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Max Richter's music to sleep by / The New Yorker

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During the past few weeks I've been listening to "Sleep," by the contemporary British composer and musician Max Richter. The wordless composition, which is scored for piano, strings, voice, and electronics, is a little more than eight hours long. The full-length "Sleep" is available only as a digital download; a one-hour version, "From Sleep," is available on vinyl and CD format also. The eight-hour version, Richter said in a recent interview, is a lullaby, and the one-hour version, a daydream. "From Sleep" is beguiling, "Sleep" is more tranquil and, by design, more elusive. It is "meant to be slept through," Richter says. I can't describe what happens in at least six hours' worth of "Sleep," because I've been sleeping.

On September 27th, a live performance of "Sleep," involving Richter and a half-dozen other musicians, was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 from midnight to 8 A.M. It was the longest live broadcast of a single piece of music in the station's history. The piece was performed in the reading room of the Wellcome Library, a London institution dedicated to the study of medical history, to an audience of around twenty people, accommodated in camp beds. Afterward, when they were interviewed by the BBC, few could claim to have slept for the duration of the performance. "I didn't want to sleep," one audience member said, while another described experiencing hallucinations. Radio listeners tweeted their reactions throughout the night, and, as for the musicians, one suspects that by the end they were in need of a good sleep themselves.

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