Today’s Song: Hiroki Tanaka’s “Bare Hallways” Is a Gently Haunting Account of Life as a Caregiver

Hiroki Tanaka © Maya Bankovic
 Inspired by Japanese folk songs, hymns, and his time as a caregiver for his grandmother, Hiroki Tanaka turns the deeply personal into a shared experience with “Bare Hallways”
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Stream: “Bare Hallways” – Hiroki Tanaka




The work of a caregiver often goes under-appreciated. The physical and emotional time and energy that can go into the assisting of somebody’s needs as they disintegrate before the eyes likely being underestimated and the duties of the giver handled modestly. If it’s someone close then the emotional strain is deeper, constantly being bound to that person even if they’re oblivious to their surroundings.

Kaigo Kioku Kuoku - Hiroki Tanaka

Kaigo Kioku Kuoku – Hiroki Tanaka

Kaigo Kioku Kuoku is the debut solo album by Hiroki Tanaka (released October 14), the title translating as ‘Caregiving Memory Songs’, and its objective is to draw spotlight upon the preserving of family histories and dealing with terminal illness. “Bare Hallways’’ (released September 25) is a song and video that encompasses this, the words following the solemn plucks of acoustic guitar like a shadow- a personal darkness looming amongst the light. As a song about caring for his grandmother as she suffered from Alzheimers, it’s engulfed in an unsettling gentleness. The words are sung slowly, hymn-like, and the chorus is a repetitive murmur of ‘In the end/ In the end/ In the end/ In the end/ In the end

Hear me
Save her memory
In the Hallway
Calling for me 
I see the shadow
Of her past rising
Small hands shaking
It’s cold and lonely

In the accompanying video, items from the house he looked after his grandparents in are incorporated- arranged into alters that pay homage to a life before. There’s tiny figurines, beaded jewelry, faded photographs, and paper fans; There’s musical instruments, old letters, sewing things, and artificial flowers. A shadow puppet show also takes place, recreating some of the experiences gone through when dealing with a terminal illness. In shadow puppet form, the aforementioned darkness and light is highlighted as is the sentimentality with the viewer drawn into a powerful but tender visual narrative. Meanwhile throughout the video, Tanaka stands in a sparse room with his back against the wall strumming his guitar. The interior of a house is then projected onto the wall and Tanaka stands motionless, hands in pockets, gazing at these images. So near yet so far, the life once lived becomes nothing but a memory. 

Making
Her bed each evening
Softly speaking
I put her to sleep
In the house that
I was born in
Watching crumble
Into bare hallways 

Hiroki Tanaka is known as being the lead guitarist of Yamantaka// Sonic Titan, an experimental music and arts collective. Kaigo Kioku Kuoku is the Toronto-based artist taking a completely stripped back and personal approach to music, “Blue Eyed Doll,” for example, commences with a recording of a Japanese choir from the eldercare facility his grandmother was staying in. The song itself is more upbeat than “Bare Hallways’’ but still with a melancholic dreaminess. The percussion sounds are all items gathered from the home, such as cupboard doors closing and two glasses clinking together. 

Speaking about the album, Tanaka says “I wanted to create a sonic archive of the space that had provided me life and served as space for transformation and shedding.” Thus the songs aren’t just songs for the enjoyment of the listener or to open up their minds to cultural traditions and personal experiences they may not be familiar with, but it’s like a musical scrapbook for Tanaka- a way of preserving things in a medium that’s true to him. “I wanted to provide a voice that I hadn’t heard before,” he continutes. “One that illustrated the experience of being a caregiver in stark detail. One that celebrated my family’s multicultural heritage and created a snapshot of a family’s history.”

“Bare Hallways” is a depressing song, the lyrics not sugar coating the situation. ‘I put her to sleep/ In the house that/ I was born in/ Watching crumble/ Into bare hallways’ he describes with a hint of distress in this voice. But these hallways, these passages into different segments of life, aren’t bare in Hiroki Tanaka’s collection of songs. They’re full of community and the preciousness of the past while being a celebration of individuality. 

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Stream: “Bare Hallways” – Hiroki Tanaka



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📸 © Maya Bankovic, 2020


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Francesca Rose

Francesca is a writer currently based in Montreal who considers music a form of storytelling. She's fascinated by the connections that songs can form, whether it's relatable lyrics or the personal associations a sound conjures up.