Breathing Instruments Double LP
Breathing Instruments is a tribute to the breath in its many forms: human and animal respiration, sound patterns and rhythms made by wind, plants, and water, and our attempts to recreate it.
Featuring: Dim Arc, Sunmoonstar, Emily A. Sprague, Fools, Cool Maritime, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Constant Shapes, Kathryn Shuman, Jeremiah Chiu, Kacey Johansing, Julianna Barwick, Mary Lattimore, Geotic, Andy Strain, Bana Haffar & Úlfur.
Released Worldwide August 14th, 2020
Double LP / 33 RPM / Single Sleeve
Photography by Chantal Anderson
Design + Layout by Some All None
We must presume that the very first composed music was a direct human response to the natural world’s myriad rhythms. By this reasoning it follows that the human voice, capable of such deft mimicry, must also have been the first instrument. Repetitive patterns from bird songs to ocean tides to trees swaying and creaking in the wind are all around us, and merely await our attempts to recreate them. Then there are the rhythms of our own bodies, conducted in measure by the beating of our hearts and the respiration of our lungs. When we talk about catching or finding our breath, all we mean is tuning back into the basal rhythms we all possess. It’s logical that we circle back, using the instruments we’ve made, to then mimic the very breath that formed the basis of music in the first place. Newer technologies may have supplanted the prehistoric flutes made of vulture bones, but the elementary action is unchanged.
The directive for the composers featured on Breathing Instruments was, in effect, to accentuate the ways in which instruments sound like they are breathing. Some have recreated the literal experience of feeling or hearing the human breath. Others take a more abstract approach, where “breathing” is more motif than object of emulation.
Hushed pulsations and distant vocals in Kathryn Shuman’s “Objects” create a womb-like environment where a mother’s voice and heartbeat are all that seeps into the amniotic surroundings. The ensuing stage, of course, is birth, and Julianna Barwick’s blissful “Newborn” gives sonic form to the experience of emerging from the womb and taking one’s first breaths. Similarly, Sunmoonstar’s “Sleepy Dragon” is surely how seeing the world for the first time must sound, the fluttering of eyelids embodied by a lullaby of wind chimes. Dim Arc’s ruminative “Breeze Shapes” is an ascendant, spacious affair that answers the question, “what if Thomas Dolby produced an ambient album?”
In “Patience” Andy Strain’s elegiac trombone swells and contracts slowly amid gusts of wind, while Bana Haffar’s “Circulations” inhabits a similarly gusty space tempered with soft modular synth drones. Úlfur’s “Feathered” is kindred to both in its dirginess and introspection.
There is also a striking concurrence of woodland sounds throughout this collection. The ghostly vocal tones of Emily Sprague’s “Flew” are the rhythmic underpinning of synthesized sounds that conjure a forest, humid and glistening after the rain. The neo-Exotica of Constant Shapes’ “Wind Leaf Shimmer” is a stroll through a twittering jungle. “I Can See Your Voice Thru the Trees” by Fools forges an alternate, percussive path through the jungle, creating the heretofore unknown Venn Diagram of Don Ralke and Wally Badarou. If drops of dew wiggling on a fern leaf at dawn emitted sound perceptible to the human ear, “Daybreak” by Cool Maritime and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith might be it. Jeremiah Chiu’s “Poems One and Fourteen” is a dreamy walk through intervals of rain sheets. Mary Lattimore’s harp in “She Remembers Sitka” is the dynamic foil to a vibrating backdrop of rustling leaves and waves lapping at the shore. Kacey Johansing’s “Whales of Agate” likewise plants us at the shore, as the opening sound of waves give way to lilting acoustic melodies. The undulating seascape of Geotic’s “Uncaught” conjures moments of Evening Star by Fripp/Eno, but supplants that album’s crystalline production with the warm crackle of a vinyl record.
It’s noteworthy that a sense of meditation and tranquility is the most common thread on Breathing Instruments. The athletic huffing and puffing of sampled breaths on Kraftwerk’s “Tour de France” would be less of a touchstone here than the soft, circular, steam-valve propulsion of Wolfgang Voigt’s electronic project Gas. The latter is its own direct response to its composer’s psychedelic experiences in the forest as a youth, much as the music on this album takes inspiration from our more verdant environments and their inhabitants. If the oxygen produced by plants is our life force, then distinguishing “nature” from “humanity” is to speak of two parts of a whole in separate breaths. If we’ve learned anything from Breathing Instruments, it is that we are inextricable from the natural world. The paradox is that, in mimicking the world’s continuous soundtrack with our breath or our instruments, we are effectively just mimicking ourselves.