Over a decade after its inception, Max Richter’s pioneering new album VOICES – a major recording project inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – is out today. The album is an artistic response to our turbulent times and the human potential for compassion.
Voices is the latest album from the innovative, billion-streaming artist behind landmark 2015 composition SLEEP. At the heart of VOICES is a profound sense of global community, born out of Richter’s career-long view of music as activism and his desire to unite audiences worldwide. The first three singles ‘All Human Beings’, ‘Mercy’ and ‘Origins’ have been released over the last few weeks to wide-spread acclaim.
In a time of dramatic global change, VOICES offers a musical message of hope. Max Richter invited people around the world to be part of the piece, crowd-sourcing readings of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be interwoven into the work, which features an ‘upside-down’ orchestra. He received hundreds of submissions in over 70 languages. These readings form the aural landscape that the music flows through: they are the VOICES of the title. Max commented, “It’s important to me that these Voices are not actors but real people. The readings are incredibly moving.”
Alongside the album, BAFTA award winner Yulia Mahr has created breathtaking videos for the first two singles ‘All Human Beings’ and ‘Mercy’ . The videos offer a glimpse into a full audio visual project which will be announced later in the year. Richter and Mahr have worked together for over 25 years as part of Studio Richter Mahr, a collaborative home for their creative projects. At its core is the belief that creativity exists as a social project that can illuminate the lives of individuals and society as a whole, and that art exists beyond all boundaries.
Speaking about the concept behind VOICES, Richter says: “The opening words of the declaration, drafted in 1948, are ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’. These inspiring words are a guiding principle for the whole declaration but, looking around at the world we have made in the decades since they were written, it is clear that we have forgotten them. The recent brutal events in the US, leading to the tragic deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, as well as countless other abuses around the world, are proof of that. At such times it is easy to feel hopeless but, just as the problems of our world are of our own making, so the solutions can be.”
Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, in the aftermath of the Second World War, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted by a group of philosophers, artists and thinkers convened by Eleanor Roosevelt to address the great questions of the time. The voice of Roosevelt can be heard at the start of VOICES, as Richter incorporates the 1949 recording of the preamble to the Declaration into his piece. Alongside Roosevelt and the crowd-sourced VOICES, there is also narration by acclaimed US actor Kiki Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk) whose distinctive tones complement the choral, orchestral and electronic soundscape.
Max Richter explains, “I like the idea of a piece of music as a place to think, and it is clear we all have some thinking to do at the moment. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is something that offers us a way forward. Although it isn’t a perfect document, the declaration does represent an inspiring vision for the possibility of better and kinder world.”
VOICES had its world premiere in London in February, with more than 60 musicians performing live on the Barbican stage. The music involves a radical reimagining of the traditional orchestra formation. “It came out of this idea of the world being turned upside down, our sense of what’s normal being subverted, so I have turned the orchestra upside down in terms of the proportion of instruments,” says Richter. He has scored the work for 12 double basses, 24 cellos, 6 violas, 8 violins and a harp. They are joined by a wordless 12-piece choir as well as Richter on keyboards, violin soloist Mari Samuelsen, soprano Grace Davidson and conductor Robert Ziegler.
Max added, “While the past is fixed, the future is yet unwritten, and the declaration sets out an uplifting vision of a better and fairer world that is within our reach if we choose it. VOICES is a musical space to reconnect with these inspiring principles and Yulia Mahr’s striking films depict this inspiration in a beautiful way, while offering a glimpse into our full length audio visual project to come.”
VOICES is Max Richter’s ninth studio album, following on from such trailblazing recordings as Memoryhouse (2002), The Blue Notebooks (2004), Infra (2010), Recomposed: Vivaldi – The Four Seasons (2012) and most recently SLEEP (2015). Five years after it was released, SLEEP continues to be a global hit: it returned to No.1 on the US Billboard classical chart in March; it was broadcast in its entirety on international radio stations in April; and it has now earned over 450 million streams.
Max Richter continues to push the boundaries of music, art and technology – forging new creative paths to embrace listeners worldwide. These new projects are not only a showcase of his extraordinary talent, but also a call to contemplation and a celebration of community in changing times.