Max Richter’s Sleep

First film back at the GFT since coronavirus lockdown, and this is exactly the type of film I wanted to see. Totally weird, an unknown entity, and best appreciated in the cinema.

Max Richter’s Sleep is a documentary about an 8-hour piece of music meant to be experienced while sleeping. Never heard of it. So I was looking forward to coming to this knowing nothing.

Now, I love pretentious shit, you just have to set your wank tolerance quite high. This is a deeply beautiful piece of music, so just let go of the Instagramming audience members doing yoga, and Tai Chi, and journalling, and meditating, and rollerblading.

The idea was to compose a piece of music that spoke to a universal human experience. It uses only the same frequencies the sleeping mind processes, the same ones fetuses can hear in the womb. It ebbs and flows with the slowing of brainwaves through the cycles of sleep. It is bookended with movements intended to guide you in and out of sleep. It uses our cultural and scientific understanding of sleep to create a piece which the listener interacts with on a non-conscious level.

Which makes staging the live performances quite the task. First you gotta find a venue that will let you book an overnight 8-hour gig. Then it has to sleep an audience, literally on campbeds or mattresses or bunks.

And the performances have this real ritualistic quality to them. Max’s wife Yulia, who took a lot to do with the piece, talks about how her family were refugees, and in this deeply divided and unempathetic time, she wanted to create something which emphasised the universal human experience, to be experienced collectively. So you have these really basic beds, where people come and sleep in their hundreds next to total strangers, place themselves in a state of absolute vulnerability and trust in an unfamiliar environment, and then collectively experience this music about something which unifies them all.

Please ignore the exclusive and expensive nature of participating in such an event (which number 7 in total so far).

The film itself oscillates between giving a serious interview explaining the philosophies and practicalities in making the piece, giving time to actually listening to the music, and presenting thoughts on the piece in a dreamlike fashion, to mimic the experience of the sleeping listener. It kinda works best when it sticks to the first thing. But to be commended nonetheless for trying to showcase, explain, and translate a musical experience intended for the sleeping mind, which is not the easiest subject for a film.

Worth sticking your head round the door to see what’s happening.