“All the traces of all the lives that have moved through.” – Pip Stafford
The city which cannot be expunged from the mind is like an armature, a honeycomb in whose cells each of us can place the things he wants to remember.—Italo Calvino
If the opposite of mundane is imaginative, then this quality is being mined in the assumed unvarying realms of a house that has stood guard over a singular life, lived long.
A sewing machine rattles though it no longer sits in the sunroom of its original operator. There’s a distant hint of static from a TV or radio, the voices just out of listening reach. A slow plodding conjures someone walking over very old and creaky wood planks, and the walker is in no rush, has ambled upon these floors since mid-century.
These are remembered sounds.
This piece does not lack a story. Nor has it muted its voice track. A house serves as shell, as armor, as hive. Sounds are re-collected.
“Iris is a sort of unraveling and revealing of sound experiences that are particular to me, across a long period of time (the whole almost-thirty-three years of my life, actually),” explains its maker of the structure of the artistry and, perhaps, the experience of her 99-year-old grandmother Iris’s house in Moonah, a northern suburb of Hobart, Australia.
For Stafford, who lives in Hobart, there was a sense of urgency to get moving on some kind of project so as not to land upon a posthumous one.
There are people inside this story, quietly recording, silently remembering. A chuckle is heard. The piano keys guide the narrative, echo it really. Voices would become static if there were any, becoming its own kind of story. The mind hears a crackling fire and wonders if it’s a trick, then feels the comfort and warmth of a small hearth ablaze.
Stafford’s work might be asking this: What are you to a house as infant and then toddler; teen or returning adult? Who are you at nearly 100, cane tapping on damp stones, who has neither left nor returned?
I think about Calvino’s foreignness in the context of my grandmother’s house – this space that has held so many versions of me that I no longer feel in touch with, which has held people who are now gone, but still live somehow through that space. I think specifically of my Grandfather here, of course, dead 25 years ago, though his tools still live under the house, but also my grandmother’s son, dead long before I was born or even thought of, and also of people that have come and gone in the different spaces of our lives, in that house, moving through as if it is a place of transition rather than stasis.
And I think of that grief, the overwhelming knowledge that soon, not only will my grandmother become a foreigner of this world, gone inevitably back to earth, but the house will likely be sold on and maybe a young family will move in, or a landlord will renovate. The house that my grandparents planned and built with their own hands will be changed in ways that I can’t even imagine. Or maybe even knocked down, it’s a big corner block – room for several apartments.
Then I will become a foreigner in that place, I’ll no longer have even a reason to drive up the street, except to sticky-beak at the progress, the development… And I also think about how all this, in the elasticity of time, is happening both so quickly – in my memory, my own thoughts and daydreams – and slowly a snail’s pace, the lives that have intertwined and unraveled in that place.
Iris was commissioned for airplay on ABC’s Soundproof in 2015. Explore Pip Stafford’s radio-based performance collaboration, Sisters Akousmatica. Follow her on Twitter @pipstafford.