When I was young, I had severe asthma. Attacks flared up often and my parents struggled to control them: one minute I’d be playing outside and the next I’d be headed to the hospital, wheezing, my breathing heavy and labored.
My asthma began to ease up when I was four or five years old, and most of my memories are hazy. I do remember, however, how it felt to be strapped to the face mask that helped me inhale medication and return to normal breathing. The sound of my lungs felt amplified, with all its noisy drips and hisses, clinging to the determined hum of my breath. This struggle could be scary to listen to, so I would often focus on the pulse of my heartbeat, which sounded huge. As the medication kicked in, my heart-rate would accelerate, but I still used it as a regulating force.
Respirator is an attempt to turn those memories into music.
The pitched material of the piece — the “notes” — is sometimes heard only as a distant hum beneath a weight of instrumental grit and noise, and at other times is focused and clear. The “noise” is created by asking every musician to make sounds that obscure a single pure and discernible pitch (for example, wind players are asked to sing and play at the same time, the timpanist plays with cymbals on top of his drums, and the celli play with a wine cork wedged between two of their strings). Pitches come into focus along with the complexities of harmony, with all their implications and ambiguities. An enduring pulse regulates these sonic transformations from beginning to end.