Max Richter, 24 Postcards In Full Colour

John Schaefer

By John Schaefer

on 08.01.11 in Reviews

24 Postcards In Full Colour

Max Richter

Classical music is full of works that had a utilitarian purpose. Telemann’s Tafelmusik was literally the soundtrack to nobles and rich people eating dinner. Mozart’s Serenades, Handel’s Water Music — these pieces all had a role to play, not unlike that of a film score. And like a film score, the best of them transcend their event or utility and survive on their musical merits.

Brief compositions meant to be used as ringtones

Max Richter’s 24 Postcards in Full Colour is a series of brief, perhaps even epigrammatic compositions, meant to be used as ringtones. Most of them are somewhere around one minute long; a few are shorter, and one stretches to an epic 2:52 (that’s “A Sudden Manhattan Of The Mind,” which frankly sounds closer to the expansive, cinematic ensemble pieces on his albums Memoryhouse and The Blue Notebooks and which is hard to imagine as a ringtone). Many of these pieces are built around acoustic strings, piano and a fair amount of electronics — all hallmarks of this German keyboardist/composer’s style. And most of them stand up quite nicely as musical moments — apart from any other potential uses. In fact, most of them would make for strange ringtones indeed: The jangly guitar and found sounds of “In Louisville at 7″ give that piece the feel of a particularly twilit scene from TV’s Friday Night Lights, and the unsettled but ambient nature of “Return To Prague” also evokes a strong sense of place and of drama.

These small packages can deliver surprisingly big images, especially when the album is heard as a whole. Not for nothing does Richter call these pieces “postcards.” A journey is implied, both in the titles and in the sure-handed way in which Richter sketches, quickly, a mood — solitude in “Overnight in Berlin,” nostalgia in “From 553 W Elm Street, Logan, Illinois (Snow),” restless energy in “Tokyo Riddle Song,” etc. But with its spare, almost Satie-like piano, a piece like “Circles From The Rue Simon-Crubellier” could actually be a very effective ringtone, and a nice break from that ubiquitous marimba tone all the iPhones seem to use.