SXSW Music Interview: Max Richter

Contemporary classical polymath performs an eight-hour composition for an audience in bed

Photo by Mike Terry

In his debut SXSW performance, contemporary classical polymath and Englishman Max Richter, 51, performs Sleep, an eight-hour orchestral composition played overnight to an audience laying in actual beds.

Austin Chronicle: What’s a film score that would be a good entry point for your music?

Max Richter: Probably The Leftovers. It’s an amazing show. Aside from that, my first score, Waltz With Bashir, an animated documentary from Israel.

AC: You seem like a busy guy. How many hours of sleep do you get a night?

MR: I’m lucky, I sleep really well. That was one of the starting points for this project. We’re chronically sleep-deprived as a culture. We’re constantly on. I wanted to create a piece that functions like a psychological holiday from the 24/7 data blizzard, like a big pause button.

AC: What size bed do you have?

MR: A really big bed! Whatever the super king-size is.

AC: Sleep isn’t as drone-y as some people might expect. How did you conceive the piece?

MR: There’s different ways to approach music for sleeping. Things like white noise are functional, like a lullaby. This is more like an inquiry, a question about how music and sleep fit together.

AC: How have people responded?

MR: You get hardcore folks who turn up at midnight, go to sleep, and wake up at dawn. Or they sit there all night listening. Most people do both, they walk around, wake up, snore. It’s a bit egalitarian. I think of it as an invitation to go on a journey, to reflect and think about the big stuff, which we don’t get a chance to do much these days. We’re so busy and everyone is so saturated with information, it’s incredibly satisfying to stop and listen.

See extended interview online at

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Max Richter, SXSW Music 2018

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