Max Richter’s 8-hour piece is intended to be listened to by a sleeping audience.

Nodding off during a concert is almost always frowned upon, but tomorrow evening the ABC will broadcast a new piece of music by British composer Max Richter that positively encourages its audience to catch 40 winks. As part of ABC Radio’s #MentalAs campaign in support of mental health research, ABC Classic FM will broadcast the full 8-hours of Richter’s somnambulant epic, Sleep. The broadcast will be one of longest durations for a single work ever put on the airwaves by the ABC.

Recently released by Deutsche Grammophon, Richter’s piece claims to be “the longest single neoclassical piece of music ever recorded”, but rather than aiming to hold the attention of listeners for the full duration, Sleep is intended to lull its audience to sleep. “It’s my personal lullaby for a frenetic world,” says Richter. “A manifesto for a slower pace of existence.”

Richter, who consulted the eminent American neuroscientist David Eagleman about the sleeping mind while composing this work, describes it as an “investigation” into the process of sleep. “An experiment to see how we experience music in different states of consciousness – to discover, if possible, how we perceive it in a wakeful and sleeping state.”

Various types of sound therapy have been used in the treatment of insomnia throughout the 20th Cnetury, since the advent of modern psychotherapy and Cognitive Behavioural treatments. However, whereas forms of white-noise such as static, the sound of the ocean or the nocturnal chirpings of the rainforest have been commonly recommended, Richter’s new piece is the first of its kind to be specifically composed for an unconscious listener. In addition to the music having a functional purpose, Richter has also seen the new piece as an experiment into the way we understand and assimilate music. “I am curious to know whether, having slept through it, we will hear it or experience it differently,” he shares. “It’s a set of questions. And one of those questions is: is there such a thing as listening while you’re sleeping?”

Max Richter’s Sleep, is broadcast on ABC Classic FM Friday October 9, 9:30pm until Saturday October 10, 6:30am.