The glowing critical response to Georg Friedrich Haas's in vain (2000) has focused particularly on the visceral effect created by Haas's use of ‘endless’ scales, richly saturated microtonal chords, and passages that take place in total darkness. Discussion of these features has often led reviewers and commentators to use forms of description and praise which evoke the old (but lately rejuvenated) aesthetic category of the sublime. This article explores these connections with sublime aesthetics in more detail as a way of clarifying both philosophical and interpretative perspectives on in vain. The idea of the sublime serves as a thread connecting aspects of spectral technique and aesthetics, the mathematical visions of M.C. Escher, and the charged socio-political context in which the work was written.