RICHARD REED PARRY
Music of the spheres: it’s a term that refers to the universal harmony generated by celestial bodies in orbit, but it means something different to Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry. His musical spheres are floating worlds, 360° embodiments of memory, VR renditions of old family photos. These spheres not only served as metaphorical inspiration for the lyrics of his new project, Quiet River of Dust, but appear throughout the album artwork and, most strikingly, in the films Parry made to be projected in planetarium-style domes to accompany live performances of this music. “It was an idea of a floating world of memory and of a time that only exists insofar as you’re able to revisit it in your memory,” he explains. “But when you do, it becomes so all-encompassing and immersive that it’s like you’re stepping into this other world every time.” That’s as true of his music as it is of any of its visual representations.
The first volume of Quiet River of Dust was released on the autumn equinox of 2018; this second volume, out on the summer solstice of 2019, was created at the same time. Both volumes bleed into one another, by design. “It feels like a multi-sided window to me,” says Parry, “a different view into this prismatic song world.” Japanese folk myths, death poems and British folk music are tributaries flowing into a river of late-20th century avant-garde composition and traditional song craft, written and performed by a member of a Grammy-winning rock band. This is a meditative, widescreen musical experience with Beach Boy harmonies and a hypnotic pulse. Layered songs that move in a linear fashion, following a current rather than circular composition.
The genesis of these songs came after Arcade Fire’s first tour of Japan in February 2008. Parry stayed on for weeks after the last show, heading to a monastery for some solace in “the biggest silence you’ve ever heard.” One day he was walking alone in a massive, snow-covered cedar forest when he heard distant voices, voices that sounded a lot like his father’s folk group back in Toronto, Friends of Fiddlers Green. (Parry was 17 when his father died in 1995.) “There was no reason for something to sound like full-throated, British-Isle folk singing there,” he recalls. “I walked and walked but I could never get closer to where the music was coming from.” He started writing meditative songs about mortality. On a later trip to Japan, he discovered the “River of Death,” a body of water understood in pre-Buddhist Japanese culture to be a liminal space between life and an afterlife.
The two halves of Quiet River of Dust are meant to represent each side of that river. Vol. 2 is more interior, says Parry, dealing with the murky waters of memory and the unconscious mind.
The music owes debts to that of his father, but Parry didn’t want to write in a traditional British Isles folk style. Nor did he want to create the kind of pop songs to which tens of thousands of people could sing along, as he does with Arcade Fire. That band’s landmark 2004 debut, Funeral, made a grandiose statement through big, bold gestures; Quiet River of Dust does the same, with vertical layers of sonic architecture, but with the inverse approach: small, soft and gentle, though just as grand. Parry wanted to create a tangible aural garden of rapturous colours that invite exploration, an immersive experience.