SLEEP: Tranquility Base

When Max Richter composed Sleep, his expansive eight-hour meditation to reflect and accompany a full night’s rest, the work was cast as an antidote to modern life. Back in 2015, while working on the piece with his partner, the artist Yulia Mahr, Richter spoke about the damage our interconnected, hectic schedules were inflicting on collective wellbeing. “The original thing that made us want to make this piece was a sense of being oversaturated—with data, with information—and overstimulated,” he tells Apple Music. But far from seeing an improvement in our infatuation with technology, just eight years later things are even more overwhelming. “Now we have the internet in our pockets, everything is on all the time, which is fun, but also exhausting,” admits Richter. “Sleep is a kind of protest music.” Recognizing the continued frenetic nature of our lives, the composer has revisited the work, emphasizing its digital elements. Sleep: Tranquility Base is, he says, an “electronic trip” that distills his epic work into an EP. While the original Sleep is scored for piano, strings, soprano and electronics, this reworked version underlines the synthesizer element, with additional timbral effects. Reimagining works is something the composer is well-known for, having “recomposed” Vivaldi’s Four Seasons into a looping, minimalist soundscape, released on DG in 2012 featuring violinist Daniel Hope and the Konzerthausorchester Berlin. Sleep, however, was a different beast altogether. “It is a real challenge in terms of endurance and concentration,” says Richter, “When a piece is eight hours long it is impossible to hold it all in your head. It was bit like jumping out of an aeroplane: a sort of compositional free fall.” Tranquility Base refers to the moon landing site named by Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. It’s an evocative title for an atmospheric piece: a sparse organ melody opens the work, which gradually grows with the introduction of the vocal theme. These fragments of melody, or musical cells, are the DNA of the music; repeating, twisting, and merging with other elements. There is a strong rhythmic sense within the work that builds throughout the 16 movements. Responses to the melodies vary: the pulsing repetition of No. 14 recalls an energizing Steve Reich-like beat, whereas the drone quality of No. 5 works as a calming balm. If you feel your eyelids drooping, don’t worry—Richter encourages listeners to enjoy this music in a dozy state. “It’s about that boundary between wakefulness and sleep,” he says. For performances of Sleep at the Great Wall of China, London’s Wellcome Collection, and Grand Park in Los Angeles, attendees listened from hundreds of individual single beds, with the music timed to conclude at dawn. But there’s no prescriptive way to listen to Sleep: Tranquility Base, says Richter. “I take the lead from listeners. It could be your preparation for sleep, encouraging that liminal state.” However you approach it, adds Richter, “it’s an invitation to disconnect.”

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