German minimalist composer Max Richter has had a successful career with both his film and television scores as well as his solo material, but none has resonated with me as much as his Sleep album, described by him as an eight hour lullaby. With soft and gentle piano and strings his dreamy ambient work is as gorgeous as it is totally relaxing. A one hour album featuring unreleased tracks called From Sleep featuring 7 tracks was released alongside the huge eight hour album, and perhaps with it’s easier to digest length and ability to sit through it in one listen, it’s one of my favourite ambient works.
The opening track Dream 3 – In the midst of my life is a lovely and stirring piece, ten minutes of the soft and slow dreamy piano that leaves you hanging off each one of the soft reverberating notes as they’re left to drift in the air before the next one takes over – the pacing is fantastic. The slowly unraveling melody on the middle of the keyboard is simple, but warm and pleasant thanks to the great sound of the recording. The strings that enter after a few minutes are slowly drawn out as well, gliding their way gorgeously with a soft trill, slightly melancholy alongside the warm sound of the recording and the piano, in a track that doesn’t feel it’s 10 minute length.
The album contains a varied array of dreamy, soporific ambient – soft and mutilayered high pitched reverbed vocalizations with the same repeated melody on Path 3 – Delta, provide an esoteric and dreamy quality along with the analog synth in the background, creating the mysterious and strange quality that comes with deep dreaming. Space 11 (invisible pages over) delves more into analog synth ambient, with warm deep drones, twinkly bright tones and choral sounds providing a spacey deep sleep kind of minimalism, while Dream 13 (minus even) returns to the piano and strings duet of Dream 3 – In the midst of my life, with faster but no less relaxed piano playing, a lullaby high up on the keyboard, weighted down by the deeper drawn out strings. Path 19 (yet frailest) returns to the vocal melody of Path 3 – Delta, with the vocal melodies transposed to piano and strings on a more gentle plane, but with the same mysterious dreamlike quality. With the closer Dream 8 (Late And Soon), the piano and strings return to the same melody of the opener, with high pitched vocalizations melding with the sound. There’s more going on in this one, with the strings and piano having a more rousing and stirring sound than the rest of the pieces, and going with the theme of sleep it’s as if it’s a piece designed for the end of the sleep, a piece to gently and slowly wake the listener, (much more sophisticated than the awful cacophony of the alarm clock most of us are used to.)
The full eight hour album Sleep was a monumental achievement from Richter, but with the shorter one hour length of From Sleep it’s a more digestible listen, and a gorgeous blissful hour of lovely relaxed, piano, vocals and analog synth work. Relaxed, dreamy and warm it’s one that will be appreciated by both ambient and minimalist classical fans. Absolutely stunning and one of my favourite ambient works.