Max Richter – Sleep

Apple’s iTunes has often been cited as a contributing factor to the death of the traditional album – the advent of mp3 technology and iTunes in particular, gave consumers the ability to cherry pick tracks and created the ‘shuffle’ generation. As a by-product of this, our collective attention span when it comes to music seems to have taken a nosedive – if those thirty second audio clips don’t reel us in, it’s a case of ‘next please’ and we have wandered somewhere else.

How richly ironic then that ambient classical composer Max Richter presents the full length version of his latest album to the world exclusively through iTunes, a mammoth, eight hour excursion into the world of sleep, designed to be an aid to, and an enhancement of, an experience that takes up just under a third of our lives.

The irony is compounded by the fact that Richter operates in a genre where patience is a pre-requisite for listeners – ambient classical music is completely devoid of instant thrills, the antithesis of the iTunes generation. Richter has been at the vanguard of the ambient/classical  movement and with Sleep, he has created his most challenging but arguably his most rewarding work to date.

It’s hard to establish just how serious Richter is when he invites listeners to press play and drift off to this 31 track recording, that flows seamlessly from one piece to the next – to do so reduces it to nothing more than some bog standard, slight and inconsequential piece of New Age fluff – it is anything but that.

There is too much beauty here in Richter’s delicate piano pieces, adorned by sombre strings and a melancholic serenity that takes the breath away.  ‘Dream 1 (before the wind blows it all away)’ is based around a simple, repeated piano melody that lulls and soothes, an invitation to dream. That same melody is reprised along the eight hour journey, slight variations on the same theme while Grace Davison’s lone soprano on ‘Path 17 (before the ending of daylight)’ pulls us under; a hypnotic, beguiling 25 minute lullaby that weaves a sombre spell. Elsewhere, Richter utilises organ sounds, ambient electronica and silence to create an immersive and captivating listening experience that showcases why Richter remains one of the best exponents of his chosen genre.

There is a truncated one hour version of the album; ‘From Sleep’ distils the essence of the full experience, but in choosing this version, you are likely to miss out on some incredibly beautiful music. ‘Sleep’ is an eight hour treasure trove of wonderful soundscapes, an ambitious but always richly rewarding attempt to examine that curiously mysterious world we enter during our night time slumber.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)