24 tracks in less than 34 minutes. An exercise in sublime miniaturisation or a sketchy mish-mash of half-formed ideas? 24 Postcards in Full Colour was initially conceived as a collection of pieces designed to be used as ringtones. Whilst they would make a welcome change to the tinny cacophony that you usually have to put up with on trains, most of the pieces on the album are more fully formed than the initial brief would suggest.
Max Richter may be a pianist, but this is far from a collection of Satie-esque piano miniatures. Indeed, the instrument features on probably fewer than half the tracks of an extremely eclectic collection. The Satie comparison does hold true for “Circles from the Rue Simon – Crubellier”, and there are other solo keyboard pieces such as “H in New England” and “The Tartu Piano”. It’s also the lead instrument on other tracks. “Found Song For P.” adds a cello for colour, and “Cradle Song For A.” adds a gently plucked acoustic guitar to create an enchanting little lullaby.
There are some desolately beautiful string-led pieces, from the deeply sad “This Picture of Us. P.” for violin and cello to the strange combination of humming engine and violin that makes up “A Sudden Manhattan of the Mind”. Preston Reed’s guitar sounds like it was recorded down the phone on “In Louisville at 7” and “A Song For H. / Far Away”, in both cases being swathed in radio static and randomly semi-tuned stations. Other tracks give nods to Michael Nyman (the harsh, serialist viola of “Berlin by Overnight”) and Terry Riley (the babbling, pulsing electronica of “Tokyo Riddle Song”) amongst others. Elsewhere there are pieces built around electronica, amplifier hum and a myriad of other processed sounds.
The first couple of listens did lead to an overall impression of dancing on hot coals – jumping from one idea to another with barely a breath taken – but gradually the tracks do become distinct. For most, their length isn’t really important – they begin, express their ideas and end in however long it takes without feeling especially truncated. Some do feel like hacked off remnants of longer pieces, though, and would be much better given more time to develop. Some, too, just seem to stop; like a joke without a punchline.
I had feared that 24 Postcards in Full Colour would be the aural equivalent of an artist’s sketchbook – half-realised ideas as opposed to fully formed miniatures. By and large it’s much more than that. Some of these pieces are among the most accomplished of Richter’s recorded career, despite their brevity. Like a well-chosen tapas selection, the result is a deeply satisfying meal rather than a collection of thrown together snack-bites.
1 The Road Is A Grey Tape 1:01
2 H In New England 1:50
3 This Picture Of Us. P. 1:36
4 Lullaby From The Westcoast Sleepers 2:02
5 When The Northern Lights / Jasper And Louise 1:00
6 Circles From The Rue Simon – Crubellier 1:04
7 Cascade NW By W 1:12
8 A Sudden Manhattan Of The Mind 2:51
9 In Louisville At 7 1:03
10 Cathodes 1:01
11 I Was Just Thinking 0:59
12 A Song For H / Far Away 2:08
13 Return To Prague 1:02
14 Broken Symmetries For Y 1:00
15 Berlin By Overnight 1:27
16 Cradle Song For A (Interstate B3) 2:11
17 Kierling / Doubt 0:50
18 From 553 W Elm Street, Logan Illinois (Snow) 0:57
19 Tokyo Riddle Song 1:00
20 The Tartu Piano 2:05
21 Cold Fusion For G 0:35
22 32 Via San Nicolo 1:23
23 Found Song For P. 2:24
24 H Thinks A Journey 0:57