In the early part of the twentieth century, when Picasso was shattering the normal concept of pictorial art as an image of nature, composers were playing around with natural sounds to test the waters of the musical avant-garde. Picasso would put bits and pieces of things he found lying around in his paintings (wood, string, cardboard match cover, etc.), and so these innovators would put found sounds (in art it was called “found objects) into their “compositions.” It was all in fun, but soon grew rather serious. It is now all part of recognized music history.
They believed that ordinary sounds from our environment make extraordinary music much like Marcel Duchamp thought an ordinary run-of-the-mill industrial bottle rack made for a great sculpture in 1914. Wow, they were so ahead of their time—so advanced. This all came to mind when I saw a funny YouTube Video about “A Song from the Kitchen.” It was short and sweet, and in a few seconds, told an age-old story about found sound.
An average looking guy gets up from his sofa and announces to the camera with a grin that “I am going to make a song out of my kitchen.” He then proceeds to take his portable sound equipment into the small space. Soon you see and hear all kinds of simple noises that you normally take for granted: the ticking of a clock, the ding from the microwave, the faucet dripping, the act of pulling a rack out of the oven, squishing a plastic bag, scrunching a paper bag, slamming the fridge door and opening it again, a can opener in process, the rattling of bottles, and more. Soon some background drums and percussion instruments are layered against these “normal” sounds, bringing them more and more to the fore and in focus. It is a symphony of nonsense that is nonetheless rather intriguing.
It has quite an impact however basic the message and appeal. Imagine if you added more things such as an egg beater, a food processor on puree, a hand mixer with its beaters scraping against a bowl, a knife chopping vegetables, the bubbling of a deep fryer. There is no end to what you could produce, without even altering or distorting anything. Throw in the vacuum cleaner, the doorbell, rattling keys, and clinking glasses. It reminded us that we take hearing for granted and miss 90% of what comes into our range of sensory perception.
It would be a great children’s project. I imagine even a baby would respond positively to the imaginative juxtaposition of sounds. You can make it a game to find the different sound sources and then get together in a group to create an order for them, which you can call a composition. You can make up themes and assign titles. If you have any equipment, you can give your piece some background interest.
Otherwise, it is a good exercise in aural awareness. You can focus on first visual shapes, sizes, and textures and placement in the surroundings. Then you can isolate the sound, maybe closing your eyes and trying to match what you hear to the correct item. It could be part of a meditation course or a game of concentration. There may be some applications I have not thought of as yet.
The point is to tune the ears to sound to enhance perception and then to apply what you learn to music. So much music goes in one ear and out the other and when played too often, it practically disappears like a redundant TV commercial. Music needs to come into sharper focus for most of us that take it for granted. We have to learn to hear it like it was the very first time, like each note was new and fresh, as if each instrument had just been invented. In effect, we need to concentrate on the composer’s art and the musician’s skills and what makes them so special.
So take time out of your busy day to view the video on YouTube and to try something like this on your own, alone or with friends and/or family. Anything that awakens the dead senses is welcome. You will expand your ability to appreciate music more fully in the process.