Respire is built around the sound of human breathing. By using this resource, the artist creates a fascinating atmosphere for the listener, pleasantly similar to the sound of waves on pebbles and wind on the shore.
In composing the album, Swartz et (Detroit’s Steve Swartz) was wise in his choice to be selective rather than comprehensive. Here are some of the sounds the listener will not encounter: quickened, fearful breaths; moaning, sexual breaths; gasping, dying breaths. By concentrating on the even sounds of normal breathing, Swartz et seems to invent a new instrument, which is of course old: air not pushed through pumps, breath not blown through cylinders, but even and enticing. The sound of such breath may be fully human – most of us are breathing like this all the time – yet it is seldom noticed. Instead, we notice the breath that stands out: Darth Vader’s breath, Dennis Hopper’s Blue Velvet breath, the breath of high altitude climbers, the breath of an iron lung. This breath is more peaceful and passive: the breath of a loved one falling asleep, the breath of a baby in a crib.
This seems to be exactly what Swartz et had in mind while recording, as the artist enlisted the aid – or at least the breath – of a group of friends. One imagines that a future recording might serve as a physical family scrapbook: artist, spouse, friends and children. It’s an odd way to preserve memories, but wholly authentic, perhaps even more so than a photograph or video.
A light pulse on the opening track becomes much more noticeable on the second, as it is joined by a rising guitar drone. This pulse seems to connect the respiratory to the circulatory; in this context it clearly connotes a heart. By the third track, it is a heart: the artist’s heart, accompanying his breath. One can’t help but think of John Cage in the anechoic chamber, startled by the amplified sounds of his own body. A second version of the same piece (“Ocean Breath – 313 Version”) whistles like a wind tunnel or a dust storm, but again – it’s only breath. The final track adds piano and what might be snoring, except that it’s unlikely the artist fell asleep while recording.
While listening, one becomes aware of one’s own breath, and grateful. Swartz et has recorded a fine album from the simplest of ingredients, waiting all this time to be recognized as an instrument in its own right. (Richard Allen)