PROFILE: Richard Reed Parry & Susie Ibarra
The Arcade Fire multi-instrumentalist and avant composer discuss their unique approach to making music, composing an entire album remotely with their heart and breath rates. The project, HEART AND BREATH: RHYTHM AND TONE FIELDS, is available now.
(Photo Courtesy of Universal Music Canada)
ANTIART: For those readers unfamiliar with each of your respective solo and collaborative careers before doing this project, explain the artistic paths each of you took before ultimately coming together. What are your musical backgrounds generally speaking?
RICHARD REED PARRY: My background is all over the place - grew up in a traditional folk music community singing a lot, played in a rock band during and after high school, studied electro acoustics and contemporary dance in university, and at the same time started chamber/rock/improv ensemble Bell Orchestre at the same time as Arcade Fire was beginning and evolving, the latter band obviously became very well known and that became my life for a long time, but I’ve managed to keep very active in a huge range of solo composition as well as doing a lot of musical collaborations simultaneously to the band thing.
SUSIE IBARRA: Yes, I also have a hybrid practice of composing, performing, improvising, field and studio recording and creating sound sculptures and installations. Througout my grade school and high school growing up I played classical piano and sang in choirs and then later started with percussion in highschool, both informally in punk bands and with my family being around Philippine vocal, percussion and piano traditional and folkloric music. When I moved to NYC as a visual artist, I became immersed in jazz, Philippine and Indonesian southeast Asian gong music, as well as percussion music in general initially including classical/new music. Afro-Cuban and West African percussion as well.
AA: Tell us about the unique compositional components of this new record, specifically regarding the remote recording and incorporation of heart rates, rhythms and breath sounds. How did this idea come about and what was the process of recording like?
RRP: The initial idea of pairing Suzie and I together collaboratively actually came from Splice. Remarkably we never played music live together before making this record, and even during the recording we were never in the same room at the same time. The heart rates and breath rates idea is something I had musically explored earlier, but in more of a scored chamber music/orchestra context - I made an albums worth of compositions using this simple but also fairly limitless idea of using these fundamental internal human rhythms as musical guideposts for composition and performance. When the idea of collaborating with Suzie and creating some music was put forward, it seemed to me that using the same heart/breath concept but in more of an improvising context would be a really interesting and beautiful way to explore making music together remotely. I thought that the looseness of those bodily rhythms and the sort of drifty feel that it imbues the music with would work well with recording separately, over a distance. It uses the inherent “non-togetherness” we experienced as a strength, as a unifying musical cohesion.
SI: It seemed that we were both open and could be compatible to create something very unique. Richard invited me to begin trying things using the concept and ideas of creating music around our breath and heart rates. I do think it was something that could unify us as we moved through the early time of the pandemic and sending music tracks back and forth from our studios. I found it to be a gentle and organic process and way to step into the music and begin to weave and layer sounds that would shape compositions collectively. While being a new way to approach music it taps into essential foundations of how our bodies make and deliver sound and how these are essential elements to our lives in each moment.
AA: In the video that was released speaking about the project, you alluded to this idea of creating a “musical language” together. Was this a language that took some time to learn, or did it come pretty naturally from the start?
RRP: Both! It came very naturally right away when we started working, but of course it developed as we kept recording and exploring, and each new composition we created took on a very different and unique form from the last.
AA: On the suite that has been put out, “Field II: Slow Drift”, the bodily concept that is the thesis of the entire record seems to become very clear. Like the human body, it is made up of many moving parts that come together to form a cohesive flow. In other words, it is complex but ultimately relaxing. How do you feel this particular track speaks to the goal of your project?
SI: "Field II: Slow Drift", really feels like a slow drift to me. Within all of these moving parts there is distinct present and awareness without a heaviness. You can choose to focus on different sounds and parts at various moments and then drift back to perhaps one of the parts you were originally listening to.
RRP: Yes, there is definitely an organic and a simultaneous sort of simplicity/complexity happening at the same time, which feels like the right result for a body-based project and musical concept like this. I wanted it to be music that appeals to the body in some way which is direct and “unthinking” - or as you said, relaxing on some level. if it felt too heady and conceptual then I think we would’ve realized we’d taken a wrong turn at some point. That said, if you try and analyze what is happening in the music, knowing that every single element is being played directly in sync with either the breathing or the heart rate of one of the players at all times, there is a lot to notice and a lot to unpack in terms of how the pieces are structured and what is guiding each musical element forward.