Deceptive Cadence
6:52 am
Sun July 13, 2014

Richard Reed Parry Turns Musicians Into Metronomes

Originally published on Mon July 14, 2014 5:35 am

Richard Reed Parry is famous for making music sound big. As a core member of Arcade Fire, the Grammy-winning indie rock group from Montreal, he wields multiple instruments to help create deep, layered textures in which strings and synthesizers, slow ballads and disco dance tracks are all at home.

Parry's first solo album is a departure even from that broad sound. It's a collection of classical compositions featuring Nico Muhly, the yMusic ensemble and the Kronos Quartet. The album is called Music for Heart and Breath, and as Parry tells Weekend Edition Sunday, the title advertises the daring concept that holds the album together: the musician's body as metronome.

"Every note, and everything that any of the musicians plays, is played either in sync with the heartbeat of that player, or with their breathing, or with the breathing of another player," Parry explains. "You have a stethoscope and you have an Ace bandage. The Ace bandage is wrapped around your chest, and it presses the stethoscope to your heart."

From there, the players do their best to keep track of their internal rhythms with one ear and their instruments with the other — quite the challenge, Parry says, especially in live performance, wherein simply stepping on a stage tends to speed a performer's pulse.

"It's definitely an un-intuitive way of playing music," he says. "Which is funny, considering that it's in some ways it's the most intuitive musical reference point that anybody could have."

Hear the full interview with NPR's Arun Rath at the audio link.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Richard Reed Parry is famous for this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REFLEKTOR")

ARCADE FIRE: (Singing) I thought I found a way to enter. It's just a reflektor. It's just a reflektor. I thought I found the connector. It's just a reflektor. It's just a reflektor. It's just a reflektor.

RATH: That's Arcade Fire, the Grammy award-winning indie rock group whose fourth album "Reflektor" came out last October. We're hearing the title cut from that album. Richard Reed Parry helped create the band's deep, layered sound, in which strings and synthesizers, slow ballads and disco dance tracks are all at home. But his first solo album is a departure from even that broad sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF RICHARD REED PARRY SONG, "MUSIC FOR HEART AND BREATH")

RATH: Richard Reed Parry's new project is called "Music For Heart And Breath." It's a collection of classical compositions, featuring Nico Muhly, the yMusic sextet and the Kronos Quartet. Richard Reed Parry joins us from Montreal. Thanks for being with us.

RICHARD REED PARRY: Hello, there.

RATH: Before we get to the concept behind this album, I want people to hear some more from the new album. This is called "Duet For Heart And Breath."

(SOUNDBITE OF RICHARD REED PARRY SONG, "DUET FOR HEART AND BREATH")

RATH: So there's a reason you didn't title this Duet For Viola And Piano. Can you explain the concept for "Duet For Heart And Breath"?

PARRY: Yeah, well, the concept for the duet, as is the concept for the entire record, is that every note and everything that any of the musicians plays is played either in sync with the heartbeat of that player or with their breathing or with the breathing of another player. And it depends piece-to-piece what exactly is happening. But in that particular piece, that duet, that's just two instruments, the piano and the viola. And the piano is playing in sync with his heartbeat, and the viola is just playing in sync with her breathing.

(SOUNDBITE OF RICHARD REED PARRY SONG, "DUET FOR HEART AND BREATH")

RATH: How do you keep track of the heartbeat as you're playing? Do you have, you know, telemetry set up for the performers?

PARRY: You have a stethoscope, and you have an Ace bandage. (Laughing) And the Ace bandage is wrapped around you chest and it presses the stethoscope to your heart. And you try your best to keep track of that in one ear while you listen to yourself playing and the people around you playing with the other ear, which is quite challenging.

RATH: Here's the question I've been dying to ask you since I listened to this record; is it my imagination, or do the musicians 'heartbeat start to sync up as the music goes along?

PARRY: They seem to do that, yeah. (Laughing) And the funny thing is that it happened during the recording process. The more that you sit with a piece and play it over and over and over again, people are very calm. And people are literally getting in sync with each other, you know? And when we play it live, it's, A, much quicker and, B, a much more of sync with itself, which...

RATH: Because they're more nervous and their heart rates go up?

PARRY: Yeah, because as soon as you step on a stage, your heart rate goes up. And we've had - you know, I remember the first time we rehearsed the piece "Interruptions For Heart And Breath," and I think we clocked in at about 25 minutes. And then when we got it on stage and played it, it was about 18 or 19 minutes, which by any kind of music standards, that's a pretty dramatic difference between rehearsal and performance.

RATH: Now, musicians, as far as I know, haven't been asked to do something like that - to work with their own rhythms, their own body rhythms. Was it hard for the musicians to do that when you worked with them?

PARRY: It is hard. It's a - I mean, it's definitely an unintuitive way of playing music, which is funny, considering that it's the most intuitive - in some ways, it's the most intuitive musical reference point that anybody could have. But it's actually quite counterintuitive for musicians who have that many years of study behind them, doing things in a certain way, using their breathing and their body in a certain way. You sort of have to relinquish a certain amount of control.

RATH: The Kronos Quartet, you know, they're of course a string quartet that's known for taking on unusual avant-garde kind of pieces. Let's hear a bit of them playing "Quartet For Heart And Breath."

(SOUNDBITE OF RICHARD REED PARRY SONG, "QUARTET FOR HEART AND BREATH")

RATH: Richard, in this piece when you have four musicians all playing at the same time, who - how does it work? What is the structure? Is one person leading with their biorhythms?

PARRY: Yeah. It works in a handful of different ways. And actually, that Kronos piace was actually the first ensemble piece that I wrote after writing the duet. And I wanted - as I was exploring it for the first time writing for a bigger ensemble, I really had some sense that I wanted it to be very egalitarian and I wanted everybody to get to lead and everybody to get to follow and everyone to play their heartbeat and everybody to also get to play their own breathing and then play to someone else's and - so basically, yeah, it has different leaders at different times.

(SOUNDBITE OF RICHARD REED PARRY SONG, "QUARTET FOR HEART AND BREATH")

RATH: Now that you've completed this project, you're working with some of the heavyweights in the classical world. I'm wondering where you see your music going forward, if you're going to balance the composition with your work with Arcade Fire or pick one direction over another?

PARRY: I'm going to try my darndest to balance it all because Arcade Fire really had this sort of runaway success trajectory that immediately made it the priority in my life, just in terms of time and effort and energy. But it was really never my intention to just be a rock 'n roll musician. I already have a plan for what the second volume of "Music For Heart And Breath" is going to be 'cause I think it's a really unique way of writing music. And I'm really happy that nobody did it before me so that I get to explore it more.

RATH: Well, look forward to hearing what you come up with next. That's Richard Reed Parry. His new album is called "Music For Heart And Breath." He joined us from the CBC in Montreal. Richard, thanks again.

PARRY: Really nice to talk to you.

RATH: And you can stream a track from "Music For Heart And Breath" at npr.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Arun Rath. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.