Musicscan: Your current work "Infra" was originally developed for a ballet production and is loosely based on T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland". To me, your music has always encompassed a strong narrative quality. Do you feel that this is accurate? If yes, how do you go about telling stories musically?
Max Richter: Music is a narrative medium for me. Sounds evoke images or emotional states whether we like it or not - it just seems to happen. I try to follow the material where it goes and to amplify these things as much as I can - I'm looking for the most powerful, direct, expression I can find.
Musicscan: Not only since your film score for "Waltz With Bashir" has your music been described as "cinematic" and as evoking "landscapes"? In how far do you think it is possible to convey certain images or "landscapes" with music itself? Or is the relation between sound and image rather created through associated discourses (e.g. press reviews, album-artwork, etc.)?
Max Richter: I can't comment on what other people are writing about my work - to an extent anything we say about another's work is a kind of autobiography anyway - but for myself I view musical pieces as existing in a specific (though nonexistent) place - or at least it does feel that way - when I’m writing I have a sense of trying to navigate my way through a terra incognita - trying to uncover it and perhaps bring it into focus. Also I should say that I'm really the last person to be able to answer these sorts of questions - I know what I’m trying to do, but I can't judge if I'm succeeding.
Musicscan: On a very abstract note, I was wondering if you think that sound has an inherent semantic dimension that is created through the music itself or the interaction of musical structures?
Max Richter: I think music is very contextual - we hear sounds in relationship to one another and construct our own narratives from these relationships.
Musicscan: I was wondering what an average day of yours looks like? When do you usually work and how has your working schedule changed since you have become a father?
Max Richter: Mostly my days are a sort of domestic free fall / chaos, but actually I find it's helpful to have no clue what's going on: maybe its a little bit like Rimbaud's disordering of the senses - except I have my kids to do that for me - no need for opium.
Musicscan: In retrospect, what are some of the most important skills you learned in university that you still employ when you write music today?
Max Richter: I studied in a very retro academic department where composition wasn't taught at all, and the emphasis was on music history and working through the various renaissance and classical models. Strict harmony and Counterpoint training were central to this and though we all resented having to do these things at the time, I now find that I refer to these techniques and ideas pretty much every day and am very grateful to have absorbed them.
Musicscan: Has the success of "Waltz With Bashir" and your nomination of "European Composer of the Year" opened any new doors for you? Will there be any more film scores in the near future?
Max Richter: I have done a few other film projects meanwhile - for example Benedek Fliegauf's WOMB and the Gilles Paquet-Brenner's very beautiful Sarah's Key are both to be released shortly. I usually enjoy working with film makers - I like the puzzle of trying to work out how the music should live in the film.
Musicscan: What is the difference between art and entertainment in your opinion?
Max Richter: Maybe it’s about who the work is intended for? In my case I'm writing first and foremost because I absolutely need to get these things out of my system - maybe like so sort of wonderful disease? - so I would do this even if nobody was listening (which for many years they weren't of course!) So maybe that is art? Actually, I have no idea and I make no claims about the moral dimension of these things - there is room for all sort of things to coexist in music.
Musicscan: Do you believe that the album format is going to survive in the future? What aesthetic effects do you predict or already discern in terms of changes in songwriting when the primary format of listening is a single downloadable song instead of an entire album?
Max Richter: The Album as medium came about through developments in technology - it represented the maximum amount of music that could be stored and replayed easily - so I suppose there is no abstract reason, now that there are myriad other technologies available, for us to continue to think of this as any sort of privileged format. Except for the important fact that all the newer technologies are crap. Let me explain. For me, growing up, the sound of music was the sound of analogue tape and vinyl recording, so, apart from marketing and technical considerations - which I don't care about at all - that is the only medium I’m interested in releasing my work on - CDs are provisional sketch forms of the work and MP3s etc are, well, you know.
Musicscan: I was wondering what led you to move back to Britain after having worked in Italy for many years. In which way does London inspire you and how does it perhaps figure in your music?
Max Richter: I've lived all over the place, but ultimately I think you carry your country inside you and polulate it as you go along. I'm enjoying being Berlin based at the moment.
Musicscan: Do you think there are still genuinely new sounds to be discovered or can contemporary music basically be said to be a recombination of already existing forms and elements (within postmodern concepts of collage, pastiche or bricolage)?
Max Richter: I'm not interested in new or old sounds. Music is for me not about technology and is not a technology itself, so there is no need for product demos – in fact the most up to date music seems to feel old fashioned very quickly, doesn't it? What I’m interested in is content and nothing else, and I would like to try to make work that can be played on any medium and still stand up.
Musicscan: When do you know that a song or piece is finished? Whose outside aesthetic opinion do you trust in terms of your own work? Who is usually the first person who gets to listen to a new piece by you?
Max Richter: Nothing is ever finished, just abandoned or maybe a deadline stops the process. Yulia, my wife, hears everything first.
Musicscan: Do you think the classificatory terms classical music and pop music still make any sense?
Max Richter: Well the music universe is so atomised, and these terms are so broad as to be meaningless really, but maybe they will do for now.
Musicscan: What can we expect from you in the near future? Any new releases, collaborations, tours planned?
Max Richter: I'm working on a new record for 2012 as well as a few smaller projects. Aside from that there are a few films on the way.