Two new recordings turn the sounds of domestic lockdown into music. One album is percussive and electronic, the other improvisational and intimate. Together they demonstrate the creativity of artists who are unable to perform in concert halls yet find music within their own homes.
The forerunner of Ai Yamamoto‘s Pan De Sonic – Iso is Pawn’s criminally out-of-print disc Kitchen, published by Symbolic Interaction in 2009. That EP included pieces such as “Cup + Dishes,” “Oven, Sink” and “Oil & Bread,” along with a series of remixes. Anyone who has ever tapped on their dinnerware or made a rhythmic song while washing dishes can relate. Yamamoto takes us through a typical day of family life under lockdown: a Melbourne quarantine that inspired her to capture the repetitions of routine. She begins with a mercifully short “corona-cast” on her alarm clock, which she shuts off asap; then come the sounds of hungry children and breakfast, a scene that would make Richard Scarry proud. Her list is longer than Pawn’s, but thorough, the second track titled “Start of the day – toaster, water, Gas, cutting apple, chopstick, glass, cup, bowl, knife, hand mixer, kids, cat.” Try requesting that on a radio station! The tempo-driven percussion is endearing; she’s making a game of it, and the children are delighted. As the pan starts sizzling, even the listener becomes hungry.
And then the part of the routine that is specifically COVID-related: remote learning and working, replete with typing, printing, and music practice. Our entire lives seem to have moved inside and online: chore upon chore upon chore. Yet we still cherish our brief breaks, our time outside, which Yamamoto offers as contrast, with a nearly-nonsensical list: “tennis, walking, trampoline, beer can, frog.” During this time, everything makes sense because nothing makes sense. By melding such sounds to an electronic framework, the artist makes routine enjoyable, in much the same way as Björk in the factory scene of “Dancer in the Dark.” Finally it is time for wine and a soothing fire, another day put away.
Meanwhile in Poland, Monster Hurricane Wihajster (Monika & Hubert Wińczyk) are also recording the sounds of domestic life, splitting their tape between home sounds and travel sounds. Google Translate’s somewhat unhelpful translation is “It is good for us, even a little bit in the knees.” The couple calls this a “documentary of (their) work and everyday life” in Poznań, from spring lockdown to summer trips.
This tape also begins with rhythm and background conversation, plunging quickly into toilet grinding and the three second “Woodpecker in Lasagne,” which probably has an interesting back story, unfortunately not explained. From here, Side A matches nicely with Yamamoto’s work, turning to the sounds of cooking carrots and chutney. The chopping sounds are nearly identical, the rhythm clearly identifiable. In between these pieces comes “Children! We Will Watch the Movie. Popcorn,” a title that makes the parents seem laconic and draconian, but also underlines the stress of lockdown. This is also the album’s most appealing piece, as it makes the listener feel like a child waiting for the kernels to pop. Finally, the last beep of the microwave! The parents are free to make grown-up food: the last seven minutes of Side A are bound to cause salivation. Again there is wine and sizzle, and on the flip side crickets and fire. We are connected across cultures.
Like Yamamoto, the Wińczyks cherish their outdoor time, along or with friends: walking, bicycling, receiving the sound of birds. Being cooped up is no fun, although some have a harder time than others. The contrast of Sides A and B is remarkable: the life we endure backed by the life of which we dream. Once upon a time, these were normal sides of life’s mirror, neither cordoned off. “Hop-Hop Chimes (Berlin)” is possessed by the glee of children and passers-by. It’s good to get out once again, to be with humanity, the sequestered masses. We’re not all there yet, and some of us have gone backwards under a new round of lockdowns. All the more reason to remember why we quarantine: that we might all be able to enjoy such moments again.
On these recordings, Ai Yamamoto and Monster Hurricane Wihajster answer one of life’s basic questions: “What are other people doing all day?” From different continents, they also arrive at the same conclusion: make the most of these days; for there is still joy to be found, closer than we imagine. (Richard Allen)