Can breathing become music? Would it even sound good? Ka Baird's entrancing LP makes a compelling case.
Respires, Baird's latest album, is enveloping and overwhelming. Her breath, recorded at close range and often oscillating quickly between the left and right channels, becomes sweeping and absorbant, augmented with electronics and sparse instrumentation that add to the feeling of disorientation. Listening on headphones, one can hear looped flutes shooting back and forth, darting melodies braiding over each other. Short gasps coalesce into propulsive rhythmic patterns, which shift and mutate around the listener. One of Respires' definitive features is Baird's ability to make each sound seem omnidirectional, emerging from many angles in quick succession.
When Baird performs live, she often creates these effects by moving her body around the microphone, or moving the microphone around her body. The video for "Spiritus Operis," which shows her expressively performing on a beach, is a prime example of how she embodies her music—it comes from a physical place despite its abstracted nature. That tension between the corporeal and illusory, the tangible made unrecognizable, is a big part of what makes this music feel profound. These dual concepts also inform club music—the club is a space where synthesized sounds encourage movement in the real world—but Baird makes it feel novel through her more psychedelic approach, allowing us to witness a basic human act turned into kaleidoscopic constellations of sound.
The blurring of acoustic and electronic sound sources also defines Respires. On "Azha," featuring Andrew Fitzpatrick on electronics, whiplash cuts between Baird's flute and synthesizers resemble hocketing, the hypnotic melodic line split between both elements in such a frenetic way that they seem to act as one voice. "Storms Stay Fine" opens with unsteady synth bass tones floating in and out of tune with each other, creating rippling, wave-like effects, before being joined by the more granular sound of an upright bass, adding timbral depth. "Symanimagenic" juxtaposes the sound of Baird's smacking lips with frenzied synthesizer sputterings. They become one perplexing jumble.
There are few comprehensive touchpoints for Baird's music, though the quadraphonic vocal experiments of Joan La Barbara, or even certain moments in Scott Walker's later work, come close in that they are equally experimental and expressive. Although it is mystifying and complex, Respires is not difficult in the way so much electroacoustic experimentation can be. It is a singular work because it turns a universal bodily function into a spectral force, both deeply human and otherworldly, pointing beyond by looking within.