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DTLA's Grand Park Is Having A Massive Sleepover This Weekend

Max Richter performing Sleep in Amsterdam
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Need a nap? Check out a Max Richter concert.

You've heard the British composer's music in TV shows The Leftovers and Taboo. His most famous piece, "On the Nature of Daylight," has been used in everything from Shutter Island to Arrival.

He's also written contemporary classical music, operas, and ballet. This weekend in Grand Park, he's inviting people to hear him perform one of his recent works... and inviting them to sleep.

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"I've sort of become aware that all around me people are struggling to sleep, increasingly," Richter said (by phone from London). "A lot of this has to do with our 24/7, always-on kind of a lifestyle. So really, I wanted to make a piece which would just allow us to step off the hamster wheel for a moment -- and yeah, have a piece which could function really like a place to rest."

He enlisted the help of a friend: American neuroscientist David Eagleman.

"I just called him up and picked his brain a little bit about relationships between sound and the sleeping mind," Richter said. "Slow-wave sleep, which is a bit of the sleep cycle, which is where short-term memory is turned into hard information -- it's the origin of that phrase, 'I need to sleep on that' -- that process, it turns out, can be sustained and propagated by repetitive, low-frequency sounds."

He took away all the high-frequency sounds -- because that mirror what a baby hears inside its mom's body.

"So I used that spectrum as a way to evoke a first-memory kind of a sense, and universality," Richter said. "And then, after about seven hours, the spectrum starts to open up, and it does an acoustic sunrise."

Musically, the piece is a set of variations.

"That gives a feeling of recognition, and in a way, a kind of a safety," Richter said. "It's like when you drive a route for the first time, it's kind of stressful, but when you drive it again, you just feel very calm. And I wanted that sort of trip through the night to be a sort of a calm trip."

Richter wrote all eight hours of the piece, Sleep, then recorded it and released it in 2015. Then he had an even crazier idea: perform the whole thing live, overnight, in a giant sleepover concert where audience members are on beds. He did it in London, and it was so successful that he's done it in Berlin, New York, and at South by Southwest.

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"It's got that sort of Mt. Everest quality," he said, laughing. "It's just kind of there, so you feel like you have to climb it. But also, fundamentally for me, I mean, music is a real-time conversation between performers and the audience. And I just felt like I wanted to try that."

Richter performs with the same group from the recording: five members from the American Contemporary Music Ensemble, and soprano Grace Davidson.

"It's very physically demanding," he said. "You know, we have to get sort of jetlagged the right amount so that, when we go on the stage at the beginning of the show, it's kind of morning for us. It's a hard show to play. I mean, when I sit down, the beginning of the evening is, you know, 250 pages of piano music on the stand. And that's just a lot of notes to play."

This weekend, Richter brings Sleep to Los Angeles, and he's trying something new: performing it outdoors, in downtown L.A.'s Grand Park.

"Well outdoors you've got the sky, you know, and the sky is endlessly interesting, isn't it?" he said of the opportunity. "You've got all the different colors, and textures, and if it's clear, you've got some stars."

There are 569 assigned cots for performances on both Friday and Saturday night.

"The core of our mission is enhancing the cultural life of every member of the county of Los Angeles," said Howard Sherman, chief operating officer at the venue -- downtown L.A.'s Music Center. He tried explaining why they were hosting this bold, unorthodox event. "So we try to do that by doing all kinds of different programming, by using the spaces we operate in all kinds of different and creative ways. And the idea of expanding on an audience that wouldn't think of the Music Center as presenting this sort of event is right up our alley."

As for logistics, Sherman explained: "The event starts at 10:30. The box office opens at 9. And once you're in, and through security, you go to your assigned cot, and you set up, and you lay down and listen to eight hours of incredible music."

Ummmm, what if people need to use the restroom?

"We will be bringing in high-end port-o-potties," he laughed, "so there will be facilities here that'll be available all night."

How about security in the park overnight?

"No different than it is any other night," Sherman said. "We have 24-hour security here, the park is technically closed overnight. So we'll be securing the park as we would any other night -- just in this moment in time, we'll actually have several hundred people listening to music in part of the park."

So what's the right way to experience Sleep? Max Richter says there isn't one.

'Sleep' at SXSW

"Some people literally turn up, go to sleep, and we see them, you know, at the end," he said. "Other people, they'll be sitting on their beds, listening intently as though it were an ordinary show. And a lot of people wander around, or they do a bit of dozing or, you know, they come to the front and listen, and then they go back to their cots. It does have a bit of a campfire quality, in some way, because sleep is normally something kind of intimate and private. And if you're in a field with 500 strangers, sleeping -- there's something quite vulnerable about that. And it seems to foster a sort of a community spirit, which is really lovely, actually."

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