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Album Review: Max Richter – Sleep

For Field Note Stenographers.

Technically speaking, I suppose I’ve listened to Max Richter’s Sleep (or From Sleep, the hour-long edit of the full eight hour record) a few dozen times by now. The only problem is, towards the end of the second track, “Path 5 (delta),” my eyes get heavy, and I’m Dorothy running through the fields o’ poppy, out no matter how much my desire might be to stay awake. The soft, pillow-y piano chords and wandering cello of “Dream 3 (in the midst of life)” make the bed, and by the time the singers of “Path 5” appear, like the girls from Philip Glass’ Music in Twelve Parts beamed in from an acid test on Saturn, I’m slipping into another realm.

It’s like that point in a Haruki Murakami book where as the reader, you’re no longer sure if the narrative is still based in reality or if it’s slipped down a rabbit hole to some hazy, half-conscious purgatory where the slightly fantastical is the norm and your entire existence is wrapped in some hypnogogic, liminal state. (Interestingly enough, one of Richter’s previous projects, Songs From Before, featured excerpts from Murakami’s writing.)

But, all this is Max Richter’s stated intention for the record, which he calls his “personal lullaby for a frenetic world… a manifesto for a slower pace of existence.” During its creation he teamed up with neuroscientist David Eagleman to get insight on what happens during the sleep cycle in an attempt to access the inaccessible nether-regions of the unconscious mind. With the information, Richter set out to create a musical mirror to those patterns and stages that happen over the course of a night’s sleep, to create a sort of customizable soundtrack unique to the listener’s state of mind and experience of the record.

Ironically, it turns out that Sleep works just as well during waking hours, not as an epic, eight-hour journey, but as a companion to slight pauses during the day. It’s possible to jump in at any point in the record to help ease the tension of the “frenetic world.” Whether it’s the deep ambient drone of “Space 11 (invisible pages over)” or the sparkling strings over sub-bass in “nor earth, nor boundless sea,” Richter has created a masterpiece that invites pause and reflection in a world increasingly plagued by the absence of those notions.