Teasing Threads – on housework music

Chris Palazzolo offers some thoughts on remunerated housework.

TImage result for dancing housewives imageshe Family Tax Benefit is an example of how neo-liberal theory which underpins the fiscal and monetary policy settings of the Australian government has reconciled itself with socialist feminist theory which was the first economic theory to recognise the home as a vital unit in a modern capitalist economy and how the labour transacted therein should be remunerated. Whether the home worksite should be subject to the same OHS regulations and insurance as other Australian workplaces is a political question, especially when one considers that many workplaces are now under electronic surveillance; economic justice, which includes protection of the body, the ‘instrument’ of performing labour and making a living (the government’s domestic violence campaign as a kind of labour rights question) can find itself opposed to privacy.

As a househusband in a single income household I can, for the sake of this argument, define myself as an employee of my wife who pays me a wage to perform the duties of housekeeping, that is to say to create conditions favourable to the regeneration of her energies so that she can reproduce her daily labours in her place of employment; and an employee of the Australian taxpayer, because I receive FTB as a supplementary payment for the raising of three future workers and taxpayers.

One of the nicest conditions of my employment is that I can play any music I want to as I perform my duties. This is important because having laboured in a workplace where a loop-tape played Whitney Huston’s ‘I will always love you’ on average six times a day, I’ve long felt that the music workers are forced to work to should be covered by OHS. Furthermore, if the home is no longer a completely private space, then the aesthetic and performative aspects of housework are now of public interest. Here are a couple of my favourite housework accompaniments.

Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra. I have this piece on record and I’ve played it so much over the last four years it’s a wonder the grooves haven’t worn off. It’s the perfect accompaniment for my morning chores; making beds, stacking breakfast dishes, doing the washing. The depersonalised whine and the squelching electronic ostinato of moogs and mellotrons alternating with the skipping ostinato pluck of a bass guitar puts me into a machinelike trance. I’m a 1966 model human, and that’s why the technology of this piece harmonises so perfectly with my body-mind; it’s like two machines of the same generation communicating. The dirge at the end of side one, threaded with a kind of gamelan type chime punctuating each phrase in a halting rhythm and torn by mid-volume electronic shrieks, like the cries of terror of all the innocents abused in the long wind-tunnel of history, fills my bright morning house with reflective melancholy.

Concertino for piano and orchestra by Arthur Honegger. This piece I normally play during the last phase of my evening labours, namely sweeping up, wiping surfaces and stacking and washing dishes after dinner, while my wife bathes the kids. The exposition and first subject is a tick tock clockwork interplay between piano and orchestra. It echoes the division of labour in the house, making the whole process like a mechanised diorama in which the automata perform their programmed tasks to achieve a single objective (kids in bed). The childlike mood of the first subject takes on a tone of menace in the second subject in order to remind us that this process is not just playful, it is also serious; if kids act up they need to be coerced; kids running amok and a messy house is the first step to squalor, ants and DCP. The final subject, a stern vigilant theme played by two saxophones, embroidered by a staccato argument between the piano and a muted trumpet, rhythmically underpinned by plodding arpeggios on the basses, is the gendarmes sending the scrapping shouting monsters to bed.

‘Open Sesame’ by Kool and the Gang. Three minute pop songs are usually too short for weekly housework (I can’t get any momentum because I have to continually change the selection), but suit better the process of housework on Saturday mornings. We expect the kids to make their beds and tidy their rooms on Saturdays which is an extra division of labour making the process more segmented and episodic. ‘Open Sesame’ is a disco number from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack featuring Kool as the genie of sound telling everybody to dance. It opens with a big gong, Kool’s reverberating baritone cries ‘Open Sesame!’ and we’re transported to ancient Persia. Magic spells are woven by the wavelike arpeggios of choir and trumpet over disco drums and bass. My favourite bit of instrumentation is the funky wobble board to get the nightclubs of Babylon moving. My wishes for three tidy bedrooms are rarely granted though.

– Chris Palazzolo

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