One of the most respected modern composers delivers his first ever mix.
Max Richter was born in Germany but grew up in the UK, eventually settling in Edinburgh. He’s classically trained, but also heavily influenced by electronic music, and contributed to Future Sound of London albums and Roni Size’s Reprazent before releasing a series of influential solo albums. He’s scored several films, most notably Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir, while his music has also appeared in Martin Scorsece’s Shutter Island, Ridley Scott’s Prometheus and more.
Richter’s early albums (2002’s Memoryhouse, 2004’s The Blute Notebooks) are landmarks of modern classical in their embrace of electronics, and he’s continued to break new ground on his latest album. Titled SLEEP, Richter’s new album is eight hours long (though don’t worry, there’s an hour-long condensed version for the norms), designed to soundtrack a listeners’s sleep. In Richter’s words, it’s “an eight-hour lullaby … my personal lullaby for a frenetic world. A manifesto for a slower pace of existence.”
To celebrate the release of SLEEP, we’ve coaxed Richter’s first ever mix out of him, a celebration of groundbreaking classical music both classic (Bach, Glass) and contemporary (Godspeed You! Black Emperor), plus the likes of Grouper, Cat Power and Boards of Canada. Richter explains that the tracks he picked for the mix are “all about transcendence, a going beyond the known, a questioning of the day to day. I feel like one of the things the sleeping offers is a sort of connection to the unknown part of ourselves and a journey beyond our normal experience. Music can feel like this too – a landscape of unknown possibilities, rich with questions.”
Charles Ives – The Unanswered Question
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Rockets fall on Rocket falls
J.S. Bach – Fugue in C# minor from Book 1 of The Well tempered Clavier
J.S Bach – Chorale from “Christ Lag in Todesbanden”
Osvaldo Golijov – Tenebrae II
Urmas Sisask – Ursa Minor from Starry Sky Cycle
Boards of Canada – Over the horizon radar
Sergei Rachmaninov – Rejoice O Virgin from The Vespers
Howard Skempton – Of Late
Philip Glass – Violin Concerto 2nd Movement
Grouper – Clearing
Henry Purcell – Fantasia in 7 parts
William Byrd – Mass for 5 voices, Agnus Dei
Luciano Berio – Wasserklavier
Michael Tippet – Concerto for Sting Orchestra, II Adagio Cantabile
Cat Power – Maybe Not
What exactly is it about modern life that made you want to slow down with SLEEP?
I think we are in a unique situation in human culture at the moment, where one of the principal challenges we face (at least those of us in affluent countries) is that we have too much data happening to us. Curating and navigating all of that information is basically impossible and is a big psychological strain we all face, so one of things I wanted to do with this project is to provide a very reduced, minimal landscape that could feel like a holiday from our usual state. A pause button.
Do you have problems sleeping, and do you see SLEEP being helpful to people with sleep disorders?
I sleep well. Maybe too well! I was once awakened by a firefighter breaking down the door of our apartment to rescue us when our building was on fire…
Although SLEEP is intended to be slept through – it’s an environmental piece in that sense – it isn’t a medical or psychological project. The conversations I had with the neuroscientist David Eagleman were important in understanding the way that music could co-exist with the sleeping mind, and not in how to bring the sleep state about. Although, recognising the hugely important part sleeping plays in my own creative (and non-creative) life, I’d be really happy if people affected with sleep disorders found it handy! I’ve been getting a lot of beautiful mails from folks who haven’t been sleeping well for a while.
Have you slept through SLEEP, and what was the result?
I’m my own worst possible listener. I can’t hear my own work without going into a very analytical frame of mind, so far I haven’t been able sleep through it…though my wife, Yulia, has many times. The result was: very deep sleep interspersed with interludes of semi-waking when she would start listening again – she spent much of the night in that liminal state. Luckily she likes to live there.
Do you see the album as modern ambient music – ie. is the purpose for it to be in the background, as Eno described, or do you want people to actively listen also?
The two versions of the music (the one hour From SLEEP, and the eight hour SLEEP) are quite different and are meant to be experienced in different ways. The 8hr project is a like a landscape to be submerged in, so in that sense it does connect to ambient music tradition, or maybe, going back a bit further to Erik Satie’s idea of “furniture music”. The 1hr project came out of my own working processes with the big piece – I felt like there was another architecture hovering inside the bigger material that would work as an object to more consciously listen to. So in a way the two versions are for two different mental states, one active and one unconscious.
Back in the 90s in the days of the “chill out” room, there were occasionally beds provided to doze on while listening. Do you intend to do anything similar for live performances?
Yes we are going to be providing beds at the live shows. Its the only way for people to really experience the project in the way it is intended.
What was your intention with the FACT mix? Can you explain some of your choices?
The tracks I picked are all about transcendence, a going beyond the known, a questioning of the day to day. I feel like one of the things the sleeping offers is a sort of connection to the unknown part of ourselves and a journey beyond our normal experience. Music can feel like this too – a landscape of unknown possibilities, rich with questions.
I open up with Charles Ives ‘The unanswered Question’ and end with Cat Power’s ‘Maybe not’. These two titles sum up this mix – its about questioning and going beyond what we know. After the truly beautiful but truly weird Ives, Godspeed light the fuse, powering up into a dark sky, crash landing on J.S Bach, who basically invented the language of music we all use, so this is like a kind of Eden. The Golijov Tenebrae is simultaneously old and new, and I just love it – check out his other stuff! Sisask comes next, still out there somewhere, in the starry sky, followed by a track by Boards of Canada in typically brilliant and mysterious form, picturing another landscape, that of the pentland hills probably. The Rachmaninov is a like a sort of antimatter bomb dropping and this is followed by a miniature from the wonderful and underrated Howard Skempton. This is a tiny jewel of a piece and I can’t get enough of it, which is probably the whole point. Glass’ Violin concerto needs no introduction and this gives way to Grouper, in a surprisingly comprehensible track. For people like me who love too much reverb, Grouper is kind of the queen. I listen to Purcell every day, so this fantasia is kind of “must have” for me, and is followed by a wonderful bit of Elizabethan polyphony by Byrd. The “Path” material on SLEEP is a homage to this school of composition. Berio, my teacher comes next, in this really gorgeous piece – like a memory of 19th Century piano music, and then comes the Tippet concerto, which is full of feeling and really direct. Cat Power rounds off the list – she’s a great storyteller and I love this track – Its an oldie but worth it.