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Swartz: Respire

September 8, 2012

On the Bandcamp page for his new release, Steve Swartz calls Respire “a work that is delicate, intimate and, at times, visceral in nature.” I would agree, and to that add “frequently challenging.” The central idea is interesting. Swartz recorded himself and friends breathing in a quiet room. The sounds were then taken and processed and manipulated, always retaining the rise-and-fall rhythm of breath. Other instruments were added, and they too were played with that inhale/exhale motif in mind. The result is something of a mixed bag. When the idea works, it works magnificently. The second track, “Yours Mine Ours” is the textbook illustration. A bassline drone, sighing vocal samples and a sound like a harmonium (I assume it’s a guitar) rise and fall at different rates. In the back, lonely, plinking notes on a piano dot the flow. This is a warm and deep piece, comforting in its simplicity. The closer, “Breathe Out the Sea,” also balances the elements neatly, the breath sounds standing in for the hush of ocean waves as subtle drone-work pools around it. In spots, unfortunately, the breathing comes off sounding a little too much like someone’s on a respirator, a thick, Vader-esque hiss. For me, it’s distracting. And I feel it’s a problem that this is what makes up the majority of the opening track, “Butterfly Flaps Its Wings.” The endless rush of white sound is bound to be a barrier to listeners less in tune with very experimental concepts, or who simply lack musical patience. The tracks here are fairly long, with four out of five over ten minutes, so it can sometimes feel like a barrage. I like what Swatrz does in “Ocean Breath (313 Version),” with a percussive pulse and gritty guitar chords swimming against a strong undertow of noise, but its companion, “Ocean Breath,” is one of those breathing-machine pieces that tests the endurance. Respire is about 50/50 for me on the long tracks. I appreciate Swartz’s idea; I’ve just had trouble coming along for the full ride. Definitely worth checking out, moreso if you lean toward the experimental side.

Available from Bandcamp.

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