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Max Richter’s SLEEP Concert Review

Max Richter gave me the best nights rest I can remember with his performance of SLEEP or as he describes it: a lullaby for our frenetic world.

During South by Southwest (SXSW) this year, I got the unique privilege of spending the night at the Bass Concert Hall for the first performance in North America of SLEEP by British-German composer Max Richter, known for his work on HBO’s The Leftovers, Miss Sloane (2016), and recently released Hostiles (2017).

SLEEP is an 8-hour music experience unlike any other available today. This show is unique for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it’s an 8-hour concert with no intermission and no breaks. The orchestra of a handful of violinist and cellists, a singer, and Max Richter on piano play the entire duration of what appears to be a handful of songs that flow as if one. (Since this is such a long performance, there are large sections when some people were not needed, and during those times, those people left the stage for a much-needed break. The music, however, continued.)

And since the performance lasts all night—privy to its name—it is meant to be enjoyed awake as well as asleep. Instead of sitting in the audience as one would during a normal performance, Richter places a lucky group of 100-150 people on the stage, surrounding the orchestra in some terrific Beautyrest beds. It is in this

that Richter purposely acknowledged how as listeners of the music, we were also participants in the performance itself. By placing us on the stage, he conducts the music which in turn conducts our sleep (or at least that is what is suggested).

According to a pamphlet they gave participants, Richter composed the score, working with neuroscientists. The concept being that a piece of music can assist in the transference to and from sleep without interrupting it as well.

With much excitement and enthusiasm, I can say it works: masterfully!

It was the best night of sleep I have gotten in a long time. Considering I probably only slept 4 hours the whole night, I felt abnormally refreshed the next morning.

My night began when I arrived at the Bass Concert Hall at around 10:30pm. I thought the performance only lasted from 11:30pm to 12:30am due to the fact that is what the SXSW App said. So, one can imagine my surprise, when I discovered, it was to go till 8am. Could I stay out the whole night? What about the price for my parking in the morning? I didn’t bring anything to change into? These questioned pushed me to do the obvious and go home. But I decided to persist and stay, and I’m so glad that I did.

The performance opened with just Richter on piano, gracefully gliding me into sleep like a metronome. A large booming sound joined the soft piano, and with every boom, I became substantially more tired. Even typing this now, while re-listening to this part, is making me weary. The rest of the ensemble sat stoically for what seemed like 30min before even picking up their instruments. Before I knew it though, they were all playing, filling the stage with the kind monotony of an ever-drifting motif.

This piece echoes into the next part of the concert, when the singer performed a majestic vocal over a humming synthesizer, played by Richter. It was during this track that I first fell asleep. Or at least I think. The night becomes somewhat of a blur like a dream because throughout the whole performance, I recall drifting in and out of sleep seamlessly. And this is what makes the show so beautifully odd and truly like no other. I would fall asleep to the singer’s voice only to wake some time later with her voice again. Has she been singing for hours? Did she leave and then come back out? This combined with the 150 strangers sleeping/listening around me can make for what some would find an uncomfortable experience, but at least, to me, as well as the perception of my fellow participants, was quite comforting.

Richter ends the 8-hours by returning to the same point where he started and playing the original theme that began the event. And by playing something that to all of us was familiar, our bodies recognized that sound and felt comforted by it as we returned to being awake.

Also, don’t let my constant waking and sleeping as an indication for the failure of the piece. Having loved the performance so much, I have since listened to the full 8-hour album twice while sleeping, and I stayed asleep through the night both times. And if you just want a taste of the 8-hour experience, there is an hour version entitled From Sleep, available on Spotify.

Even when 8am came and the music stopped, the show wasn’t fully over. Laruen Brown from the app Yoga Wake Up joined us on stage to help us wake with a simple morning yoga exercise. A solid cherry on top to an already great remember able milkshake.

I feel so privileged to have gotten to be a part of this concert. It was surely a one in a lifetime experience, and one I hope everyone gets the chance to try the next time Richter and company come to perform in the US. But in the meantime, if you’re having trouble sleeping, check out the full-length album, entitled Sleep, which was released on Spotify and other online platforms earlier this year.

And even if you stay awake, you still get to the pleasure of hearing the greatest lullaby of all time—a lullaby for our frenetic world.

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