Release Date: Jul 15, 2014
Record label: DG Deutsche Grammophon
Genre(s): Classical, Avant-Garde, Classical Crossover, Chamber Music, Modern Composition, Minimalism
If your heartbeat were a conductor's baton, it would be an exasperating master—lagging a millisecond here, quickening two paces there. Think of your own as heard through a doctor's stethoscope: mine always speeds up, as if the doctor and I have caught it dawdling. Richard Reed Parry, the multi-instrumentalist for Arcade Fire and a composer as well, keys into this most basic of all rhythms for Music for Heart and Breath, his first full album of classical compositions.
Richard Reed Parry is one of the members of the monstrously successful Montreal rock band Arcade Fire. That said, try this album out on a friend without identifying the composer, and s/he will be unlikely to guess that it comes from any kind of rock-to-classical crossover background. Parry was not classically trained but had frequent exposure to classical music in his youth, and the music is notated and possessed of an economy and a structural orientation rare in a composer coming from the top echelons of the rock world.
The Richard Reed Parry releasing this album of biologically inspired classical music, is, of course, the same Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire. The idea behind his full debut is to have performers involved, who include Nico Muhly, The National’s Dessner twins, yMusic and Kronos Quartet, who play wearing stethoscopes so they keep in time not with the conductor but their own pulse and breathing rate. An interesting idea, for sure, but such contrivances don’t always make for enjoyable listening.
Notes fall softly, plucked or stroked. Violins, cellos, brass instruments softly weezing, single piano keys gently depressed to embroider a minimalist sonic tableau. As much Jackson Pollock as Bill Evans, the hushed pointillism is beyond evocative. Puddles of piano, ribbons of strings all suggesting emotions that defy definition.
You may or may not know Richard Reed Parry as the lean, pointed gentleman who yelps things from behind a double bass in Arcade Fire. Travelling the globe with his orchestral-rock cohorts and whipping up stadium-sized audiences into a communal, riotous frenzy has been Parry's bread-and-butter for 10 years now. But if "community" and a sense of "togetherness" are the hallmarks of his day job, then Heart and Breath represents a chance to get away from that altogether.