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Laotian MP3

Aaron Ximm went to Southeast Asia on his honeymoon in 2000, and he came back nine months later with a dowry’s worth of field recordings. A self-described “headphone tourist,” he subsequently produced a CD of sounds he found in Laos — “whining outboard engines,” “an ancestor memorial celebration,” “plumbing resonance” — forged into musical compositions. The album is titled Rockets of the Mekong, released this year as a CDR, the fourth volume in the Echolocations series from his Quiet American project. One of Rockets‘ 14 tracks, titled “Calisthenic,” is available for free download from the album’s promotional page (here) on the Quiet American website (quietamerican.org). It’s a beautiful piece, just over four minutes long, though it feels much quicker; brief snippets of real world sound are looped to incantatory effect, moving steadily away from silence. The track’s title might be an expression of its pace, its rapid-fire little sound elements, seeming at first like the hive techno of a late night insect swarm. Ximm, who writes eloquently and philosophically about his sound art, describes “Calisthenic” as follows: “An exercise in negative space. Composed almost entirely from a single moment in a very short source recording, this piece was created using a sculptural process in reverse: starting from almost nothing, everything is added back, a little at a time. At the end, we escape our single moment and the context of the recording (made in Luang Prabang, Laos) is revealed.” The name Quiet American is taken, of course, from the Graham Greene novel about Vietnam, and there are field recordings from Vietnam (as well as from Burma, Nepal, the United States and elsewhere) on Ximm’s website to complement the neighboring Laotian ones.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • about

  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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  • My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, was published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury. It has been translated into Japanese (2019) and Spanish (2018).

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