Karen and the schedule of the week

A few weeks ago I interviewed Karen of Karen magazine. It was a real privilege to be able to visit Karen at her home, to meet her partner, her cat and her friends, and to experience the locale in which Karen magazine is so deeply rooted. And it was marvellous to meet Karen herself and to hear her thoughts on the magazine.

Everyday washing up.

Karen and I talked about editing ‘the everyday.’ When everything is interesting all of the time, and when you find inspiration all around you, how to decide what you will/won’t focus on? I am fascinated by this editing of reality; by what gets to stay in and what stays out. In Karen’s case the cultural object derived from the everyday, the quotidian, the oft-ignored, is a magazine. In mine, it’s a series of art objects and a lot of sound-recordings and sound art experiments. I don’t have any conclusive answers on how either of us edit ‘the everyday’ in these different contexts, but I am intrigued by the crossovers in our ideas and editing approaches and there will be some experiments and compositions based on Karen Magazine in the forthcoming Domestic Soundscape Cut and Splice domestic soundscape podcast series I am producing for BBC3 and Sound and Music.

Following on from The Fantastical Reality Radio Show in association with Mundane Appreciation, the domestic soundscape podcasts will develop a field of thought and ideas around everyday sounds. I want to contextualise the whole idea of recording ordinary reality by looking at practitioners whose work deals with this in other, related fields, and through other mediums. I don’t think sound needs to necessarily be an abstract art-form and I am interested in how the critical framework that has developed around the visual arts can be applied to how we understand and interpret and work with sound.

So one of the things that stuck out for me immediately when reading back issues of Karen, was an amazing feature in issue two titled ‘Housewife, 1946 – 1998’ and detailing a weekly routine. Specific foodstuffs, (Sandwiches, ham or cheese or egg or tuna) chores, (Dust and Hoover the living room) particular television programmes, (Wrestling on Saturday afternoon) and other habits are listed, matter of factly on the page, and it made for – at least for me – a very moving and compelling read. As a way of remembering someone who has died, this format of inventorying their daily life has a redemptive quality that is noticeably different from the way we ordinarily ‘remember’ people through spectacular events or lifetime achievements. Recalling the rhythym of a life in being, the predictability and routine of actions and habits, the details in the way a person cared for themselves and the people around them and the things that were in their shopping lists and kitchen cupboards is to somehow witness someone at their most ordinary – and their most extraordinary.

My kitchen cupboards, with cake.

It is not that hard to know whether or not someone has a qualification or whether or not they have children, or where they live or what sort of roses they have in their garden. We all express a public aspect of ourselves that is easily obtained by outsiders. But to know what type of biscuits someone routinely has on a Thursday, to know which tv programmes they make sure to stay in for, to know roughly what their shopping list might look like or to have some insight into their habits, is to know someone at another level. I’m not sure exactly what touched me so much about the routine of ‘Housewife, 1946 – 1998;’ it could be that the sense of structure appealed to me (my weeks are quite unstructured) or it could be that I felt awed by the value of another human being’s life being lived, on the page, in my hands. The impression I had when I read the pages struck something deep in me – it hit on an artist ‘Hunch’ – and I began thinking about how I could use this found rhythym – the rhythym of a week as its lived and the activities that populate it – as the basis for a recording project.

At first I wanted to enact the week exactly as it was detailed in ‘Housewife, 1946 – 1998,’ but the more I thought about it, the more this seemed to distance me from the heart of the idea. The layers of editing and cultural construct between the original lived-week and any eventual recording I may derive from ‘Housewife, 1946 – 1998’ would rob the final work of its immediacy and make it hard to ‘read.’ So I decided instead to record my week in the style of ‘Housewife, 1946 – 1998’ as a homage to the magazine piece. Tea and washing-up feature heavily as recurring themes, as do tidying up with music on in the background, knitting with DVDs on in the evening, using my computer, cooking (Oh so much cooking…) and walks along the beloved stretch of canal that I am always banging on about.

I have edited each snippet to be 8 seconds long and then collated them so that in the end each day is represented by about 3 minutes of sounds stuck back-to-back with no editing (apart from cutting to the desired length) done to any of the sounds. So far it is having a good effect; I listen back through the recordings at the end of each day and am literally transported back to each distinct event, meal or activity through the sounds. Sometimes I forget to write a note of what I’m recording, but listening usually creates instant recollection and the sense of space – the space I was in when I made the recording – and time.

That’s why I love sound.

I also noted in my desire to work with this ‘schedule’ a personal need for more structure, more pre-planning in my days and more organisation. So I did a few things this weekend in that vein; small, organisational tasks that bought me much pleasure and which made me feel a bit calmer about the forthcoming week, which has much in it.

I made bread.

I made 2 batches of amazing muffins to share and give away and eat (instead of grabbing expensive pastries when I am at stations/haven’t organised a packed-lunch/am working late.) They are sweet-potato and apple muffins. One batch also has black pepper and strawberries in it. The gorgeous polka-dot red and white muffin cases were a gift from the lovely Kate and the site of them stacked – with cake inside – in my cupboard makes me feel well happy.

I frogged Brioche and turned it back into two gorgeous balls of yarn (with a third ball of subbed yarn in case I run out again.)

I digitised some of the tape material I need for the podcast series.

I annotated one of my incredibly haphazard notepads so I can find my notes.

I took a photo I’m happy with of my teapot with speakers inside it for an Alvin Lucier score I’m working with called – ironically – ‘Nothing is real.’

I organised Sound Bank.

And I put the buttons I organised into sets on my wall so I can enjoy looking at them while I dream up what garments they will eventually fasten.

I also made two compositions this weekend, based on my activities, on my making and doing, on my tidying, baking, washing-up and organising. Now to the week…

4 Responses to Karen and the schedule of the week

  1. colleen says:

    This has left me with a smile on my face. Ta.

  2. Allan D says:

    Buttons on the wall – what a fabulous idea! I am not an artist, but I wonder – do writers leave their typewriters (not the computer screen) in a place where they will see it often, and are them reminded and stimulated and inspired about the work they will do? I leave my garden tools out all night so I see them first thing in the morning. I am more likely to do something with them if I see them as soon as I go outside.

  3. Felix says:

    Cheers for this, Allan and Colleen.

    Re: putting the buttons on the wall… well,, my buttons have always lived in a disorganised tin. But when they are sewn onto a card like this and in full view, it’s impossible not to get garment inspiration from the sight. I try to leave things I want to finish in plain sight so they will ‘nag’ me and get done! Trouble is, I end up with unfinished items everywhere! But on the whole, the system works.

  4. Stephanella says:

    Have you read Snoop by Sam Gosling? He speaks of people’s tendency to edit constituents of their personalities out of their possessions in order to be able to give a different impression to others. Snoop is about our stuff, what it says about us and the footprints that our stuff lives on the environments that we inhabit. You may find it of interest in a roundabout way!

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