If you know the end of a story before it occurs, that’s called “tragedy.” If you’ve heard a raw field recording — not just heard, but paid close attention to one — many times, then eventually the sequence of sounds takes on a familiarity, a kind of de facto structure that might as well be called “music.” Each week Aaron Ximm posts on his website, quietamerican.org, sonic snapshots from around the globe. His One-Minute Vacation series collects unedited field recordings by volunteer Alan Lomaxes of the quotidian, an ever-expanding crew (MiniDiscs and harddrive recorders in hand) who document the sounds of today.
Sometimes musical elements are self-evident. Of the past eight weekly One-Minute Vacation entries, the majority have music inherent in them already, including a jig in an lrish bar (MP3); the mild cacophony of a video-game parlor, complete with a robotic lead vocal in the form of a someone (or -thing) reading bingo numbers (MP3); organ practice at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London (MP3); and a muffled orchestra heard above a torrent of Parisian fireworks that provide a kind of abstract machine beat, at least until the Bastille Day applause kicks in (MP3). The latter, arrhythmic to the point of distraction, is the sort of thing that British rapper Dizzee Rascal could get behind.
Fireworks provide a more subdued, but perhaps more threatening, background in a track of birds on Alcatraz reacting to the distant man-made thunder (MP3) — and, marking the contrast of humans’ impact on the environment, there’s a separate track of birds, noticeably more idyllic, recorded in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (MP3).
One track begins just after an orchestral performance in Bavaria, Germany, so no music is documented, but we do overhear people discussing the performance, itself a kind of recording (MP3), and I’d swear one of the speakers is a host from the BBC’s Hear and Now radio program.
Regulars to the One-Minute Vacation series, which is updated most Mondays, often try to listen to a track prior to reading the brief accompanying description, just to enjoy whatever abstraction is implicit therein, before letting the text cement the sounds. The wind chimes offered up on August 8 (MP3) are deceivingly self-explanatory. As it turns out, this is the first One-Minute Vacation recorded in an artificial world. The chimes were a computer simulation inside Second Life, the popular MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game) — which helps explain why, toward the end of the track, some typing can be heard.
More info on the One-Minute Vacation series, and tons more files, at quietamerican.org/vacation.html.