‘I built my first synthesiser with a soldering iron when I was 13, having heard Kraftwerk’
stage and get into bed, get out of bed and go onto the stage. It’s like that. It’s really physically hard.”
From Sleep is more than just a condensed version of Sleep, however. While Richter likens the second to “a big pause in your daily life”, he sees the first as “more like a daydreaming space”.
“It’s about contemplation. I think of it like a dialogue with the listener. Rather than monopolising the consciousness with loads of data, loads of music, it’s kind of a low information zone. A space to reflect. That’s how I see the shorter version. There is some shared material between them but there’s lot of things which are in one and not in the other at all.”
Also on the programme in Edinburgh is a rare performance of an early work, The Blue Notebooks, inspired by the journals of Franz Kafka and the work of Polish poet Czesław Miłosz. It was recorded in three hours in 2004 for just £500, with most of the money being used to hire a string section. We can assume, then, that the participation of Tilda Swinton as narrator was undertaken as a favour (actress Sarah Sutcliffe reads Swinton’s part on tour).
For Richter, now held up as one of the pre-eminent composers of his generation, the decision to perform The Blue Notebooks is more than just a whim. As with the inclusion in his EIF show of Memoryhouse, an even older piece, it’s a way of reminding himself that while popular now, his trailblazing collage of minimalism, conservatoire classicism, art rock, found sound and under-stated electronica had to struggle to find its place. Memoryhouse may have been re-issued on vinyl two years ago and the piece hailed as a classic, but when it was first released in 2002, he notes, it received no reviews and lasted only six months before it was deleted and the record label closed.
“At the time I thought: ‘Well it’s disappointing but in a way it means I can keep on doing what I’m doing and no-one will know. Because no-one’s listening there’s nothing to be afraid of. Nobody’s going to hear this stuff’. So I went into The Blue Notebooks very much with that frame of mind.”
Both it and Memoryhouse were “shots in the dark,” he adds. “Really, nobody was doing this sort of work, this sort of hybrid of written-down music, electronic music and post-rock. It didn’t really exist. So when I started playing it [The Blue Notebooks] again I felt pleased that I had been bloody minded enough to make a second record.”
And how does the piece shape up after 12 years on the shelf?
“It has been really interesting to re-encounter it not quite from the point of view of a listener, but with something of that objectivity about it,” he says. “The main thing that I have taken away from playing it again is that I’m glad I didn’t give up.”
Born in Hamelin in Lower Saxony in 1966, Richter grew up in Bedford and, after studying piano and composition in Edinburgh, won a place at the Royal College of Music in London. He later studied in Florence with Italian avant garde colossus Luciano Berio, whose