Three Great Things: Max Richter

The eminent contemporary composer, currently the subject of the Mubi documentary Max Richter's Sleep, shares three things that he loves.

Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To mark the exclusive streaming premiere on Mubi of Max Richter’s Sleep, a documentary about the L.A. performance of the contemporary composer’s epic eight-hour magnum opus, Richter shared some of the things that give his life meaning. — N.D.

Bringing It All Back Home
I’m going to start off with Bringing It All Back Home, which is an early Bob Dylan record and the first time I really got to know his work. When I was in my early teens, I found this record lying around, so I played it. It starts off with “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” which feels like a manifesto, establishing a way of being in the world in a very bold way. “Subterranean Homesick Blues” became a sort of national anthem for me, a sort of talisman, because it exudes this fantastic attitude of creative anarchy. It just speaks of possibility, of things that aren’t yet written, ideas that aren’t yet conceived. It’s all about that wide open space, and that’s very inspiring. I’d never heard anything like it before and, to me, it seemed to be the perfect piece of music. It captivated me and inspired me to listen to more of Dylan’s work.

Dylan is an endlessly fascinating, infuriating, extraordinary artist; there are many things about his work that I really admire, and there’s also the fact that he’s still making it! After five or six decades of recorded output, he’s still asking questions, still exploring, still trying new things. He’s done a Christmas album, he did an album of kind of show tunes recently, and his most recent album has 20- or 25-minute tracks on it. He’s just endlessly inventive, endlessly creative, and he seems to really follow no rules. He just does what he feels like doing. I think he has such an impressive body of work, and there are so many things I love about it. One of the things people don’t really pick up on very much is the amount of references or intertextuality in his work, the depth of what’s going on lyrically. And I love the fact that in his music he’s taking a position in society and using the medium to talk about the important things that are going on in the world in that moment. Bringing It All Back Home is my starting point with him, and even though he’s a very different artist from me, I just really, really appreciate his work.

The Books of Haruki Murakami
Murakami is a writer who I came to quite late, probably about 15 years ago. I finally got round to reading his book Norwegian Wood because I was going to Tokyo to play a gig and I thought, “Oh, this is my chance. I’m going to get on the plane, I’m going to read Murakami, and I’m going to have this weird fictional/real Japanese trip.” And that’s what I did.

Reading Norwegian Wood in Japan was kind of spooky and weird, partly because one’s first trip there is very intense. It’s really such a cultural contrast, and you feel like you’re slightly adrift. When I first was there, none of the signage was in English so I couldn’t read anything and didn’t really know what was going on most of the time. While reading Norwegian Wood on this trip, I became intoxicated with Murakami’s fictional world. One of his big ideas is the interpenetration of dreams and reality; he doesn’t privilege so-called reality over an imagined dream life. And that, to me, makes a kind of sense. I find his books strangely comforting, even though they are quite odd and unsettling things happen in them. They ring true to me, and they have an overarching, zoomed-out view of the world that makes sense to me. Creative people live in their heads in imaginary worlds anyway, and there’s something about Murakami’s universe which feels oddly familiar.

Over the years, I’ve read pretty much everything he’s written. I also like the way in which, at some level, he’s rewriting the same two or three gestures, but digging deeper into the mine and pulling out new things from this very focused space that he occupies. I appreciate that with artists, generally, people who are going deeper into their thing. His work is really satisfying and I always look forward to whatever he’s doing next. When I was in Tokyo recently, he very kindly sent me a couple of copies of some of the early things he’s written. Some people say you should never meet your heroes, but I don’t really feel that’s true. I think it’s fun to encounter the human beings behind the works you love.

The West Highlands of Scotland
When I was young, I studied at Edinburgh University and loved spending time there. I think of Edinburgh and Berlin as my home cities. A friend of ours in Edinburgh had a family house up on the isle of Skye, so we drove over there. On that journey, I had this bizarre experience that the further west and the further north we went, the more I liked it. When we finally did get to Skye, I thought, How did I not know about this? This is the perfect place. And why didn’t anyone tell me about this before? I felt almost as if I’d wasted my life until that point, by not having gone and visited the west coast. I just love it up there. The landscapes are full of drama and the light is amazing. All the islands are like little worlds. Over the years, we’ve spent a lot of time up there, particularly on Skye and Mull.

The West Highlands have become a bit of a touchstone to me, and the adventure of the place is just wonderful. It’s very special. This is a completely irrational statement, but when I’m going north into the Highlands, I always feel like I’m leaving things behind me. You’re going to this minimal landscape, there’s not a lot of tree coverage; you’ve just got the hills and the sky, or the sea and the sky. It’s uncomplicated, and it feels like a mental detox to just spend time in that environment. It’s restorative. You wash your mind by spending time in a place like that, and then you can create space for new ideas.

Max Richter is one of the most influential figures in contemporary music. Known for his groundbreaking work as a composer, pianist, recording artist and collaborator, he is the subject of the new documentary Max Richter’s Sleep, which is now streaming exclusively on Mubi. He is best known for his genre-defining solo albums including The Blue Notebooks, Memoryhouse and the eight-hour epic Sleep. His 2012 record Recomposed By Max Richter: Vivaldi, The Four Seasons topped the classical charts in 22 countries. Richter has written widely for ballet, opera, and film. His most recent projects include scoring Hollywood film soundtracks, including Ad Astra starring Brad Pitt and director Josie Rourke’s historical drama Mary Queen of Scots, and music for Tom Hardy’s TV series Taboo, which earned him an Emmy nomination. Learn more at (Photo by Rahi Rezvani.)