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August 4th: Arcade Fire's Richard Reed Parry at Ottawa Chamberfest

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Chamberfest 2012: The beating heart

Arcade Fire's Richard Reed Parry finds the music in the rhythm of life


AUGUST 1, 2012

The Warhol Dervish Chamber Music Collective

Warhol Dervish

What: The chamber music collective that will perform music by Richard Reed Perry that was written to correspond to the peformers’ breathing and heart rates. Perry will appear as a guest on double bass and piano.

When & where: Aug. 4 at 10:30 p.m., St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts, 310 St. Patrick St.

Chamberfest runs until Aug. 9. For more stories, reviews, and ticket information, see our Ottawa Festivals guide at ottawacitizen.com/festivals

Take a deep breath. Feel your heart beat. Now listen to the music.

That’s what Richard Reed Parry wants you to do when you hear his new chamber-music compositions at Chamberfest Ottawa on Aug. 4.

With his regular band, Montreal’s indie-rock darlings Arcade Fire, gearing up for a new album, bassist/multi-instrumentalist Parry has been exploring the softer end of the musical spectrum in a way that will make listeners tune in to their own bodies.

Over the last few years, he’s written a series of commissioned pieces based on the players’ breathing and/or heart rate. The avant-garde composition cycle, Music for Heart and Breath, will be performed by the eclectic Montreal-based chamber music collective, Warhol Dervish, featuring Parry as a guest on piano and double bass.

“It’s a collection of pieces where uncontrolled body impulses are what controls the music, in a way that’s not computer based,†said the 34-year-old, a graduate of Ottawa’s arts-focused Canterbury High School, during a recent phone interview. “It forces the players to actually be in synch with their biological involuntary rhythm, and it’s kind of a beautiful concept.â€

The musicians must wear stethoscopes at times, and it’s important for them to play with a gentle hand so they can hear their own pulse. Parry describes the result as sensitive and delicate, but challenging for the musicians because it goes against their formal training. One of the first things classical musicians learn is to control their breathing.

“There’s instructions that go with every piece, and the instructions have to do with not thinking about it in a performative sense, but in a listening sense,†he says. “I don’t have a lot of dynamics built into some of the pieces, and they’re instructed to follow what is there. It’s okay if your breathing is stronger, you play a bit stronger, and if it’s shallower, then you follow that. That’s the length of your notes and that’s the volume of your notes.â€

Parry has been writing the pieces over the last four years, the first originally commissioned by a festival of innovative chamber music in Cincinnati. Other pieces were commissioned by Kronos Quartet, Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony and New York’s Y Music ensemble. While the Ottawa performance is only the second time the entire cycle (except for the symphony piece) will be featured in one evening, there are plans to record the works this summer and release an album next year.

“I’ve been slowly creating the thing and moving forward with it, but now it’s at the point it’s a proper collection of music, it’s all bound together by this conceptual process and the technique of playing to body systems,†Parry says. “It’s exciting because it’s kind of a new way of writing music. It’s an idea that hasn’t been done before.â€

The initial inspiration struck him years ago while studying music at Concordia University in Montreal.

“A lot of the music I was learning at the time was totally unrelated to the body. It seemed very not related to the body in a lot of ways. It seemed like it was highly intellectual, kind of disconnected music. I found myself not being able to relate to it in any kind of intuitive musical way. And so I think the idea popped into my head, ‘Okay, what would be the opposite way of writing, the opposite experience to what I’m having right now. What would be the most intuitive and the most organic?’

“It just kind of occurred to me that using the involuntary subtle quiet rhythms and musical elements of our individual daily experiences seemed like it would maybe tap into something instantly. You tell somebody that’s what the music is, and they can personally relate to it on a fundamental physical level.â€

One of the challenges of the composition technique is that the pieces change slightly each time they’re played. “Because obviously everybody breathes at a different speed, and everybody’s heart beats at a different speed, the pieces are constructed so that it stays in sync with itself over time,†Parry says, “but obviously it’s a little different every time it’s played. And it’s always different between rehearsal and performance because breathing and heart rates get a little faster. It always seems like it’s a longer concert than it is when we’re rehearsing.â€

In concert, part of the beauty of it is that members of the audience find themselves becoming aware of their own breathing and heart rate. “People start to get really excited because they feel their own hearts and breathing synching to what’s going on,†Parry has observed. “They kind of find themselves drifting in and out of synch with the players, and the players find that, too. It’s a really beautiful, quiet experience where everybody’s on a similar page.â€

It bears little resemblance to the soaring rock music that Parry creates with Arcade Fire, the Grammy-winning band formed by the husband-and-wife duo of Win Butler and Regine Chassagne. Their fourth studio album is due next year.

“It’s definitely the extreme opposite of Arcade Fire’s world, which I think has been part of the appeal for me. What’s the most quiet and most delicate and most internal music that I could possibly make as a performer? How could the experience of performing be opposite from the rock band experience?â€

At the same time, however, the intuitive approach has informed his rock-band performance.

“There’s definitely a goal of awareness,†Parry says. “This particular music has the goal of bringing you more in touch with what’s going on when you’re performing, and even overriding your normal performative posture or responses.â€

© Copyright © The Ottawa Citizen

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