Max Richter
The Blue Notebooks


4.5
superb

Review

by Matt Wolfe EMERITUS
February 5th, 2009 | 73 replies | 15,617 views


Release Date: 2004 | Tracklist

Review Summary: One of the best neoclassical albums of the 21st century.

“The inner world can only be experienced, not described.” Franz Kafka – The Blue Octavo Notebooks

It is in the moments where Richter manages to plunge his searching knife into the soft underbelly of this 'inner world' that The Blue Notebooks ceases to be simply an accumulation and meticulous organization of evocative sounds and blossoms into a bookmark, a staple, punctuating the precious, petrifying, and achingly swift realizations we all get from time to time; that the knowledge we have of ourselves is actually, chokingly, scant. On this, his second album, the London-based, German born composer opens up the folds of a world we find it all too comforting to ignore, and pulls us in with both hands, the violet light piercing our eyes before we have enough time to cover them with our hands.

British actress Tilda Swinton’s dry, sincere spoken word passages (extracts from Kafka’s “Blue Octavo Notebooks” and Milosz’s “Hymn of the Pearl” and “Unattainable Earth”) give The Blue Notebooks it’s most immediate sense of individualism. Accompanied by the rattling of a typewriter, Swinton delivers her borrowed monologues with atypically sterile, inhuman melancholy. This both juxtaposes and accentuates the simple but seam-splittingly emotive piano keys on the first track, the eerie, creeping fear of ‘Old Song’, the sparse, rippling bleed of the ambience on ‘Shadow Journal’. But even on the tracks without the actress, in some cases moreso, Richter manages to envelop the listener in an effervesce of not only self-awareness, but an awareness of their surroundings. By introducing the sounds of planes overhead, footsteps and city murmers, Richter shines a quick light on the exterior, in turn stressing the importance of the interior. Highlight ‘On The Nature of Daylight’ takes a string orchestra chamber and gives it a morose, poignant line to play, using it to tap lightly but persistently at a stiff, rusty thought in the listener’s mind, eventually breaking its shackles and setting it free.

The best way to connect with this album is to let it consume you, to mould you, to chisel away at your jutting edges, until what’s left is the basic, fragile ball of clay you were to begin with, before you learnt to build up social, emotional and musical barriers, formed influenced biases and manipulated anxieties. Each track on The Blue Notebooks aims to tap at a different emotion, their similarity highlighting the cardinal nuances between them. If you don’t allow them to work their magic, The Blue Notebooks will come across as a pretty but sad affair, with twinkling ambience and touching strings, and little more. If you allow Richter to do his job, he will use one hand to hold yours, the other to hold a flashlight, and tunnel deep into the dark, smoky corners of your inner world. A scary place to be, but the liberation from the chains is tear-jerkingly gratifying.

The primary problem with The Blue Notebooks is Richter occasionally leaves the knife in for too long. Most things lose their lustre when either brought too close to the senses or shone in the face for too long. ‘Shadow Journal’ with its shuddering bass, and, to an extent, the nostalgic ‘Trees’, begin in quietly incendiary fashion, forcing forgotten thoughts to project themselves against the shadows of the mind, but eventually this projection is given too much time to be brought into focus and the mystery is lost. Things always seem to be best when they’re agonizingly just out of reach, and for the most part, Richter perfects this act of dangling an unreachable epiphany in front of the listener, but, occasionally, the wound is left exposed for too long and just begins to look ugly. Furthermore, while always remaining listenable and emotive, Richter's knife occasionally flails and falls short of what he is trying to dissect, such as on ‘Organum’ where flute-like organs unravel themselves away from one another but never seem to reveal anything.

Nevertheless, The Blue Notebooks is a stunning achievement from the self described ‘post-classicalist’. Challenging the listener to relinquish their comfort barriers and allow themselves to be broken down, it then rewards them with a thrilling sense of self-awareness, and awareness of the beauty around them. It became the soundtrack to my life for a month after I acquired it and, although it receives less regular rotation now, the number of pages that are dog-eared under The Blue Notebooks never ceases to grow.

Kafka’s right, the inner world cannot be described. It has to be experienced. And, for Kafka, this was one of the most painful things about the human condition. Me, I think this ineffability is a blessing. In the seemingly infinite grand scheme of things, some things are just best left unsaid. You’ll just have to experience it for yourself.



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4.2
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Long drives into the night, heavy thoughts weighing on your mind, and The Blue Notebooks playing in ...


Comments:Add a Comment 
jrowa001
February 5th 2009



8749 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

i completely agree. such an amazing album. too bad his most recent album is kind of weak

BallsToTheWall
February 5th 2009



44164 Comments


Will check out. Sounds very promising. Nice work.

Crimson
February 5th 2009



1935 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Sexual review for a pretty sweet album.

username345
February 5th 2009



594 Comments


Yeah, this looks interesting.

kingsoby1
Emeritus
February 5th 2009



4830 Comments


this definitely sounds interesting, but i don't think this review is one of your best. i know you definitely meant well, but you get a bit lofty in your descriptions/ exposition. also, i think you should proof read or get someone to edit... there are a lot of run on/ wordy sentences.

Digging: Nmesh - Dream Sequins

Minus The Flair
Emeritus
February 5th 2009



862 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yeah dude, I can see that. I found it really hard to write, and even harder to describe what I took from the album. I haven't written about anything classical before so that probably showed. I'll look at it with a fresh pair of eyes in the morning. It really is wordy/pretentious, ugh.

http://ex-cowboys.blogspot.com/ for the curious, third post.This Message Edited On 02.05.09

BallsToTheWall
February 5th 2009



44164 Comments


Sweet, I will acuire this as soon as i'm done with Trinacria. I love neo-classical, it's not very suprising that it's one of the least popular forms of music on this site. Although I hope to change that.

kingsoby1
Emeritus
February 5th 2009



4830 Comments


Yeah, classical is really tough, esp since im not a huge fan of the genre in general. I think you demonstrated the overall theme and sound well without delving too much into compositional complexities, just need to make it less clunky

gaslightanthem
February 5th 2009



5209 Comments


classical is cool but i would never put it on normally

jrowa001
February 5th 2009



8749 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

im more into modern classical stuff like Arvo Part, Max Richter, Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Erik Satie

Crimson
February 5th 2009



1935 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Arvo Part is pretty awesome, but I only really have about three modern-classical records to judge from.

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
February 5th 2009



15693 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

YES. Love it

Digging: Nmesh - Dream Sequins [AMDISCS]

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
March 26th 2009



15693 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

for whatever reason this record hit me extremely hard today. bumped

joshuatree
Emeritus
April 5th 2009



3743 Comments


yeah this is v good

SeaAnemone
July 25th 2009



18819 Comments


Where can I find something similar to this? This album is phenomenal but Sputnik, my main source of music, isn't too big on this genre.

thebhoy
Emeritus
October 25th 2009



4459 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

On the Nature of Daylight and The Trees are gorgeous

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
November 5th 2009



14884 Comments


fuck yes winter is coming time to stare out the window and listen to this album

Writer
November 18th 2009



136 Comments


I listened to this like three times today when it was raining outside. Absolutely amazing!

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
November 18th 2009



14884 Comments


yea this is so good


and normally i think itd be the opposite but i like the classical parts a lot more than the electronic parts

Writer
November 18th 2009



136 Comments


At first I found it rather simplistic, but it has a lot of growth potential.



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