Max Richter: Three Worlds - Music From Woolf Works

Max Richter’s sound is best served without real pictures but paired with your dreams.

Max Richter

Three Worlds: Music From Woolf Works

Label: Universal
US Release Date: 2017-01-27

Max Richter doesn’t fit neatly into genre categories. He doesn’t follow the line of Sigur Rós and Godspeed! You Black Emperor into the postmodern icicle of long tracks and self-seriousness. He doesn’t write scores exclusively, although his non-score records sound like they are score records and vice-versa, and he isn’t a conservative classicist. He is something different altogether. In his most iconic moments, Richter is an instantly satisfying composer, soundtracking to our dreams and memories. His textures are thick and evoke the moments we forgot or are too afraid to remember and the memories we treasure.

But his discography isn’t that simple. Yes, he has Memoryhouse, and yes, it is perfect. Then there's The Blue Notebooks and 24 Postcards in Full Colour, which comprise the populist segment of his discography, but he also has a rich discography of scoring. They are straightforward and less well regarded, but a part of the story, nonetheless. Then he has his weird records like Infra. Then he has records like Sleep that challenge the very fabric of what music is for and in what it is. Do you think I am using hyperbole? Listen to Sleep7 Skies H3 aka 24-hour song seem like the thin stunt that it was. This is music; this is life.

Max Richter’s new work, Three Worlds, doesn’t neatly fit into any of those categories. It has moments of Memoryhouse radiance, and is orchestral enough to recall The Four Seasons but doesn’t necessarily remind me of either of those. Three Worlds is based on the legendary works of Virginia Woolf. However, I doubt that anyone listening to this record without knowing the title would say, “Yes this reminds me of 20th-century modernist writer Virginia Woolf,” but it is an interesting hook to the record nevertheless. Woolf's work informs the album to a certain extent, this record being written to soundtrack the Wayne McGregor ballet based on Woolf’s work.

Three Worlds is morose and cryptic, like the best Richter. It begins with “Words” containing a beautiful church bell and a sample of Woolf reading. It is tragic, mostly because it's difficult to hear outside of her painful suicide letter. The calm piano on “In the Garden” which follows contrasts completely, as if to comfort those who know the end of Woolf’s story. The violin accompaniment is simple, but flowering, the passages build and blend and crescendo with ardent movement.

Please don't ad block PopMatters.

We are wholly independent, with no corporate backers.

Simply whitelisting PopMatters is a show of support.

Thank you.

“War Anthem” will be a highlight to those drawn to the more orchestral side of Richter’s discography. It's full sounding and lasts over six minutes, it's a strong enough piece to anchor a late scene in a Christopher Nolan film, but doesn’t need pictures to accomplish what it sets out to do emotionally. The music pounds until it drops out completely, echoing with the same church bell from square one. The spoken word track “Memory Is the Seamstress” is the interlude that adds rather than distracts on repeated listens, and it acts as a perfect prelude to “Modular Astronomy”, which is the bridge of the record from purely classical to a mix of electronic amongst other styles.

Semi-dissonance and echoes recall Boards of Canada’s excellent career. From there the album travels back and forth across the familiar ground with mostly glowing results. “Transformation” is short and powerful and “Morphology” is its follower and polar opposite, pulling plays from Brian Eno's decades-long exploration of the ambient worlds.

Three Worlds is rewarding as a background record as well as cognitive listening. Richter’s sound is best served without real pictures but paired with your dreams




Reading Pandemics

Parable Pandemics: Octavia E. Butler and Racialized Labor

Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, informed by a deep understanding of the intersectionality of dying ecologies, disease, and structural racism, exposes the ways capitalism's insatiable hunger for profit eclipses humanitarian responses to pandemics.


'Tiger King' and the Post-Truth Culture War

Tiger King -- released during and dominating the streaming-in-lockdown era -- exemplifies in real-time the feedback loop between entertainment and ideology.


Ivy Mix's 'Spirits of Latin America' Evokes the Ancestors

A common thread unites Ivy Mix's engaging Spirits of Latin America; "the chaotic intermixture between indigenous and European traditions" is still an inextricable facet of life for everyone who inhabits the "New World".


Contemporary Urbanity and Blackness in 'New Jack City'

Hood films are a jarring eviction notice for traditional Civil Rights rhetoric and, possibly, leadership -- in other words, "What has the Civil Rights movement done for me lately?"


'How to Handle a Crowd' Goes to the Moderators

Anika Gupta's How to Handle a Crowd casts a long-overdue spotlight on the work that goes into making online communities enjoyable and rewarding.


Regis' New LP Reaffirms His Gift for Grinding Industrial Terror

Regis' music often feels so distorted, so twisted out of shape, even the most human moments feel modular. Voices become indistinguishable from machines on Hidden in This Is the Light That You Miss.


DMA's Go for BritElectroPop on 'The Glow'

Aussie Britpoppers the DMA's enlist Stuart Price to try their hand at electropop on The Glow. It's not their best look.


On Infinity in Miranda July's 'Me and You and Everyone We Know'

In a strange kind of way, Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know is about two competing notions of "forever" in relation to love.


Considering the Legacy of Deerhoof with Greg Saunier

Working in different cities, recording parts as MP3s, and stitching them together, Deerhoof once again show total disregard for the very concept of genre with their latest, Future Teenage Cave Artists.


Joshua Ray Walker Is 'Glad You Made It'

Texas' Joshua Ray Walker creates songs on Glad You Made It that could have been on a rural roadhouse jukebox back in the 1950s. Their quotidian concerns sound as true now as they would have back then.


100 gecs Remix Debut with Help From Fall Out Boy, Charli XCX and More

100 gecs' follow up their debut with a "remix album" stuffed with features, remixes, covers, and a couple of new recordings. But don't worry, it's just as blissfully difficult as their debut.


What 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Taught Me About Unlearning Toxic Masculinity

When I first came out as trans, I desperately wanted acceptance and validation into the "male gender", and espoused negative beliefs toward my femininity. Avatar: The Last Airbender helped me transcend that.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.