Sleep by Max Richter (2015)

Anglo-German “post-classical” composer Max Richter’s output has been nothing short of prolific. Since releasing his 2002 debut, Memoryhouse, Richter has produced a total of seven studio albums, as well as creating music for the stage, opera, ballet, television and cinema, most notably writing the score for the Golden Globe award-winning animated film Waltz with Bashir in 2007. On top of that he has also collaborated with a number of other musicians including Vashti Bunyan, Roni Size and the Future Sound of London.

For his latest work Sleep, Richter consulted with neuroscientist David Eagleman in order to further understand how the brain operates when we sleep and the effect music has on our subconscious mind. The result is an eight and a half hour album containing 31 pieces of uninterrupted music. It may just be the longest album you’ll never hear in full, with the thought of consuming it all in one go enough to make you feel tired. Most people will likely nod off before the end of its 18-minute opener, but if you manage to get through it, one of the following four 10 to 11 minute tracks will probably get you.

Richter has described it as “an eight-hour lullaby” and “a manifesto for a slower pace of existence.” He cites his inspiration as coming from the speed of modern life and how we’re bombarded with more information than ever before, leaving very little time to pause. The album is essentially designed to be a therapeutic sleep aid as well as a neurological experiment, but it’s also a piece of performance art. Sleep was first premiered in Berlin in early September where instead of seats, the audience were given beds. Later that month Richter also performed the full album over night on BBC Radio 3 with an audience of about 20 people tucked up in bed in the studio, setting a Guinness World Record for the longest live broadcast of a single piece of music.

On Sleep, Richter plays piano, organ, synths and adds other electronic touches, while the American Contemporary Music Ensemble adds strings and wordless vocals, as well as featuring the voice of Grace Davidson. The album drifts slowly and seamlessly between its 31 tracks, many of which are different variations of the same pieces. When you first encounter Sleep it’s difficult to know exactly how to go about consuming it, never mind reviewing it. It’s quite a challenge to tackle all in one go and can take a few dedicated days and plenty of coffee. But you can just as easily pick a track at random, listen to it from there and still enjoy its beauty. Failing that you can always try From Sleep, a one-hour version containing seven cuts taken from the main experiment. Rather than being a sleeping aid, From Sleep is great for relaxing in the evening after a tough day.

Released: 04 September 2015

Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Length: 08:24:21

Genres: Modern Composition; Neo-Classical; Electronic

Rating: 7/10

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