Max Richter's Sleep

Max Richter’s Sleep is so much more than just another documentary about a live musical event. This is a mesmerising, immersive and deeply moving experience. It takes us on a cinematic journey through a beautiful collaboration and reminds us of the value of communal experience.


Natalie Johns’ film documents the open air performance of Sleep in Los Angeles in 2018. Sleep is an eight hour overnight concert that explores the potential of the sleeping mind and was developed by composer, Max Richter, and artist and Bafta winning filmmaker, Yulia Mahr.


Watching the audience congregate (and snuggle down on their cot beds), I felt a real and unexpectedly emotional pang for the days of concerts, festivals and large gatherings. I knew that I missed them, but until that moment I hadn’t realised just how much. 


Let’s hope (for all the reasons) that lockdown life is over soon. In the meantime, Max Richter’s Sleep is a rich and hugely welcome record of the power of such communal events - featuring beautifully shot and edited footage from performances in LA, Berlin, Sydney and Paris.


It was important to Mahr and Richter that these performances be accessible to a wide audience. Richter describes his beautiful composition as a safe space away from chaos, away from the daily grind. A place that allows us to reconnect and take stock of life. Max Richter’s Sleep also inhabits this reflective, inclusive landscape.


Johns' film includes the stories of audience members who reveal their profound Sleep experiences. The atmosphere they describe - one of thoughtfulness and intimacy - is mirrored in the documentary and heightened by the inclusion of poignant clips from Mahr’s personal archive.


The stories we hear - from Mahr, Richter and their audience - draw us in and help dispel any anxiety that we might feel at the thought of sleeping in a space with strangers. What initially seems odd and, to some, unsettling soon feels magical and unmissable. 



Johns’ documentary takes us behind the scenes and examines the ideas and concepts that inspired the Sleep project. Richter and Mahr wanted to investigate and navigate the realm of the sleeping mind and explore how art, maths and science allow us to connect to the natural world.


It is fascinating to hear how such an incredibly ambitious event came together. As relaxing as it is to experience, Sleep is an incredibly demanding composition. It is physically and mentally tough on all of the musicians involved (and particularly challenging for the string players).


However, what has stayed with me the most since watching Max Richter’s Sleep is the power of Richter and Mahr’s creative collaboration. The heart of Johns’ film is full of moving moments where they express mutual respect and admiration. 


Both Richter and Mahr are also refreshingly honest about the reality of a career in the arts. Their lives may look (to the casual observer at least) filled with red carpets and glamour, but their journey has been far from easy. Sleep is a work of perseverance in more ways than one.


Max Richter’s Sleep is a wonderful record of Mahr and Richter’s talent and tenacity - reminding us of the joy of creativity, collaboration and community.


I was lucky enough to speak to Yulia Mahr about her career, her collaboration with Max Richter, the release of Max Richter's Sleep and her exciting future projects... click here to read my interview with Yulia Mahr.

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Jane Douglas-Jones
Jane Douglas-Jones



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