“My goal with Quiet American is to sketch in sound the experience of being in an unfamiliar place.” So writes Aaron Thieme in his brief synopsis of his artistic sound endeavor. When you say “sound-sculpture” to someone, they are likely to bring up images of stuffy and elaborate installations by Brian Eno or the academic meandering of David Toop. Another rendering of the term refers to the artful manipulation of “found-sound” artifacts, both mundane and mysterious – sounds that animate empty rural spaces and embody the alien qualities of our invisible urban landscapes.
Quiet American recontextualizes these very raw (as in unadulterated) sound elements in a way that connotes specific emotions that the listener/performer has associated with these sounds. The manipulated songs then form a loose narrative that serves as a framework to give us a taste of the “exotic,” without stranding us in an unfamiliar land. Thus, sounds that would seem alien are rendered to have a more comprehensible artistic meaning, while being transformed into more benign cultural artifacts. Life itself becomes a means of creative expression, evoking the colors of our perception of reality instead of coldly recreating those elements of reality that are readily available for transcription. Ironically, the content of reality must be manipulated in order to retain its meaning. So despite how sparse and pure some of these sounds are, their meaning is more important than their aural accuracy. In this way, Thieme allows the listener to smell, to taste, and to feel what he has recorded, and even rarer – to hear the potential music within all sound. More than just a travelogue, these recordings represent a vivid diary of the experience of travel.
“Gurgle” is a patchwork of audio, left over after all the other field recordings had been treated and assembled in his other pieces. Even here, Thieme’s musical conception is branded deep into the resulting composition; and, while not exactly a ‘song,’ the field recordings are painstakingly assembled, pitting the electronic rhythmic processing of rushing water against a snippet of flute that is cautiously looped and extended. The Quiet American will have you running out to buy a minidisc and a pair of binaurals to sample YOUR life.