As a gigantic Arcade Fire fan, my heart grew 10 sizes when I found out about Richard Reed Parry’s Music for Heart and Breath, an album of original compositions. When I actually heard the music and learned about the inspiration for the pieces, I was knocked over like I haven’t been in the longest time.
The musical conceptualization of this album comes from the heart – literally. Each of the six pieces requires involuntarily moving organs of the body to dictate the tempi and rhythms. How, you may wonder, does one determine those speeds?
Paging Doctor Beat. We’ll need your stethoscopes.
Each musician is instructed to play with a stethoscope (and consequently, at a soft dynamic level) in order to be exactly in sync with his or her own heartbeat. The variety in ebb and flow between the players’ pulses creates a pointillistic effect – in many instances on the album is like that of a relaxing rainfall – that will undoubtedly never sound exactly the same in two different instances.
In fact, the nature of the performance situation can impart serious variation on the length of the piece. Rehearsals take significantly more time than performances. “Interruptions,” took 25 minutes to rehearse the first time, and only 19 minutes to perform. Thanks, adrenaline!
The album journeys between instrumentation varieties and sizes and features an all-star cast of musicians: yMusic, Kronos Quartet, Nico Muhly, Nadia Sirota, and Bryce & Aaron Dessner. The smallest group is a duet; the largest a 14-member chamber orchestra, with sizes in between to keep depth of sound and dynamic range at varying levels.
Quartet for Heart and Breath
Interruptions (Heart and Breath Nonet): Miniature I
Interruptions (Heart and Breath Nonet): String Peaks
Interruptions (Heart and Breath Nonet): Wind’s Idea
Interruptions (Heart and Breath Nonet): Miniature II
Interruptions (Heart and Breath Nonet): Sticks/Tension
Interruptions (Heart and Breath Nonet): French Guitars
Interruptions (Heart and Breath Nonet): Freeform Winds/String Drones
Duet for Heart and Breath
Quartet for Heart and Breath (for Kronos)
While Parry doesn’t have formal training in classical music, he comes from a family of musicians and enjoys music from Machaut to Debussy to Ligety to Reich. Influences from all of those composers are hinted at here and there throughout the disc. Parry presents himself as an extremely well-rounded musician and a revolutionary way of conceiving time and imparting creative innovation into the realm of music performed on orchestral instruments.
I think Parry sums it up best with this lovely phrase, “I think there’s something quite beautiful about the idea of trying to literally play your heart out.”