For most performers, nothing is more disrespectful than a snoozing audience member. But Max Richter takes a different view.
“If the audience stays awake during my performance I will consider it the greatest insult,” says Max Richter, the classical composer who hopes his latest work will send the nation to sleep.
BBC Radio 3 is to air the world live broadcast premiere of Sleep, an epic eight-hour “lullaby for a frenetic world,” which Richter has designed to transport listeners gently into slumberland.
The longest single continuous piece of music ever broadcast live on the BBC, the British composer will begin the performance of his trance-inducing experimental work, accompanied by a small ensemble, at midnight on 26 September.
The premiere will be staged at the Wellcome Collection in London in front of an invited audience of around 20 people. Instead of seats, the venue will provide beds and the lights dimmed to encourage an appropriately somnolent atmosphere in the Reading Room.
One of the longest pieces of music ever recorded, the gently pulsing Sleep is released on 5 September as an extended stream and download through Deutsche Grammophon – listeners are advised to place their devices on sleep mode to avoid distractions.
The most controversial music performances
The most controversial music performances
1/11 1. Kanye West at Glastonbury
Mr West's caused a fair bit of controversy with a number of his performances – 20 minute rants, storming off, smashing mics – but none were as notable as his headline slot at Worthy Farm. Not only was there a massive petition to get him off the bill, half way through comedian Lee Nelson invaded the stage and then Kanye was lifted into the sky via a crane.
2/11 3. Madonna and Britney Spears kiss on stage
Madge has made headlines a number of times for her on-stage antics but her 2003 MTV Video Award performance grabbed more than any other. During the live-broadcast show she took star-of-the-moment Britney Spears’ chin and pulled her in for a big kiss. The cameras turned to an unimpressed Justin Timberlake very quickly.
3/11 4. Miley Cyrus Twerking at MTV VMAs
You couldn’t really have a controversial music performance list without Miley? In 2013 she made headlines for twerking all over Robin Thicke during a performance of the controversial ‘blurred lines’. There was outrage across America.
4/11 5. Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake at 2004 super bowl
The super bowl half-time is one of the most sort-after performance slots in the world but has often been plagued with controversy. Notably, in 2004, a young Justin Timberlake exposed Janet Jackson’s nipple, leading to a backlash against the female singer and the term Nipplegate making regular headlines.
5/11 7. Tupac hologram at Coachella 2012
Since 2012 a number of celebrities have been brought back to life through holograms but Tupac was the first to get the digital treatment for a Coachella show alongside Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre.
6/11 8. Jennifer Lopez performing for leader of Turkmenistan
J-Lo was highly criticised for a corporate performance for the leader of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, a man accused of human right violations.
7/11 9. Rolling Stones Altamont gig
The Altamont concert was once called 'rock’n’roll’s all time worst day' by Rolling Stone magazine, and for good reason. Throughout the day there was increasing violence, leading to the infamous death of 18-year-old Meredith Hunter at the hands of a Hells Angel.
8/11 10. Elvis on Ed Sullivan show
Elvis was a revolutionary of his time, but the moment that defined him as a counter-culture icon was on the Ed Sulivan show when, while performing Hound Dog, began shaking his hips. It was broadcast to 60 million people and was greatly criticised for its apparent 'vulgarity'.
9/11 11. Sinhead O’Conner ripping up photo of pope
Sinhead O’Conner was another performer to use her airtime to cause controversy. At the end of her SNL performance she picked up a picture of Pope John Paul II and ripped it in half, telling the audience to “fight the real enemy”.
10/11 12. Ozzy Osbourne bites head of a bat
Before a reality TV show, Ozzy was only known as the prince of darkness and, in 1982, only added to the image by biting off the head of a dead bat live on stage. Apparently he didn’t realise it was actually a real bat.
11/11 13. L7 took her tampon out and threw it into the crowd
Technical difficulties caused all girl metal band L7 to have mud thrown at them during a performance at Reading festival. Instead of walking off, the band decided to get angry and the lead singer took out her tampon and threw it at the crowd.
Composed in consultation with renowned American neuroscientist David Eagleman, Sleep is “an experiment into how music and the mind can interact in this other state of consciousness, one we all spend decades of our lives completely immersed in, but which is so far rather poorly understood,” Richter said.
Inspired by Bach, punk rock and ambient electronica, Richter, who plays the piano and synthesizer, won acclaim for his score accompanying Wayne McGregor’s ballet Woolf Works at the Royal Opera House.
If listeners don’t drift off during Sleep, Richter, 49,will have failed. “The piece is an investigation into how music and consciousness connect in a sleep state. Some people might try and stay awake but my greatest hope is that people sleep through the broadcast,” he told The Independent.
Won’t snoring be a distraction to both audience and performers? “There’s all kinds of snoring. There’s the almost inaudible purring sound and the angry loud kind of snoring. That could be problematic.”
Richter himself will have to stay awake during the marathon performance. “It’s quite a challenge. We’ll try to sleep as much as possible beforehand. I’d like to be in that slightly jetlagged state.”
“I’ll be onstage for almost all of it but here are little breaks for everybody. It’s like a laboratory experiment. We’re going to figure out how to do it as we’re doing it.”
The performance may be largely unmemorable for listeners. “There is a continuity of landscape in the music. People might wake up and find themselves in a familiar space. It’s partly inspired by Bach’s Goldberg Variations, there are 30 sequences within it. It’s a bit like walking around a sculpture and seeing slightly different patters but it’s still the same sculpture. I hope Radio 3 won’t have to interrupt it for the news.”
Sleep will be broadcast as part of Why Music?, a free weekend of public events and broadcasts from Radio 3 in partnership with Wellcome Collection, which will include lectures and debates from neuroscientists, psychologists and psychiatrists.
Alan Davey, Controller, Radio 3 said the overnight broadcast would “bring an added dimension to the night for sleeping listeners everywhere. The impact of music on the human mind is a subject for debate and investigation, and is the key question at the heart of Radio 3’s broadcast weekend from Wellcome Collection.”
Sleep isn’t quite the longest piece of music ever conceived. John Cage’s ongoing, 639-year organ work As Slow As Possible, which began in Germany in 2001, is believed to hold that honour.
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