The sound of the casseroles
Today we explore the sound of the “casserole protest”, in which protesters bang pots, pans and anything that makes a noise from their home kitchen as a form of protest. Two recordings from Montreal, Canada, come from Michael Nardone – he describes the first like this:
“Back on the streets of Montreal after a few weeks away, the most immediate and recognizable change in the student movement is the manif casseroles taking place each night in neighborhoods all over the city.
“Echoing the cacerolazo—used in Chile in 1971 during Salvador Allende’s rule in Chile, and then against Pinochet little more than a decade later—thousands of people armed with pots and pans emerge from their homes at 8 PM each evening to bang and clang and make as much noise as possible. These gatherings are illegal under Law 78, the provincial government’s emergency measure to quell the student uprising by limiting the protesters’ right to assemble. But they often morph into hours-long demonstrations and ad hoc neighborhood assemblies where citizens voice their concerns and listen in return.
“Throughout the student strike, now more than one hundred days strong, an ongoing battle for control over sonic space has persisted. It is because the provincial government refused to listen to what the student leaders had to say about the tuition hikes that those same leaders called on students to make themselves heard on the streets. Once the amplitude of the protests reached a decibel deemed dangerous by the government, legions of riot cops were sent in to force those assembled to be silent.
“The frequent police brutality, and the provincial politicians’ continued disregard for it, only inspired greater numbers to gather in defiance. Thwarted by the escalating demonstrations, the Québec legislature then adopted Law 78, the antidemocratic law that represses the freedom of assembly, the freedom of expression, and the right to protest.
“During the nightly student marches, riot cops beat their shields with their batons, in unison, before violently charging the assembled protesters. This is a well known intimidation tactic police use to magnify their presence.
“Montreal’s casserole protest is so effective because it seizes that aural space from the police in an act of civic reclamation. The state-sponsored weaponry of baton and shield are defused by otherwise innocuous domestic cookware. In the hands of the city’s residents—students, children, parents, and seniors alike—these simple utensils seem indomitable.”
Nick St. George transformed this casserole protest sound for the project:
“This piece is based on a field recording of a “casserole protest” (or cacerolazo) in Montréal, Canada. It starts with a crescendo and ends with a diminuendo (both of a sort), symbolising the growing groundswell of a popular movement, its climax in protest and then its eventual fading away (or not).
“A recipe for revolution? It marked a departure for me technically in that it was partly created in Audacity and only finished off in Garageband. Having heard some of the contributions to Cities & Memory’s “Sacred Spaces” project that used similar techiniques, I was keen to feature manipulation of the tempi of the raw material at the heart of the piece. This is much easier to achieve in Audacity. Most of the audio you will hear is the field recording in its original form or various “reimaginings”.” Voiceover by Cheryl St George.
The second casserole protest, again from Montreal, is from 30 May 2012:
“I’ve excerpted this particular section from a 3-hour long cut as it comes at a rather special moment in the march. Nearly two hours into the demonstration, the Villeray casserole group, of 1000+ people, was beginning to slow down a bit and many people were beginning to depart.
“Turning the corner on rue d’Iberville onto Rosemont, the demonstration ran into a separate casserole demonstration of a similar size, if not larger. Comprised of the casserole marchers from the Plateau, Mile End, and Outremont, this other demonstration brought a great new energy.
“After this point the joined demonstrations would continue for nearly another 2 hours. The recording begins as those marching in the Villeray demo spot another large demonstration coming approaching them. A general sense of elation becomes audible at this confluence.
“There are then a few moments of out-of-rhythm dissonance while the casseroles merge together. Then a steady rhythm begins to be worked out amongst the newly formed group of marchers. The volume increases and as everything falls into a general syncopation, the marchers begins to shout: “La loi spéciale, on s’en câlisse!””
Aaron Rosenblum tackled this sound to create a piece titled “Vox Casseroli”:
“I was a former resident and regular visitor of Montreal when the casserole marches began. As a US citizen, I was unused to seeing such mass protests over such “small” issues (a comparatively modest increase in student fees and tuition).
“I came to appreciate the notion that a failure to protest even small increases was tantamount to implicit permission granted to the government to continue raising the price of an education. Short, non-verbal sounds from throughout the recording were isolated, modified to highlight musical or aesthetic characteristics, and looped.
“This process mirrors the interpretation of such mass events by the media, in which individual protesters, organizers, or opponents are singled out to represent the whole in print or on the air.
“Quotations and sound bites from these single voices are then often repeated, creating a chorus that appears to represent the real variety of opinions and motivations, but inherently fails to do so.”