Kronos Quartet / Nico Muhly / yMusic

Richard Reed Parry: Music for Heart and Breath

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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 title Music for Heart and Breath refers to the fact that the performers determine the tempo of the music by referring to their own heartbeats and breathing, not in a general way but wearing stethoscopes to put themselves in close touch with their own rhythms. The instrumental contributions are seen as elaborations of these basic beats. One is reminded of Moondog's recollection of the Arapaho music he heard as a youth: "the running beat, and alongside it the walking beat, which is also the universal heartbeat." The booklet makes the grandiose claim that Parry is "slowly creating a new paradigm." Moondog aside, the analogy of music with breathing or with heartbeats is hardly new, and Parry draws on minimalist composers from Steve Reich to Arvo Pärt. The pieces tend to sound similar to one another; the genius of Reich and Philip Glass is that, no matter how simple the music may be, each work remains distinctive. Still, Parry doesn't sound precisely like anyone else, either, and for an initial attempt this is pretty impressive. His textures are not continuous like those of most of the minimalists; the music is divided into short phrases that are like conversational utterances, and some of the textures -- hear the glissandi in the concerto-like For heart, breath, and orchestra (track 3) -- are quite evocative. The whole thing succeeds as a sort of night music, and Parry's engineering team, sending the music rock-style among several different studios, gets superb results.

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