Peace Post: Max Richter, Herbie Hancock and Today’s World

Like many others, I feel at a loss to shape words into coherent phrases expressing outrage, sorrow, compassion and balanced thinking in the midst of our current flood of events in today’s world.

In light of this, as always, my medium of choice is music…and music as protest/social statement has a long history. Yes indeed I, myself, did the singer-songwriter scene in my early adulthood.  Coming of age in the midst of another time of social unrest – I still embrace that genre.

Life goes on and in today’s world, my own current brand of compositional expression tends towards instrumental music. Personally, I feel it allows for individual interpretation, un-dictated by lyrical suggestion.

Which leads me to Max Richter, a favorite contemporary composer of mine.

Some time ago I stumbled upon an interview-article with Max published on Fifteen Questions. This on-line journal engages “production experts, performers, journalists, scientists and composers to discuss what music means, how it’s made, where its limits lie, and why it affects us all so differently and yet remains universal” rather than discussing the private lives of artists or their latest releases.

Here are a few of his thoughts to which I relate and are relevant to the subject of this blog post. I encourage those of you interested in musical composition and the driving forces behind it to read the full interview.

Max Richter – interview excerpts and short musical clip

Recomposed: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (Spring)

What do you usually start with when composing?

Music for me is storytelling, so I usually start with an intention or something I want to say. From there I kind of struggle around in the dark, trying to find ways to say that. Sometimes it’s a linear thing where I have an idea and then go about trying to find ways to express it. Other times I will discover things along the way and the idea ends up turning into something else altogether. It’s a mixture between intention and chance.

I think the reason I write music is because I’m trying to say things that I find difficult to encapsulate verbally. Music is its own kind of language and it’s very good at saying things that words struggle with, so that’s often the impulse for me.

The role of the composer has always been subject to change. What’s your view on the (e.g. political/social/creative) tasks of composers today and how do you try to meet these goals in your work?

Music is a social art, kind of like talking, but in a way, music as a vehicle for political critique has evaporated in the last 20 years and that’s disappointing.

I think if we’re talking about something in music, we should be talking about the big things that are worth talking about and those things are: the state of the world; how we live and how we spend our time. That’s something that really drives me. For example, the track The Shadow Journal on Blue Notebooks, for me, is a protest song. It was composed and recorded the week after the first big anti-Iraq war march in London. And even though Czeslaw Milosz’s words are actually describing the Second World War, the imagery he used resonated with me at that particular moment in time and so social comment was most definitely the primary motivation behind this piece of music.

Generally speaking though, people are not thinking about music in those terms anymore, not if you compare it to the counter-culture movement of the sixties, when social commentary was one the absolute driving forces of music. It’s a shame and a lost opportunity in many ways.

Herbie (and the Headhunters) Hancock – interview excerpts and musical clip

And then there’s Herbie. Rummaging through some of my paper files a few weeks ago, I came across a Music and Musicians (June 2010) article I kept on hand entitled, “Herbie Hancock: Imagining the future with a plan, a piano and a vision of peace.”

I first heard of him as Herbie and the Headhunters in 1973 during my second year of college (University of Colorado at Boulder, 1972-1977). I fell in love with his ‘new’ funk sound while listening to his Chameleon on the then ‘underground’ Denver radio station KLZ FM.

Give the piece a listen as you continue reading excerpts from that article.

What did you set out to do with this (The Imagine Project) record?

I wanted to make a global record. Although I’ve recorded with artists from other countries at various times, this truly was about emphasizing global collaboration as a path toward peace. I started thinking about America basically being an immigrant country.

Most of us have ancestors who were not from these shores. So we have these issues that are happening now about immigration and closing the borders and locking things down. I understand the motivation – the fear from 9/11 and terrorists. If you couple that with the insecurity that has come about because of the economic downturn, it’s drawing people into a state of chaos.

They’re trying to find ways to blame something, to put it on somebody. I think it’s time to stop looking outside for who to blame…now is the time to proactively begin the process of creating the kind of future we want for our children and for our children’s children.

How did you translate those ideals into music?

The first thing you have to do is be willing to be open and to embrace cultures outside of our own. The second thing is respecting the cultures and the people of those cultures. What other ways can we show our respect for other cultures? One of them is through language. It’s why I decided that if I truly wanted a global record, the record couldn’t just be in English…

Today’s World – in conclusion

Max and Herbie’s comments reveal the motivation behind much of an (he)artist’s work.

Communication – whether of a personal social statement or expression of some inner emotional response to life’s experiences – is often the result of a composer’s work; intentional or not.

For most musicians, even if performing non-original pieces, interpretational nuances shape one’s own message to be received by the audience as a gift from the heart.

For myself, my Swimming with Swans project is one such work…to give voice to the fact that those of us who have experienced or are currently in the midst of a period of displacement in a living situation or even state of mind, are not defined by that but live day-by-day and create works of beauty regardless.  And share it with all who will listen.

That’s just who we are and what we do – we count, we matter and we make a difference.

“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33 NIV

20 thoughts on “Peace Post: Max Richter, Herbie Hancock and Today’s World

  1. Andrea Stephenson

    Very interesting post Laura – it resonates with me as a writer of words rather than music, but I guess it applies to all art. I was intrigued to think of classical music as protest music, as that’s not something I would ever have imagined.

    Reply
    1. laura bruno lilly Post author

      Oh yes, there’s a whole history of ‘protest’ in ‘classical’ (as a genre, not epoch) music by select composers of their day. TMI to go into here, but suffice it to say, I’m thrilled you related to this post as a fellow (he)artist.
      Thanks for visiting this post! ;-)

      Reply
  2. Deborah Brasket

    I’d never heard of Max Richter, but now love his work. I’ve been listening to more of it on Utube. Thank you for the introduction. I always find great music when I visit your site.

    Reply
  3. Lulu

    Thank you for sharing these reflections. Artists give us so much, across all the different mediums with which they work – poetry, painting, music, sculpture. The best art always seems to be the art that draws us beyond ourselves, our specific time and place, and orients us toward the elements of the divine that penetrate our ordinary existence. That seems to be a special talent and gift of the artist or musician.

    I really enjoyed the music by Herbie Hancock, as well as his very insightful comments. I always keep in mind what Brene Brown says about blame, it is “a way to discharge pain and discomfort.” In the process, it only perpetuates the cycle of pain and hurt, though. Only through vulnerability can there be healing and reconciliation, and art seems to be one way that we can make space for that vulnerability.

    Reply
    1. laura bruno lilly Post author

      Very insightful comments, LuLu. No doubt an integration of your own healing journey and the varied applications you’re finding relate to everyday life.

      Yes, (he)art is a vehicle for vulnerability, often revealing our weaknesses (fears, desire to blame). The beauty of the (he)artistic process itself (regardless of what is produced) is, in part, of the transformation of those things into something larger than ourselves. And as always making order/sense out of our chaotic lives!

      Glad I was able to introduce you to Herbie!

      Reply
  4. Donna

    Great post, thoughts, interview and relationship between music and social “art”. I agree with Lisa too. No torching buildings, just a peaceful expression of discontent.

    Reply
  5. Anna Scott Graham

    What a perfect verse to end a beautiful post! Going to meditate on those words for a bit, as the rain continues to fall….

    peaceregardlesspeace

    Reply
  6. David Rastall

    I piece together fragments out of sound the way a craftsman makes artwork out of clay, wood or melted glass. To me, music represents not messages of politics, love or ritual, certainly not money. After 71 years on this planet I’ve been there and done much of that, and what’s left after all has come and gone, is poetry. I love the energetic edgy poetry of jazz, just as I feel the lure and beauty of classical perfection in the music of history. In the uncertainty of modern times, I look mostly for what is unchanging in music. I feel powerless to give voice to the confusion and very real grief of those caught up in the repercussions of the age in which we find ourselves. “Back in the day” I used to revel in the constant creative urge to make new music; now I look for the universals in music, and like TS Eliot I shore up these fragments against our ruin.

    Reply
  7. L. Marie

    Excellent post, Laura. I listened to each musician’s work as I read the post, just as you suggested. I couldn’t help thinking, as you wrote, that music is the language that transcends all language barriers. As a musician, I’m glad you’re fluent in this language.

    Loved this quote from Max: “We should be talking about the big things that are worth talking about and those things are: the state of the world; how we live and how we spend our time. That’s something that really drives me.” That drives me too.

    Whenever I think of Herbie Hancock, I think of my older brother, who loves his music. So, I heard Chameleon a lot. :-) Herbie is totally right: “global collaboration as a path toward peace” is true.

    Reply
    1. laura bruno lilly Post author

      Thank you for taking the time to read and listen to this post – and sharing the take-aways you received from it. As you know, that warms a blogger’s heart. :-)
      BTW:I like your bro’s taste in music HA!

      Reply
      1. Andy

        Great post, Laura. Loved both tracks you included. For some reason Chameleon made me think of the opening of Starsky and Hutch. In my mind’s eye could see them going over that car bonnet :)

        Reply

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