Max Richter’s Sleep

This documentary explores Sleep by minimalist composer Max Richter, designed to be performed over night to a snoring audience.

Beginning and ending with an open air performance in LA’s Grand Park, this documentary takes us on a similar, albeit substantially abbreviated, journey to the piece, with the music playing almost continuously. It interacts with some of the spectators, and uses beautiful Koyaanisqatsi-esque cinematography of cities, sky and nature.

While Philip Glass’s Music in 12 Parts was originally performed in a New York loft with audience members lounging on cushions and beanbags, Richter goes a step further in actively encouraging listeners to sleep. At eight hours, it was the longest continuous piece ever played on the radio when it was broadcast live on Radio 3, although it’s far from the longest piece ever. That distinction goes to John Cage’s As Slow as Possible which began its debut performance in 2001 and is set to continue until 2640.

The documentary takes us through the long journey involved in writing and staging a piece like this, including Richter’s early life and career. Like many composers he initially struggled to earn a living, and is perhaps now best known for his minimalist recomposition of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, not to be confused with Vivaldi’s Total Landscaping. Richter began building synthesizers after hearing Kraftwerk for the first time, and went on to create a unique sound after training in classical music.

But the documentary is more concerned with capturing the essence of the work than providing detailed information, and it does this very effectively. Normally it would be a criticism to say a film sends you to sleep (I just about stayed conscious) but this only shows how effectively it captivates its slumber-inducing subject.

Max Richter’s Sleep is available on iPlayer.

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