by Caitlin Meehan
I was able to do a small interview with sound artist Aaron Ximm, who
provided part of the soundscape for DisArmed, which I choreographed in
2011. He had quite a lot to say about his work! He has a website
called the Quiet American where you can listen to some of his
recordings from his travels and read about what he does. Also, he has a birthday later this month, so wishing him a Happy Birthday too!
First of all, the concept of the Quiet American is fascinating! What
made you first want to record sounds on your travels, instead of (or in
addition to) taking photographs?
Despite our visual fixation documentary sound is a extremely powerful
medium -- the challenge is just to get people to engage it in these
breathless, multi-tasking days.
Temporal media generally have
the capacity to engage us in a deeper way than static ones; it is easy
to let ourselves believe that by glancing quickly (and most likely
superficially) at at an image or even sculpture or installation, that we
have 'seen' it. Temporal media -- and that includes dance and drama of
course -- afford no such opportunity. They demand an investment of time,
the construction of a mental space and its inhabitation. They generally
operate not in what they are but in how they change; this dynamism is
also engaging to our questing minds.
Sound without image has the
opportunity -- if only people are willing to accept it on its terms,
without distraciton -- to be more powerful still, because sound without
imagery inevitably engages the confabulatory mind. Absent imagery to
account for what we are hearing, our minds will *make* imagery for us,
abstract, coherent, narrative, or otherwise.
This participation as a function of our own attention to this 'second sense' is why I find sound so powerful a mechanism.
sound like I work with is of course a small subsection of a medium that
also incorporates music, its queen. I like documentary sound for
several reasons. First, by removing agency, a field recording reminds us
that the seat of the artistic experience is in the framing and
perception of experience -- that what the artist does is offer objects
or moments within a rich dialog of material that is not itself art, but
only a vehicle for artistic experience. Remove the auteur as genius and
you teach the capacity to appreciate the aesthetic wherever it is
encountered. I think that's an important education in these late days.
technically, there is a profound timbrel and spatial richness in
every-day soundscape -- much more so than in almost all music, no matter
how highly and carefully produced. Such richness affords fabulous
material to manipulate and juxtapose.
And finally, speaking of
juxtaposition, I am personally delighted in field recording by the
experience of fabulous serendipity. Capturing or recapitulating chance
juxtaposition which would seem -- seem -- to be the expression of
capricious artist genius or humor is great fun and a great teacher. That
notion -- of the accident as greatest inspiration -- has really come to
pervade my relationship to almost everything.
is fascinating! Once you have made recordings, you layer and manipulate
them to create the tracks that people can listen to. How do you decide
what to change about a recording, what to add or subtract, lengthen or
AX: Much of what I do these
days is NOT make such editorial decisions. There are really two strands
to my work: the highly and meticulously composed, like the track Malaria
that Nicole used, and the un-composed or 'naked' re-presentation of
Over the years I have never lost my love for making
very musical work with a musician's sensibility and commitment to
editorial if not performative wizardry -- and the satisfaction of that
work, especially at a musical level, never dims -- but I think the most
aesthetically interesting and serious work I do has left that
essentially behind in favor of work that uses soundscape in very
different ways. E.g. that allows chance and scale and context to
encourage reflection on, appreciation of, or engagement with, the
richness and quality of essentially unedited and often un-ending
I've even gone beyond that in fact, to making work
that is interested in the question of what happens when documentary work
is itself no more intelligible or digestible than the moments it is
understood to have captured. E.g. by making work with very very long
recordings (8 hours or more, 24 hours or more...) and then presenting
them in a way that poses the question: do you have the time to listen to
this? To sit with this? What are you missing if not? What would you
gain if so? And so on.
C: In some ways, I think this
could be likened to modern dance. Some pieces don't have a narrative or
anything "set" about them, while others do. So what is next for you? Is
there a place you have always wanted to visit and record, but have not
yet had the chance?
AX: At the moment
my ability to work is very sparse; I have two young children and the
demands that places on me -- combined with the necessity of maintaining a
full-time day-job -- prevent the kind of time-intensive studio work
that I did ten years ago.
I hope and trust that will change, but
in the meantime I take my aesthetic rewards in smaller ways, e.g.
through my return to un-mediated music making through my obsession with a
contemporary instrument form called the handpan -- melodic steel
percussion that looks like a UFO held in the lap, but sings like an
angelic harp made of ceramic.
My next large-scale sound project
will most likely be a marrying of field recording with the (manipulated)
sounds of those instruments. You can read more about my fascination
with such instruments here.
C: Fantastic! Thanks for giving us some insight into your work! Looking forward to what you do next.