STAY CONNECTED! Third Coast has gone digital in 2020, and we’re bringing you new programming celebrating the art & craft of audio storytelling. Whether you are a producer or an audio fan, sign up for our newsletters to be the first to know about what we have in store.

SIGN UP

BEHIND THE SCENES with Aaron Ximm


What is your role in this project? Is it more as a curator or collector

Nowadays I feel myself mostly to be a producer with a bit of curation thrown in. On the curatorial side I think my main job is just to try to keep the "mix" evolving; in the past year or so I've gotten more interested in emphasizing small themes for a few weeks. Generally though, I try to make sure that there's something new each week, somewhere quite different (or quite different sounding) from the week before. On the production side I just wrangle the HTML and XML and do a little judicious editing. And pay for the bandwidth

Why did you decide that the "vacations" should be exactly one-minute long

The OMV idea came originally from a project I was asked to participate in that called for one-minute field recordings. I was struck by that length; I think it's long enough to evoke a sense of time passing in a particular place, but short enough that people are willing to make the investment. There's something very clean about asking people to invest one minute of their time. They'll do it even if they're skeptical

A r e you surprised that the project is now in its fifth year of weekly vacations

I'm quite surprised, but also quite happy since it only seems to be getting better -- in the sense that more people know about, and hence I get more and more varied submissions. As long as people keep sending me contributions, I'm more than happy to keep the project alive. It's a great way to keep hearing a constant flow of field recordings

Who contributes to the site

Well, one of the interesting things about this project is that like, say, the Kitchen Sisters' work there's a sense that the contributions are by design coming from people who don't consider themselves field recordists (or producers). The open call for submissions is explicity targeted broadly

That said, I do occasionally post the call for submissions in forums where I know a lot of sound people and recordists hang out -- nature recordists, sound designers, phonographers -- so in that sense it is also a forum for field recordists to share their favorite recordings

Of the professionals, the phonography crowd seems to have taken most enthusiastically to the project -- for them it's a quite natural thing to want to share their favorite recordings; that community is primarily artistic as opposed to professional (though many members do work with sound professionally as well) and one of the things that keeps it cohesive is the dissemination and enjoyment of recordings. That and gear-geek talk of course

I have observed one thing I find interesting, which is that generally speaking, the more someone is invested in making recordings for a living, the less likely they are to share their recordings with me. I think it's just the reflex instinct that asks, why should I give something away when it's my livelihood

Listening to the one-minute vacations, I wondered what enables some sounds, more than others, to take you to a particular place

I think you'll find that the vacations that are most compelling combine strength in at least a few different dimensions -- how interesting or unusual or unexpected the subject matter is, how complex the soundfield is (i.e. how many layers are there? Are there fore- and background layers playing off each other? How rich or dynamic is the stereo field and depth?), how intimate or otherwise emotionally involving the recording is (because of subject, proximity, even manipulative musical element(s)), and how clean a recording it is. The quality of the recording is something I try to avoid making too much about, though, since it can be overlooked if the other elements are strong -- and I definitely don't want people to think that only "good" recordings are worth sharing

I'll admit, I was most interested in traveling to places I'd never been before. What are other people looking to get out of the listening experience

I get a lot of people telling me they like the project and have subscribed to the podcast, but I'm not sure what the main draw is. Maybe it's tourism, voyeurism, appreciation of unexpected sounds? I would love to think it's something close to the goals of the project - to reward a moment of focused listening with a respite from the everyday. That's my not so stealthy tactic to encourage people to listen more (and more fully)

What makes a place sound different? During one vacation my ears tricked my brain into thinking I was in Scotland, because I heard bagpipes, but I was really in Puget Sound

Another of my not-so-stealthy intentions with this project -- and in fact with a lot of my work -- is to really scrutinize (and ask people to scrutinize) the idea of the "sound of place." Mostly what I've learned is that the mental shorthands and confabulations we use as placeholders for what we think about almost everywhere, everywhere except the ones most intimately known to us, are just that -- placeholders. Tokens. Symbols. None of which are really tightly enmeshed with the places they stand in for

In other words, the sounds we think are characteristic of a place are often not so important; and the soundscape that does emerge with careful listening is often unique only in its subtle relationships. The spectacular or spectacularly unique does exist of course, and that does provide some of my favorite moments; but it's not that common. Especially given the limits most recordists have, which I touch on in your next question

There were some sounds that came up often in the OMVs such as bells, traffic, water, street vendors. What do you think draws people to these sounds again and again

Different things for each of those. I think we respond at a visceral level to things that are unintentionally or incidentally or accidentally musical -- I love recordings of machines and rhythmic work or process that produces rhythm, harmony, drone. Bells are always musical even when they're worn by donkeys

Personally I can never get enough water sound. It's paradoxical and often deeply complex. It is often just filtered white noise but the subtle features in that noise puzzle and hold the ear. It's also commonly encountered

Traffic and vendors are also common, and I think that's because they predominate. It's hard work to find unique sounds, and the soundscape of the public sphere -- especially in urban environments -- is the easiest thing to come by. Buskers and beggars fall into this category too. Public announcements. Or nature

Now that you have an archive of over 200 vacations, what do you feel you've captured here

I think I have a small archive of intimate moments. It's a record not only of how places sounded but of things people took the time to record, and of how they felt about where they were. I think it's probably more revealing in that regard then as a survey of soundscape. But that's just what I'm thinking today

What would you like to do with the vacations that you haven't yet

I would like someone to help me integrate Google Maps into the interface. First, so you can click a link for every recording, and see where it was made. And second, I always thought it'd be neat to be able to navigate a map and pick out sounds as you find them.