Because, Remember (2022)

Because, Remember is in part a meditation on memory: its fragmentary nature to begin with, and its unavoidable fragmentation over time. In particular, it explores the memory of a time that my children can’t even remember having with me.

As an aging parent, I feel a strong undercurrent of sadness and loss in knowing that I can remember so many loving moments with my three kids in their earliest years, and they cannot, nor are they ever likely to. The fragments of voice used in these compositions are like particles of childhood disintegrating, skimmed from the surface of time and re-memoried.

Rather than a sadness, though, this album is intended as an upliftment, something wistful and blue-skied, a loveletter to that time of loving innocence, a sparkling.

In 2006 I made a recording of my two youngest kids, who were 2 and 4 yrs old at the time. They took turns wearing the headphones and speaking into a microphone, and it was the first time either of them had heard their own voice from the ‘other side’ – often a significant shift in perception for anyone at their first encounter.

On discovering their voices, they were by turns startled, amused and entranced by such immediate self-transmission. Alike many of us at that age, their developing voices had those unusual qualities of texture, pitch and intonation particular to toddlers. There are different squeaks and creaks, breathiness, warmth and brightness, melody and rhythm. Consonants and vowels are still finding their shapes, giving them interesting inflections. Sonically, children’s voices can be a fascinating textural resource.

In 2017, I rediscovered this old recording and used parts of it on The Fox, the opening track for the album The Ears Have Walls (2017).

In particular, I featured a section in which my daughter improvises a folk tale / vision quest about a little girl who gets lost in the woods. She sleeps in a cave, forages for berries and befriends the other animals (“even the bears and the foxes”)…then discovers she has transformed into a fox herself.

I also sampled tiny slices of texture from the kids’ voices, as abstracted rhythmic or melodic punctuations throughout the track. I explored this abstraction a little further on What The Fox Dreamt (same album), zooming in on minute textures within the voice.

On recently relistening to The Fox, I was immediately inspired to bring this approach to the front of the process, to create an album in which the abstracted vocal samples became the primary compositional instrument.

After nearly losing the file to the digital abyss, I resurrected the original 2006 recording and gave it a thorough listen. Thereupon I discovered a colourful new landscape of sound textures to play with, and set about the slow but engaging process of selecting sound particles, slicing & saving them into sound libraries, and clustering the particles into new patterns that would eventually converge as Because, Remember.

As is often my wont, I set myself some creative parameters:

Firstly, the voice samples would be the primary compositional instrument.

Secondly, the samples would mostly be abstracted slices, concentrating on the textural and musical qualities of the childrens’ voices as ‘pure’ sound.

A few recognisable phrases or words are woven throughout, but in most cases these are left incomplete or ambiguous, so that the listener is playfully encouraged to extrapolate meaning from something that almost makes sense.

Elsewhere the voice samples are too abstract to imply meaning; they exist simply as texture, melody or rhythm.

Lastly, I wanted the overall tone of the album to feel expansive and somewhat dreamy, with air and light moving through it, a sense of open sky. To this end I approached the album as ‘electronic’, using layers of electronics to sculpt the vocals, and (mostly understated) addition of synth in places to add textural space.

Each piece cycles around its own central phrase, which also provides the title.

In the opening track And Then…, there was something about the upward lilt of my daughter’s ‘and then…’ that was immediately musical and suggested a childhood sense of magical possibility, the not-knowing what will happen next.  This is reinforced with her ‘I wish..’ – it becomes a spell – a wish for innocence, and later, a wish for abundance (‘rrrich’ / ‘and then I counted how much money I had’), and the childhood mystery of manifestation.

In The Sky features segments of my son (2 yrs old) singing wordlessly, and also a snippet of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. He stumbles for a second on the last line (‘how I wonder what I…you are’), which to me gives it a more mystical slant, implying a unified consciousness…which ‘I’ are you? I combined his ‘in the sky’ with my daughter’s ‘when we had gone home’ and had an impression of a spiritual return, perhaps us all dissolving back into Light, or our souls reunited in some version of heaven, or even a return to an alien dimension – at once a celebration and a yearning.

While my daughter was more interested in storytelling into the microphone, my son really experimented with the sounds of his voice – laughing, breathing, singing, and making nonsensical noises. Apart from adding a little synth drone, I Can Hear My Voice is entirely constructed from his voice, and takes its title from his surprised declaration when he first hears himself. I built a rhythmic pulse based on his breath, interspersed with snippets of his laughter as he encountered himself in the headphones. When I reversed some samples, his voice took on an Indian quality, which again suggested a spiritual thread to my patternmaking mind.

In Going Out To Sea, I was especially drawn to tiny sections of my daughter’s speaking voice that were distinctly musical and created tiny melodies. The sample that gives the piece its title (‘just make sure, if you’re going out to see’) serendipitously captured my son singing to himself in the background, creating a kind of chorus, so I couldn’t resist using it. As I turned my daughter’s ‘see’ into ‘sea’, I imagined a fisherman’s warning, a boat out in the ocean at night, befogged. The electronics provide a kind of galactic whalesong from the depths, and a merging of ocean and cosmos.

Because, Remember was the last piece I created for the album, and provided the album’s title. The parental grief of being forced away from your children can run deep and long, and over the years I’ve used musicking to help process my loss; many of my recordings have began as a form of weeping or raging, loving prayer or primal howl.

When I embarked on this album, I wasn’t sure how I would go emotionally. The original voice recording of my two youngest was made during one of their brief stays with me, only months after being forced to separate from them. As I worked on these pieces, I anticipated some layers of the old grief, but instead I felt myself experiencing much lighter feelings – certainly there was melancholy, bittersweet, but mostly the innocence and playful qualities of their young voices brought me joy and delight.

For me, this closing track is an emotional cornerstone of the collection. The poignant title phrase, the ‘once upon a time’ and ‘we had fun’, and the softly insistent bed of synth drone, brought me to (loving) tears more a few times as I edited this piece.

Perhaps there’s an evolutionary and biological primacy to how adults need the sounds of children, beyond the realms of parenting and survival. As adults, we can recognise textures of genuine delight, wonder, hilarity and play in children’s voices. There’s bound to be a link between the musical quality of young children’s voices and the release of oxytocin or similar ‘love’ chemicals in adults. It might help us access, even subconsciously, memories of innocence, or to feel a momentary relief from the complexity of being an adult. We might experience it as a bodily sensation, an atmosphere…perhaps the sound of children’s voices just ‘feels good’. There is a kind of feedback loop with one’s own child self, potentially reaffirming qualities that are easily obscured by adult experience, but essential for our well-being.

Remember the village adults after the Pied Piper lured all their children away? The hills are dead with no sound of children.

Once again, I’ve used one of Heidi’s beautiful photo abstractions for the album’s cover. Whereas I use digital manipulation throughout the album, in her images there are no digital filters – she has developed a technique of capturing light in nature that reveals its inherent abstraction, as it exists of itself. I chose this image for its blending of the dissolved & the defined, reflecting the album’s theme of memory, and its atmospheres of wistful daydream.