Sound Seekers by Fateema Sayani is published weekly at OttawaMagazine.com. Read Fateema Sayani’s culture column in Ottawa Magazine and follow her on Twitter @fateemasayani
A few years ago, chamber music was having an “it” moment. It’s when musicians in hip bands were taking methods from the symphony and applying them to their indie rock outfits. Guitar rock was writ large with the addition of string sections and in discussions of this genre of music, critics were referencing early crossover bands, such as the Kronos Quartet.
Central to that movement was a Montreal chamber rock band called Bell Orchestre that won a 2011 Juno Award for Best Instrumental Album. The six-piece was co-founded in 2006 by Richard Reed Parry, an Ottawa native who went to Canterbury High School in the 1990s and is likely better known as the bass player for super-band Arcade Fire.
The on-stage frenziness of Arcade Fire hasn’t dulled Parry’s interest in quieter sounds; he’s continued to pursue his musical interests outside of AF’s international touring schedule. Recently, Parry composed a cycle of songs called “Music for Heart and Breath.” It will be performed this weekend as part of the Ottawa Chamberfest’s late night series by a group of musicians including Parry, Mike Dubue of Ottawa band Hilotrons, and members of Warhol Dervish, a Montreal chamber collective founded by viola player Pemi Paull, a classmate of Parry’s from Canterbury High.
Each song in the cycle varies in length from six to 20 minutes and they are cast with different ensembles: a duet, a trio, and so on. The compositions in “Music for Heart and Breath” have no tempo — the pacing is created by the musicians who are playing the scores in time with their own heart rate or breath. In some instances, musicians are wearing stethoscopes on stage in order to hear their heartbeat.
“The [song cycle] brings you to an intimate, quiet space,” Parry says. “You have an awareness of how your body lines up with the music.”
Parry says it leads to a deeper connectivity with your internal rhythms. He was interested in pursuing the idea of involuntary responses, as discussed by American music theorist John Cage. “It’s interesting for musicians to follow something other than their own training and ideas — it’s very much of you, yet not in your control,” Parry says.
Parry acknowledges that some of these ideas can come off as New Age-y or overly theoretical and was mindful of exploring the ideas, while still aiming to have a composition that was compelling and entirely listenable.
He says the performance isn’t rigid. There is a lot of starting and stopping as the musicians try to find their rhythm.
“It’s the same melody, but played at your own speed,” Parry explains. “You get these smeared, blurry lines of music coming together. It’s a beautiful thing to see that process.”
Richard Reed Parry and Warhol Dervish perform at the Saint Brigid’s Centre for the Arts, Saturday, Aug. 4, 9:30 p.m., $25, www.ottawachamberfest.com/concerts.