Listen above for the full story and to hear some spectral audio.
The companion article below is about why I wanted to write this piece of music. What’s the point of it?
I asked my voiceover colleague and great pal Taff Girdlestone to breathe for me - a totally normal thing to ask a mate to do for you, I’m sure you’ll agree.
I wanted to make a spectralist piece out of it. (Spectral music uses the acoustic properties of sound as the starting point for composition).
Taff generously obliged and sent me an audio file of him breathing.
There’s something extraordinary about listening to a person’s breath - when you hear them doing nothing but breathe.
It’s mostly unconscious, breathing. We rarely notice we’re doing it. Maybe we only think about breathing when it’s difficult to breathe.
As a voiceover (and an asthmatic who meditates), I think a lot about breath. Most of the time when I’m recording I’m trying not to breathe; I’m trying to to talk for as long as possible without interrupting the flow of a script. When I’m editing voiceover audio, I cut out breaths. Not enough to make me sound like an automaton but enough to shave a superfluous second or two off the final edit.
To me, there’s strength and vulnerability in the sound of someone breathing. There’s strength because it’s determined, dogged, tenacious; there’s vulnerability because our survival depends on our next breath, and our next, and our next.
Our lives are made up of individual breaths, strung together across a lifetime like beads on a string.
When I first heard the audio file Taff sent me, I felt oddly moved.
Here was my friend in raw corporeal form: a body, being sustained one precious breath at a time.
Listening to him breathing sparked curious realisations: it reminded me that we’re alive. That we’re all subject to our biology. That inside us are bones, muscles, lungs.
No matter who we are, where we’re from or how rich or powerful we are, we all - obviously - have to breathe. We all have physical vulnerability in common. Many of us live in daily denial of our bodily fragility. We are all, really, bodies trying to survive.
Having made this audio, I realise I need to treat my body with more respect. I should do my yoga practice as often as possible. I should move more, nourish myself better, rest more fully. I should live breath by breath, moment by moment; not dwelling on what’s happened in the past, not being scared of an uncertain future.
If I’m OK in this breath in this moment, I’m OK. And if I’m not, the next breath offers an opportunity for me to reset. Every breath is a new beginning, a new chance to live.
Perhaps this is part of my reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, when breath and breathing was all we talked about. For a while, breathing was the focus of our way of life. Should we wear masks to protect us from breath? How close should we stand to someone in case our breathing space overlaps? Should we be close enough to hear them breathing? Feel them breathing?
My job as a voiceover is mostly about words: reading, writing, recording, hearing and saying words.
By working with audio recordings of an embodied human being which are empty of verbalised words, I was able to create a narrative based purely on sound. I attached meaning to the audio by applying structure and production techniques.
But the piece is ambiguous. Who is the guy who’s breathing? Where is he? What has he been doing? What is he about to say?
All we know for sure is that - like all of us right here, right now - he’s alive. He’s surviving. And there’s something wonderful in the sound of that.
If you’ve not heard it already, have a listen to the audio at the top of the page.
The piece is called BREATH AND BONE.
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