Max Richter - "Berlin By Overnight" (24 Postcards In Full Colour)
Assuming that there even is a relationship, the world of modern composition takes a distinctly adversarial stance to that of ring tones, those brief aural baubles designed not for listener enjoyment, but rather short, concentrated bursts of pure nuisance. While the serious composer writes with an expansive eye toward the long-form narrative, those who create ring tones – be they professionals or end users hacking out song clips from mp3 libraries – operate in the pursuit of quick shocks, summoning clips that invite a listener not to ascend a transformative plain, but to kill the sound as soon as possible.
Strange then that Max Richter, a German-born composer now living in England, spends the whole of his fourth full-length, 24 Postcards in Full Colour, exploring tones inspired by the concept of the cellular medium as a playback device. Even more bizarre is the almost complete lack of thematic cohesion here, especially taking into consideration Richter’s auteur-esque approach to his previous albums. Sure enough, though linked by aesthetic choices that favor forlorn strings, isolated piano chords, and subtly gauzy feedback, none of these pieces bother to stick around for longer than three minutes, with most cutting off mid-idea, pulling hard stops just when it would make sense to let a piece stretch onward to infinity.
Somewhat surprisingly, these snapshots hardly need to gel, so powerful is almost every one of them as a discrete entity. The idea of the titular postcard becomes a fitting analogy on the echoing “A Sudden Manhattan of the Mind” and the sun-soaked “A Song for H/Far Away.” Similarly, tracks like “Return to Prague” and the delicate, spare “Berlin by Overnight” succinctly score vast expanses as only truly great film music really can. And while experimental textures abound throughout on pieces like “Kierling/Doubt,” Richter allows his melodies to shine time and again, making for an album that’s often every bit as playful as it is emotionally taut.
Ultimately, Richter’s latest reveals another purpose for that inspirational ring tone – that of the interstitial music of daily life, the sounds that fill the void between our interactions. Far from being a bother, these 24 pieces flit by as if on sacred air, offering brief moments of sanctuary that seem designed not for disposable use and bothersome alarm, but for endless loops and uninterrupted playback. Indeed, if the pieces contained on 24 Postcards in Full Colour came pre-loaded on every cell phone purchased, most incoming calls would go unanswered, for fear of interrupting Max Richter’s beautiful tones.