Max Richter’s SLEEP: Interview with Composer Max Richter and Filmmaker Natalie Johns on Eight-Hour Musical Piece


Interview by Paul Salfen

Portrait of acclaimed composer Max Richter and creative partner Yulia Mahr as they stage landmark eight-hour overnight performance of Richter’s “Sleep”, from award-winning filmmaker Natalie Johns

The celebrated documentary Max Richter’s Sleep, which premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, had its exclusive online premiere on World Sleep Day (March 19) on MUBI.

This transporting documentary follows acclaimed composer Max Richter (whose credits, alongside his acclaimed solo career, include films Ad Astra, Waltz with Bashir, Hostiles, and The Leftovers), and his creative partner, artist and award-winning filmmaker Yulia Mahr, as they prepare a hugely ambitious undertaking: staging an open-air, overnight performance of his celebrated eight-hour magnum opus “Sleep” in Los Angeles in 2019.

Filmmaker Natalie Johns captures the all immersive experience of the show in intimate detail, transporting viewers into the heart of the collective shared experience that is music making. She weaves this together with intimate personal footage and past performances in Berlin, Sydney, and Paris shot, or at times produced, over five years by Yulia, to explore the origins and impact of this groundbreaking composition, and the tenacity and drive needed to sustain such work. Working outside of public funding and in a post streaming world, the film reflects a journey filled with love, companionship and determination. Natalie Johns’ storytelling conveys Yulia and Max’s creative vision, social drive and process, whilst never losing sight of the work’s quiet wonder and subsequent global impact.

Sleep’s eight-hour musical piece was composed in consultation with American neuroscientist David Eagleman, and seeks to examine the relationship between music and the subconscious mind, aiming to foreground the communal aspect of music performance and listening. The film itself unites viewers in a collective moment of musical reflection. Max and Yulia’s creative partnership spans thirty years, and has been responsible for many large scale international touring pieces that address social and political issues through music and film, including projects at the The Barbican Centre in London and La Philharmonie de Paris.


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