Breathing Room 2 (1990)

2-channel audio, bottles and audience
by Hildegard Westerkamp
Premiere: April 1990, Surrey Arts Centre, Surrey, BC, Canada

Length: 11:20

Breathing Room (2)
is an adaptation of Desertwind, first movement of Music from the Zone of Silence, created specifically for a performance at the Surrey Arts Centre in April, 1990. It occured during an exhibition called "Material Essence" and included The Guest, a sculpture by John Clair Watts.

As the audience entered, the sound of breathing was audible. It came from the above-mentioned sculpture in the next room: a microphone picked up and broadcast a subtle breathing sound that the sculpture made while contracting and expanding. In addition each audience member had been given a tuned bottle to blow into during the duration of the piece. Breathing Room (2) opened the performance and was meant as a way for all of us to catch our breath and settle into the space.

The tape portion of the piece formed the ambience to these various breathing sounds. It consisted of various forms of wind - recorded in the Zone of Silence, a desert in North Eastern Mexico - mixed with the sound of air blowing on tuned bottles.


While in the desert I had tuned empty beer and tequilla bottles and covered them with rocks, until only the openings of the bottles were visible. As I was piling up the rocks in a fairly random fashion around the bottles the shape of a turtle emerged. The whole process took me about four days and while I was carrying rocks, the wind played its music on the bottles. The sound was surprisingly quiet, but it became a soothing, slightly haunting accompaniment to my work. The longer I worked the more clearly I could hear the "music". I internalized it to such an extent that I could hear it in my inner ear long after I had left the place. Because it only occurred in strong and gusty wind I was never able to record its sound. I therefore simulated this experience by blowing on tuned bottles in my studio, recording the sounds and mixing them, with the memory of "the turtle sounds" in mind.

The combination of the desertwind on tape, the breathing sounds from the sculpture, the tones from tuned bottles on tape and produced live by audience members, created a calming but intense sense of air moving in the Surrey Arts Centre.