Easily my most played album of 2015 – easily, and yet it’s not, strictly an album. Here, Max Richter has created a soundtrack for sleep, but it’s more than just a settling score, it’s a musical evocation, a melodic translation of sleep. It’s a stretch – too (pardon the pun) – of the very idea of an album; of music even. For this is more soundtrack to installation or art, you get to be the art yourself, this eight-hour collection of 31wordless, connected pieces is designed to accompany you, to contribute to your rest. You’re supposed to put it on and settle down – if you wake at various points the music soothes and conjurers, it soundtracks your rapid-eye-movements, it caresses.
So, as a Max Richter fan, and a fan of the very concept of nodding off to (the right) music I embraced this – took the challenge, and for months on end I played this, each and every night, and I start it at 9pm and 11pm and I put it on when I went out of the house, arriving back at 1 or 2am, or I started it as I woke up in the middle of the night, I re-started it when I first woke up near dawn…
On and on it went – on the stereo that is, every night in a slightly different way, a different time, me in a different state, some nights I tried to see how long I could stay away, eyes closed, listening. A type of simple meditation. Other times it was lights out within moments of pressing play, only to wake up in the middle of the night, for whatever reason, and hear some “secret” passage I hadn’t encountered previously.
After a couple of months I thought I’d heard it all – so to speak. Every part of this eight-hour slow calm-ululation, but no. One night out of nowhere I’d focus in on a new part, or the 30-minute sequence planned for when finally waking would hit me earlier than usual, or far too late, so these Eno-esque “wallpaper” aspects were shifting…
And then I got so hooked on Sleep I’d play it during the day, soundtrack to work, to walking, to reading, to anything but sleep. And then to anything and sleep.
And though I mentioned Eno before a better reference is Arvo Pärt – in the way these pieces take their time but aim straight for an emotional response, a resonance that hits you right in the feelings, aimed for heart and mind. Usually there’s a cello line or piano motif, a female voice too – all stretched, treated, softly glazed…sometimes all three work together to provide the most arresting moments.
Designed in collaboration with sleep psychologists, based around the idea that we sleep less now – that we need more sleep and thererfore might need aids for achieving that goal – this is less musical experiment than it is science project.
So in presenting my findings all I can really tell you is that the implied control for my experiment is that I do often – and have often – slept without music, often quite well. But frequently when listening to Sleep, engaging with it, for at least the time that I did, I would regularly wake up six to eight hours into it with some sort of smile, I would be calmly lulled back to sleep after waking, the music caressed me. The music soothed. The music was wonderful to sit with and to lie with. This music seemed, so often, like the most beautiful truth. And I’ve returned, just recently, to “working” with it, to sleeping with it, to having it in my life again having now noticeably felt its absence. I’m glad to have it back. I don’t think – save for Gorecki’s “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” there’s been music (this affected, and effective) that’s affected me so much.