticles of the Sky (Sky with Four Suns)’ is said to have been inspired by the magical apparitions of ice crystals in the arctic air and the music, like much of this compilation is strong on visual metaphor.

Max Richter’s Behind The Counter instalment is music as creative conversation.

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