Although Richter’s work rewards focused attention, his most recent album was intended for subconscious rather than conscious listening. 2015’s Sleep is an eight-hour record created with the help of a neuroscientist to accompany a full night of rest—a comment both on the scattered nature of modern attention spans and the power of slow art. Some of his upcoming projects include the Jessica Chastain movie Miss Sloane, season three of The Leftovers, a show called Taboo for the BBC starring Tom Hardy, and a new ballet for the Netherlands Dance Theater. He spoke with me by phone; the interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Sophie Gilbert: What was the process of creating the score for “Nosedive,” and what appealed to you about the project?
Max Richter: First, Joe [Wright] and I talked about the general themes of the script. He and I had been wanting to work together for a time and this opportunity came along. Black Mirror obviously has its own universe, with a very strong fingerprint and strong themes, and I was intrigued on reading. It’s such a powerful piece of storytelling. And it’s very, well, we can say prescient, but prescient only in terms of five minutes from now. It’s almost like a documentary. But a very important piece of filmmaking in a way, because these things touch on all of our lives very directly.
SG: The score contributes so much to the mood of that specific episode. It could be so much darker, but there’s something almost hopeful about it because the music is so lovely. Was that intentional?
MR: Yes. When I saw the material, what struck me about it really was that this is a scenario of utter devastation, from a psychological point of view. And yet it has a sort of shiny, wonderful quality because of course the effect of this rating system in the episode basically causes everyone to behave in a wonderful, smiley, happy way the whole time. There’s a kind of tyranny of fake joy, and I thought it would be nice to try and score that dimension of it, so it has a warmth and a fairytale quality throughout. That’s what you’re seeing, and in a way, by turning that up, you get a sense of the darkness underneath it.
SG: What’s your thought process when you’re composing something like this? Are you thinking about setting the mood, or are you trying to accomplish something else?
MR: When I’m working with pictures, with images and storytelling, it’s really about the sentiment and the emotional trajectory of the characters. That’s really where the music lives, I think. That’s what I’m focused on, that’s what I respond to most strongly. And it is an instinctual process, writing a film score; it’s a sort of hybrid thing where you have a lot of planning, a lot of ideas, a lot of conceptualizing, and then also happy accidents, and you never quite know how these things are going to fit together. An example from “Nosedive” is that we had this idea to make the reward sounds from the phones [in the episode] part of the score, so I spent some time composing these little ringtone things that could become part of the actual score itself. That’s the kind of thing that can go terribly wrong sometimes, but actually in this case, because of the way that these sounds drive the narrative, it worked really well. These sorts of dynamics happen a lot in a storytelling structure like this. There are lots of different things that feed into the process.