photos: Keith Telfeyan
I’m going to Sleep. Not to bed – to the special performance happening this week at Kraftwerk. But yes, I probably will sleep there. There will be beds, after all.
Max Richer, the “perennially audacious British composer” as Pitchfork calls him, is staging a conceptual project here in Berlin, and I’m deeply curious. Doors to the concert hall open at 21h, the live music begins at midnight and lasts eight hours. In the morning, it’s time to go. Will it be a beautiful symphony of strings and sythesizers to savor throughout the night? Will it achieve its goal and put everyone into slumber? What will the energy feel like??
I have not heard the music yet. I’m sure it will be lovely and interesting. But I’m more curious about the event itself – a sort of daring art piece: to gather Berliners in a room, provide them beds, and let the music set a peaceful tone. I can only imagine the huge space full of everyone’s excitement for such a new idea, putting on their pajamas and getting into their sleeping bags, perhaps tired, perhaps having to work in the morning, but also perhaps mesmerized by the actual phenomenon.
I myself have trouble sleeping as it is, so in this circumstance, will I even be able to? I suffer from bouts of insomnia. Sometimes I lie awake at night for hours, the clock going from 3 to 4 to 5, my eyes hurting but my body not giving in. The idea of a group sleepover gives me some anxiety: will it be weird if I can’t sleep? Can I read? Will anyone mind the dim light of my Kindle? Or is this a faux pas? Surely it would be rude to read during a normal concert – anything besides the program notes they hand you, anyway. But this is certainly not a normal concert. On the contrary!
I think about the idea of sleeping, how intimate it is. Somehow it’s even more intimate than sex. Like, I could have sex with a stranger, but to share my bed with her? This is somehow harder. Everyone for this event is provided their own bed. All I can picture is a summer camp bunk situation, or a military room full of cots next to each other. But in the Kraftwerk building, a hollowed out industrial space, I wonder… Strangers will be right next to me, I guess. Do I want to be near friends? Or do I want to retreat completely into my own experience?
There are lots of things to think about with this event, which is why it’s so interesting. Ultimately, it is about letting go of all of these thoughts, letting the music wash over you, giving in to the greater energy and being present, relaxed, restful. It seems so cool. Granted, it probably won’t be the most restful night, and could even be uncomfortable. Not to mention the sticker shock: tickets are €48. But: the memory will last a lifetime!
Okay, the night has arrived. I get to the venue around 22:30 and there’s a queue. I wait. I’ve borrowed a friend’s sleeping bag. I enter. I queue again, this time for a bed assignment. I wish I knew the layout, how each bed was situated to the stage. But will that even matter? No, it doesn’t really matter. It would be nice to have one of these VIP beds that are lofted, more proper. Instead I have one of the basic cots – not much in terms of luxury. But I’m not here for the luxury. I get a drink. I people-watch. I put on my pajamas and brush my teeth. I take a Xanax. This part is fun, everyone abuzz, anticipating. There’s something more wholesome about this experience in contrast to the usual all-night Berlin activities. And people seem to savor it.
Max Richter takes the microphone just before midnight. He’s excited about this world premiere event. He composed this piece in Berlin, so it’s fitting that he plays it here first. Everyone is excited. He sits at the piano, his small ensemble in a half-circle next to him, a blue light washing over the stage. He begins to play – the softest of notes over and over and over. For twenty minutes, just the same progression. Everyone takes pictures. There are official cmaera crews. It feels special. The whole thing is lovely and amazing.
People start to get in their beds. Most people are already lying down. I walk around, try to feel each part of the building. I’m in no rush and the music relaxes me. Eventually I get in my sleeping bag, take note of the other souls around me who aren’t quite ready for sleeping. We listen to the music, the the violins, to a woman vocalizing. No words. It goes on for hours. It’s 2am.
I read. I post to Instagram. I check Facebook and Reddit and all the normal things I’d do in bed. Well, not everything… And then I read some more. Am I tired? Can I sleep? I’m not the most comfortable, I’m not exactly lulled. The music is pretty but it’s loud. The speakers resonate. I feel them in my body. It’s nice. But instead of slumber, I find myself in an odd state of mind, somehow adrift. I’m thinking about rest, about routine, about getting enough sleep.
I feel fortunate that I don’t have to be at an office at 9am, and fortunate still for my own bed, my own routine. This feels like camping, like some rare activity that reminds you how nice normal life is. I’m aware of it, somehow craving it. Instead, I’m in this strange, cavernous building, surrounded by similarly adventurous people, none of us knowing what to expect, what to do. There’s tea and coffee downstairs but I don’t feel like getting up. I’m in limbo, in a daze, half-conscious. I nod off, then awake again by all the sounds around me. I keep my eyes closed and go with the music.