Angelenos can do some unique California dreaming this summer, as acclaimed minimalist Max Richter will bring his massive eight-hour "lullaby" Sleep to Grand Park for two overnight concerts. Attendees can reserve one of 560 cots to experience this massive work under the stars on July 27th and July 28th.
Though Richter and various ensembles have staged Sleep with beds in London, Berlin, Paris, Sydney, Austin and New York, these two nights – with American Contemporary Music Ensemble and soprano Grace Davidson – will be its largest stagings and first outdoor performances.
"Even the biggest buildings can only accommodate a few hundred beds," Richter tells Rolling Stone. "So, this is us trying to sort of connect it into ... like a normal concert-size audience.
"One of the things that the piece is about really is the communal listening experience. Going on that journey together," he says. "When we go to sleep ordinarily, we're doing something really private. It's kind of an intimate, private connection with our sort of physical humanity. People going to a place and … sleeping with a bunch of strangers they've never met, there's a sort of act of trust there. So, in a way, it's kind of natural to try and want to expand that out into sort of bigger numbers of people."
Though the piece – released as a 8-CD set by Deutsche Grammophon in 2015 – is tranquil, drone-heavy and made for the possibility of sleeping through it, Richter says he attempted to make the epic piece "a little bit in the protest music tradition."
"We're living in our neoliberal, sort of late-stage capitalist culture where human beings are really like objects of production and consumption," says Richter. "We're on our screens all the time, we're kind of being sold at all the time. And the piece, in a way, it is a kind of invitation to stop that for a while. Just kind of go, 'Hang on a minute. Let's just press the pause button.' And try and connect a little bit more to, that humanity and how it sort of is bigger than all of that stuff."
In turn, he says that the piece has been hitting listeners on an emotional level.
"I guess, when we stop, when we get off our screens, the big questions kind of bubble up, don't they? We keep ourselves distracted all day from that big stuff, but, you know, it's around us. … [Sleep] seems to elicit that stuff. You know, the kind of big questions: life, death, love, why," he says. "The stuff none of us can answer, but we all wrestle with."
To perform the piece through an entire evening, Richter says he and his ensemble give themselves a form of jet lag, staying up the night before. He performs his normal "morning" routine before the show – his cup of tea, oatmeal, stretching, listening to his usual radio show.
"It feels impossible at the beginning of the night. I've got 250 pages of piano music to play through when I sit down," says Richter. "The piece is really physically demanding. … It is tough to be playing for that long. Especially for the strings; they're playing a lot of long, sustained tones. Which is the hardest thing for strings to do. You're sitting there and you get very stiff. It's like extreme sports basically."
In composing the piece, Richter connected with neuroscientist David Eagleman to find if there is scientific basis behind the music that helps us sleep.
"From [Eagleman's] standpoint sleep is an informational process. It's another brain state where the brain is doing stuff. It's active, but just differently active," says the composer. "We talked a little bit about some research where they've used kind of repetitive, low frequency sounds to support the slow-wave state of sleep, which is where you get memories of being transferred from sort of temporary into permanent stuff and information structuring and learning and stuff. It's basically what gives rise to that phrase 'I'll sleep on it.' … It's a real thing.
"I guess the other sort of purely physiological thing I did in the piece, which is more poetic really, but I think is really important, is that ... I deleted all the high frequencies," he adds. "And that was because I wanted to mimic the spectrum that the baby hears inside the womb. Because that kind of points all of us to that kind of origin. That kind of first hearing. So, it kind of mimics that womblike feel. So, the piece then does, it doesn't, it just inhabits that space. And then for about the last hour, you get a kind of sunrise in the piece where the frequency spectrum just kind of slowly opens up. So it's like morning is written into the spectrum of the piece."
Tickets to the Los Angeles performances of Sleep are on sale at musiccenter.org. There will also be tickets to a cot-free "listening area" available for a $6 fee online or free at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion box office.