There’s a moment in the life of every musician parent when one recognizes ~ or suddenly remembers ~ the musical properties of children’s toys. The moment may arrive as early as the rattle or squeaky toy, wait until the activity center or surface via an amalgamation of plastic percussion. There we are, having fun with our toddler, when we suddenly realize that we want to play the instrument more than he or she does!
Taw (Simon Proffitt and Owen Martell) call this “serious play,” although he alternate term “Fisher Price musique concrete” seems more appropriate. As the parent of an 18-month old, Priffitt has heard his home explode with seemingly random sounds while wondering if his son is discovering tempo or accidentally imitating it. Then Priffitt goes further than this, inviting his own friend over to improvise. One imagines little Priffitt crying because Daddy won’t let him into the room and is asking him to be quiet during the recording session! One can only imagine what a toddler might think while watching adults dump all their toys on the living room floor and not inviting them to participate in a wild rumpus. (We are assuming he has recovered by now, perhaps with the aid of ice cream.)
The cassette format is perfect for this sort of release, seeming the most like a toy (followed quickly by the hard, thick plastic of a child’s color record). One can picture some of these toys in “Jecs” ~ the Pop Goes the Weasel windup, the xylophone whose mallet comes attached, the wood block and toy drum. There also seems to be an ocean, although it’s hard to determine the source. Melodic without melody, this short piece makes a fine introduction. Yet as soon as we are entranced, we begin to wince, as the next piece begins with a high-pitched squeak that needs to be oiled. A pull toy, perhaps? One wishes to grow old enough not to be able to hear the pitch! Thankfully, midway through the piece, one of the artists starts playing wee cymbals and dropping all manner of toys, as if sifting for gold. Toward the end of “Dau,” the timbre grows thick and does indeed turn into an electro-acoustic, “serious” work. In short, no random toddler would produce combinations like these. A typewriter bell closes this piece, while a raucous rustle opens the next. My guess is a rain stick, although this sounds more like a really good rain stick, not one a typical toddler would have!
At 23 minutes, “Cymod” (“Reconciliation”) is by far the longest track, including more hammering and handling than most parents can take. (What is Priffitt’s partner thinking at this point?) Now thick as drone, the piece develops into a battle of chimes and boxes and blocks, conjuring Dr. Suess:
Look, sir. Look, sir.
Mr Knox, sir.
Let’s do tricks with
Bricks and blocks, sir.
Let’s do tricks with
Chicks and clocks, sir.
Our only quibble is the idea that this music should be considered serious rather than playful. There’s nothing wrong with adults rediscovering their inner children. Sure, we’d never in a million years have come up with something like this as toddlers, preferring instead to rifle through our toy boxes, taking out one thing at a time, making a racket and if it fails to annoy grown-ups, removing more and more until someone comes into the room to tell us we can only play with one toy at a time. We’re extremely curious what the little one will think when he is older. Daddy did what? By then, we hope that father and son are collaborating on their own musical adventure. (Richard Allen)