Home and Music Maria Balabaș; photo credits: Marius Dumitrașcu

Home and Music

June 11, 20206-9 minutes read

Written by:

Maria Balabaș

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Home / A voice from within, you're not alone
Tumbleweed, Puscifer

I gave birth in the first days of the virus in Romania. In the operating room, the team of midwives taking care of me was listening to the radio. It was Vibe FM, a station that changed its profile from techno music to all-time-greatest-hits. So, while I let my body to be anaesthetised and laid on the table, preparing to see who grew up inside me for the last nine months, one more time these pop love songs surrounded me.

In the operating room, immobilised, I could not sing to Celine Dion's, 'My Heart Will Go On'. But there was another sound that instantly imprinted itself in my memory, directly and vigorously touching all my fibers, dissolving everything that I was. A short and sharp sound, the scream of my son.

The mainstreamese of motherese

My perception followed the moves of doctors and nurses, abandoning myself in their hands, while I tried to keep my emotions at a low heart rate as I was conscious that my life will change within those moments. But with one corner of my mind I was actively remembering how I once listened to Vibe FM while driving through the noisy morning city to do my own radio show. Alone in the car, I allowed myself not to care about why pop culture is so omnipresent in our lives, put the volume up and sang passionately to all those pop star’s songs I rejected for so long. I had the feeling of a much needed re-sync after a long time of cultural and musical self-isolation. Yes, to create my own artistic language, I needed to isolate myself, but after years of this kind of practice, joining the worldwide love musical language seemed natural. Anyway, I almost laughed about the idea that, even in this situation of giving birth, I had with me my senses of a cultural worker.

In the operating room, immobilised, I could not sing to Celine Dion’s, “My Heart Will Go On”. But there was another sound that instantly imprinted itself in my memory, directly and vigorously touching all my fibers, dissolving everything that I was. A short and sharp sound, the scream of my son.

In maternity I started learning instantly a new language – the mainstreamese of motherese. Mothers know everything, they even invented a language of themselves, one full with all kinds of information about breastfeeding, products, clothes and even what sounds are best for babies. For the beginning it felt good to speak this language, adopting some of its terms and expressions, a Vibe FM of motherhood. It helped me do my entrance in this new existence, as my notions about what it means to have a child were extremely limited.

My inner imaginarium

Photo: Maria Balabaș
Photo: Maria Balabaș
Three months have passed since this moment. When the news started to look really bad, we took the decision to isolate ourselves even more and moved to the countryside. I spent my time mainly inside our house, having 24 hours/7 days my child near me. While I was feeding him, I checked my facebook page, witnessing the avalanche of cultural and musical information. Looked like suddenly everybody read Shakespeare while writing an essay about Hermitage and still having energy to listen and talk seriously about some obscure jazz drumming. From where I was, it looked like the world turned upside down and there was a massive need for the highest culture humankind ever created. One could feel almost ashamed not to be willing to participate in this explosion of content, but it was not like I waited for this all my life or, at least, some years. But I’ve waited for my son 9 months and even longer than this. In another a-sync with the world at large, but discovering a new self-harmony, I left behind this sudden artsy boost and started developing my small, unnoticed, domestic language, call it experimental motherese. No need for Vibe FM this time.

Before birth I used to sing regularly, inventing my own “songs”, actually some modal monotonous melodic patterns with almost no rhythm, just a support for some long vowels repeated minutes after minutes. With my son near me, the soundscape changed radically and instantly. Now, I cannot locate anymore that affect inside me; I cannot find the voice that followed only my inner imaginarium, creating those very slow and continuous clouds of sounds.

Countryside and motherhood are gently forcing me to be rhythmical and repetitive. The house, the garden, the child, the weather – all these are following certain rhythmic patterns that one needs to understand and use in order to create a life and a home. Listening to the radio, making the fire, preparing the food, planting the garden, talking walks, talking to the child, bathing the child, washing clothes; in this realm, you have the sensation of living inside a baroque piece with a basso continuum on top of which every little variation of habit or affect is noticeable.

My motherese is also about rhythm. It consists now in a mixture of onomatopoeic sounds, almost operatic expressions, dramatised folkloric elements, some jazzy accents, small words rhymes, daily melodic stories – all these tied up in some simple repetitive rhythms. My child needs rhythm, it makes him react very clearly and joyously so my singing becomes more and more dynamic, changing rapidly from one sound-event to another or going on for minutes repeating some sound structures he seems to enjoy. But everything needs to be clearly rhythmical, otherwise I lose his attention. This is why he might prefer hip hop over Mozart for the moment…

I am spending hours singing and talking to my son and it becomes clear that in these months we both enlarged our repertoires. His father and I discovered we can produce a large palette of sounds to communicate with our boy, all the sounds rejected from normal social communication, but very useful to cheer up this little buddy. His father’s specialisations are beat boxing and drones. I am diving into a more theatrical language.
Our child’s language consists now in some very expressive shouts and sighs, used for different situations and needs, lovely ngu’s and nghi’s with many shorter or longer versions, a large spectre of cries and laughs, a very specific body movement when in the presence of rhythm. From these basic elements he is developing a whole world telling us when he needs to be fed, when he wants to express something on his own or when he simply wants some entertainment.

I record him almost daily. In some of the recordings I almost cannot recognise my voice. My tone and my intonation are changing radically, without intention, when I’m addressing my child. Those months already sculpted my personality so drastically that, when I hear myself at the radio (Dimineața crossover is still on air at Radio Romania Cultural), I feel estranged from the voice I created for my show. I pass through a transformative process which also means oblivion and a form of self-annihilation. This already includes a change in my perception about sound and music and the place and meaning I give them in my practice and in my life.

So, when the entire world locked itself down, having as escape button an overwhelming online exposure to culture and art, I spent my time starting to understand how to live within this unspectacular, yet miraculous soundscape.

I believe more and more in the function of art in the realm of home and in this aspect, sound could be one of its richest elements. Sonic life can cover a very large area of symbols – from ritual to unusual, from evergreens to fresh new apparitions, from mainstream to experimental, family memories to present tense. Sound carries with it a lot from the meaning of our lives; even the sound of the steps in our rooms tells more about who we are then many other bigger attitudes we endorse. Listening means that we are giving attention to ourselves and to the ones we live with. Through active listening we give meaning and signification. I could be even more radical and say that the soundscape of our homes is who we really are. All the sounds we remember, all the sounds we discover through music or other languages, all the sounds we produce with our moves or our talking, the different silences, all could melt symbolically into a rich new understanding of the home soundscape.

This would be the foundation for a much deeper, non-heroic understanding of sound and music’s function in our lives. The spontaneous creation of domestic sonorous palimpsests – including daily routine, music, conversations etc – mean the apparition of a new sound language, one that once discovered can find a much bigger value on the podium of our cultural needs and expectations. To my ear – this language resembles baroque musical thinking in its forms and devotion to details, but it takes its lifeblood from postmodernism. It’s a language to be recorded, using recordings, samples from different cultural spheres that represent fragments of our identities or simply what’s given on the radio.

Even if I am playing classical music or ambient mixes to my son, my wish is not to direct him towards a certain musical culture. My idea would be to create something a bit different and much more sensible; to develop together with him, as part of our connection, a common understanding of sound as a significant tool to live a meaningful life inside the home, as part of our culture. I hope he will accept this proposal and, through his life, he will also find some other friends on the way. Otherwise, I guess there will always be a Vibe FM as an alternative.


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*main photo credits: Marius Dumitrașcu
*This article is part of the project Music & Conversations in the Attic, co-financed by AFCN.
About the Author

Maria Balabaș

Romanian singer, musicologist and journalist, Maria Balabas runs her own radio show Dimineața crossover on Radio Romania Cultural, being one of Romania’s female voices who spreads diverse contemporary music all over the country. She is interested in new forms of radiophonic creation, as well as music composition and sound design.

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