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A rewilding in sound

Breathing Space is an evocative sound installation created for the National Museum's Garden of Australian Dreams by renowned musician and composer Genevieve Lacey.

Breathing Space is a creative oasis of quiet reverberations revealing the calls, tremulations and deep stirrings of Country. The ABC Classic Breathing Space CD is a distillation of its soundtrack and is currently nominated for a 2023 Aria award in the Classic Album category.

Paying homage to the deep time and ecological abundance of our continent, the ancient, vibrant cultures of First Nations Australians and the waves of migration that have shaped the land, Breathing Space changes subtly, hour by hour, day by day, season by season.

About the composer

Genevieve Lacey is an Australian composer and recorder virtuoso who connects people and ideas through sound. Her poetic, musical works and performances are experienced worldwide in concert halls and theatres, as public art and in the digital realm.


The composition features over 40 instruments ranging from pipe organ, voice and harp, through kora, theorbo and Chinese gongs, to chickpeas, pebbles and even sticky tape.

Some of the field recordings integrated into Breathing Space capture the sounds of crickets, frogs, possums, koalas and whooshing and popping recorded deep inside living trees.

A musical scaffold of four pitches: B, C, D and F are used throughout and the whole piece is built on recurring forms of drone and tremolo sounds. Wave-like phrases emerge from silence, gradually build and peak, and then disappear.


Once all the recordings were made, composer Genevieve Lacey spent months conceiving and refining the vast compositional structure, weaving together all the elements. Recordings were fractured into tiny phrases, or extended in long loops, or both. They were layered and abstracted, often with up to 60 sound elements running simultaneously in one composition.

The architecture of the Garden of Australian Dreams influenced the sound of Breathing Space with each of the six long-form compositions created in response to and in the context of six sites. The specific acoustic of the built environment is also suited to higher-frequency instruments and sounds reflected in the composition.

The compositions are ‘planted’ and emerge from 31 speakers embedded in paths and walls across the Garden.

Breathing Space is designed to be heard both in passing and pausing. Six zones – field, living room, bush, cloister, trees and tunnel – each with its own cast of musical and natural characters, join to create a gallery of sound.


Field is a gathering place of sound featuring elements of all the zones overlaid by the voice of Yorta Yorta Dja Dja Wurrung artist Lou Bennett speaking the words of Alexis Wright and singing a Yorta Yorta response – imilang, yinya (‘here/now’ and ‘light’).

Living room

The living room is filled with the sound of vocals and plucked strings from the qanun, guzheng, theorbo and guitar that reverberate inside the space before falling away at the end of each hour.


Bush is composed of frog calls accompanied by passages of music and whip bird calls created on violin, viola and kora.


Cloister echoes with the whispered words of Alexis Wright, singing, organ solos and the sounds of wind, gongs and percussion instruments.


Trees is characterised by the buzzing and clicking of cicadas, underpinned by drifts of a vocal solo by Sunny Kim. In summer, the cicada sounds are from field recordings. In winter, they are mimicked by percussion instruments.


Tunnel interweaves trumpet and harp solos by Phil Slater and Marshall McGuire; drone sounds; owl, koala and possum calls; and subterranean stirrings and rumblings.

The Breathing Space soundtrack is available via ABC Classic. Buy the CD at the Museum Shop.

A single white earbud.

For people who are hard of hearing this audio loop was designed by the Breathing Space team to enhance their experience in the physical space. Available from 9am to 1am Canberra local time daily.

Experience some of the individual sounds and instruments that make up Breathing Space.

Baroque guitar

Cicada chorus




Wind wand

Layer upon layer

Join Breathing Space composer, Genevieve Lacey, as she explores the six zones in the Garden and discusses the diversity of sounds and instruments that combine to create this sonic rewilding.

Breathing Space 5:15


Breathing Space was commissioned by the National Museum of Australia, with support from UKARIA, Playking, Australia Council for the Arts, Creative Victoria and City of Melbourne.

Logos for ABC Classic, Australia Council for the Arts, Ukaria, Creative Victoria, Playking Foundation, Additive and Arts & Parts.

The Museum is also grateful to donors who supported the acquisition of Breathing Space through the Museum’s 2023 Annual Appeal.

ABC Classic

Read the Museum's media release on Breathing Space.

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