TORONTO – When Richard Reed Parry needs a break from touring with Arcade Fire he looks inward.
Parry’s latest project is “Music for Heart and Breath,” an album of instrumental compositions that uses the heartbeats and breathing patterns of the musicians performing to provide the rhythm for each piece.
He first wrote music using the body’s involuntary movements while he was on a month-long break from Arcade Fire’s 2005 tour. Parry had a few musicians at the Banff Centre use stethescopes to tune in to their own heartbeats and breathing patterns, timing the movement of their instruments to their own natural rhythms.
“I wrote it in a single afternoon and really loved the effect that it had,” said Parry on Friday as Arcade Fire prepared to perform in Toronto. “I spent the next few years listening to that, over and over again and just loving it and thinking ‘oh, I’ve got to get back to this, this idea feels like it has so much potential in it.’
“But it was a few years before I got to write anything more.”
That first track became a refuge for Parry while he continued his tour with Arcade Fire and stuck with him as a concept that deserved further exploration. Eventually he expanded the idea into a full album with performances by the National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner, yMusic, the Kronos Quartet, and Nico Muhly. “Music for Heart and Breath” was released by chamber music label Deutsche Grammaphon in July.
“It’s sort of a combination of just amazing players, people I admire, and people that are my good friends that I want to have excuses to write music for and spend time with,” said Parry, who wrote several of the tracks with particular musicians in mind.
Although the project took years to complete, Parry still finds the tracks to be soothing while Montreal’s Arcade Fire wraps up its lengthy tour promoting the album “Reflektor.”
“They have an effect on me still. They have a real calming effect on me,” said Parry. “Beyond calming, they really pull me into a more introverted state. They pull me inwards as a listener, into myself. Because I’m in the midst of a big, loud Arcade Fire tour right now, that’s actually something that feels great. I find myself gravitating towards or find myself needing, is music that will pull me more into an internal world.”
Parry is far from done with using heartbeats and breathing to animate his music.
“It feels quite like a rich musical vein that can really yield a lot more results,” said Parry. “I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface with this record. I don’t want to fall into a thing of just being a one-trick pony. You don’t want to paint yourself into a corner, but it feels like an idea that naturally generates a lot of results which is really exciting.
“It can generate a lot more complex results. There can be all sorts of ways to develop it and work with it and apply it and take this very basic simple technique but create all sorts of different ramifications.”
Recording musicians while they wear stethescopes can be difficult, but Parry said his performers enjoyed the challenge.
“You have to have an earpiece in your ear while you’re playing, which makes it completely different to listen to the music around you and to play music,” said Parry. “Having a thing in your ear, listening to your internal sounds at the same time you’re listening to your instrument and the instruments of the people around you and to be reading a score, it really divides your attention in a very challenging way.
“It’s quite challenging but it’s also a new way of performing in a way that people haven’t done before. Musicians often just want the challenge and are excited about doing things in new ways even if it’s cumbersome and a bit of a pain.”
Parry will continue his solo career in the fall after Arcade Fire’s tour is complete, doing live performances of “Music for Heart and Breath” in late September and early October. He is also writing a symphonic piece based on the rhythm of ocean waves due out in the spring.
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