Review: SWARTZ et – Respire

Respire can be seen as the amplification of life and relationships – a physicalisation of both the existence of the individual and the existence of communication between bodies and minds. Its premise (the artist and a group of friends sharing a small room together and breathing into microphones, with additional instrumentation added later) conjures the expectation of a very quiet, reflective work; one that lets silence and contemplation linger between each intake and expulsion. And while Respire is not without stretches of serenity and gentle meditation, the album is most outstanding for its ability to visceralise the breath, bringing to attention not only breathing as an essential process for life, but as heave and fro of energy exchange that derives itself in the flex and contraction of flesh and muscle.

“Butterfly Flaps Its Wings” is the opening track, and perhaps the most blatant exploration into the forces at play within the inhale/exhale cycle. It’s as if the listener has crawled up inside the nostril of a monolithic creature, with each breath in (undoubtedly through the nose) arriving as a sharp and elongated gust, with each slight dynamic quiver and nasal whistle amplified from intricate details into shape-defining characteristics. The sound of one breath gradually grows into the sound of many, blurring its predictable tidal return into a tornado of blustery noise, tossing the listener in every direction at once. Yet step back from the fantasy and take the sound for what it is – the breaths of several people sharing the same space – and Respire becomes arresting for its intimacy; the cosy trading of air particles, the gathering of individual life forms into a community, and the ability of friends to relish in the meditative communication of the unspoken.

Interesting to note is that the accompanying instruments (piano, guitar and others) were utilised so as to mimic and draw from the qualities of respiration. For example, “Yours Mine Ours” strips the attack from soft guitar resonances so that a major chord sways in and out, tracing the rhythm and tempo of the breath noise running along side it, while a piano tinkles gently between two notes as if swaying like a pendulum and chinking against surrounding surfaces. However, these layers are sparingly applied throughout – focus on Respire’s central sound source is always maintained, as Swartz Et’s work see-saws between the escapism of its surreality and its gorgeous basis in one of life’s core processes.