Your Kitchen

by Katharina Smets

This piece is a part of a series called “Walking Tours of Your Home.” The physical component of this section is an accordion pamphlet advertising a series of tours (read the image description of the pamphlet here).

Press play to listen to the audio as you read along.

[Female narrator] Kitchen Landscape, or the Ambiguity of Reliable Things.

[Music is woven through the piece, with tinny taps and a guitar sounding almost chime-like. A tone is woven in and out of the score, creating a feeling of suspense, but not an unpleasant one.]

Go to your kitchen.

What do you see? Dishes, perhaps. Some already cleaned. Some not.

[Dishes rattle. A tone rises slowly.]

Take two cups. [Cups are taken off a shelf.]

Clean them, if you must.

I am using the same mug over and over again. [Mug is set down on counter.] A quite ugly mug. It’s pink. The sides are chipped a bit. My grandmother gave it to me on my eighteenth birthday. I can’t really move around much in my kitchen. It is long and narrow. When I stand in front of my oven I can reach everywhere. There’s a cupboard above the sink. For plates and glasses. And the cutlery is in a drawer to my right.

How far can you reach? Can you try to take a spoon without moving your feet? [Spoons shuffle in drawer.] Put the spoon on the counter. [Spoon hits counter.]

I have been cleaning and eating, and cleaning and eating, and cleaning and eating in the same rooms. I liked them, these rooms I live in. It is a safe shell. If I close my eyes, I am able to find everything here. [A man’s angry yell seeps through a wall, muffled but frightening.] Only when the neighbors are shouting at their kids. Then I feel this shell is small and fragile.

[Water runs from faucet.]

Take a kettle. Open the faucet. Watch the water running in a stream into your kettle. [Water fills metallic container. The water sparkles.] My faucet is leaking at the sides. I should have it repaired. Put the kettle on. Boil.

What was the last thing you cooked for someone else? Someone from outside your house. Who was it you cooked for? What did you make? I baked some cake to comfort my brother... I think.

I think of other rooms I haven’t been in for a long time. Birthday parties. Tea with my grandparents. The sugar pot. Cake. [An older woman exhales after taking a drink. Voices chat in Polish, with a few words of Dutch. Clinking of dishware and metal, a cozy feeling.] When cake is served, everyone is silent for a moment. [The chatting petters out and we hear happy groans from mouths full of cake.] Only them and cake. A few years ago my whole family was together for Easter, eating cake. [Older man takes a few breaths then speaks thoughtfully in Dutch.] I was walking in my grandparents’ garden. My grandfather was explaining to me how the little plum tree had begun fruiting. And plums made great cake.

[Music shifts, ominous yet whimsical.] All of a sudden the weather changed. We looked up at the dark clouds. My grandfather started telling me how the sound of thunder and lightning is recreated in the theater. [The man speaks slowly as if remembering something from his childhood.] You turn a large basket with stones in it. [The lilt of his voice is happy, nostalgic, replicating the sounds of the stones rolling around.] Sand to mimic the sound of wind. [He continues.] If you turn the handle just right. You feel like you are in the middle of a storm. [An electric kettle boils, and then turns off.]

[A single, peaceful tone rises from the silence.]

Close your eyes. Reach for the sugar. Can you find it in the dark? Reach with your hand and grab it. Be careful not to pull other things down. Put the sugar on the counter. [After a moment, a brief satisfying twang on a loose stringed instrument.] Open your eyes.

I remember I went out with my grandfather to look for a Christmas present for my grandmother. [Outside, leaves rustling on branches. Change jingles and we hear the man speaking again.] Years ago now. We went to look in a place he knew best. A market. [Bassline returns.] Where you could buy anything: socks and old cables, dried fruit and leather slippers. [Bassline goes up and down, up and down.]

[Market sounds. A woman is speaking in Polish, selling her wares. The voices of grandfather and granddaughter.] We decided to buy a new kettle with the whistle. A green one. With yellow flowers. I thought she might like it.

[Music stops, fading into the sound of boiling water.]

Is your water boiling? Take down the teapot. Pour in water from your kettle and make some tea. Or maybe you put your teabag straight into the cup.... [Water is poured into a cup.] Anyway. [Music begins again softly.] Pour two cups. Add some sugar if you like. To make your life a little sweeter, my grandmother used to say. [Spoons clinks in the mug.] With the spoon, stir. Take your cups and go sit at a table. Take one cup in your hand and put the other one opposite you. [Mug is set down on a wooden table.] One for you. And one for someone you are missing.

Katharina Smets molds documentary materials into live performances, sound guides, and radio productions. With her transmedia collective, The Space Between, she explores the combinations of sound and live music, video and spoken word. Currently working on a PhD in the arts, Katharina teaches audio storytelling at the Royal Conservatoire Antwerp. Kitchen Landscape was part of Katharina’s PhD on the auditory imagination.