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Building a world-spanning audio memento collection

A man plays a gong during a ceremony recorded by Julien Hairon. Photo supplied
A man plays a gong during a ceremony recorded by Julien Hairon. Photo supplied

Building a world-spanning audio memento collection

While most travellers like to collect photos, for the past three years French ethnomusicologist, acoustician and musician Julien Hairon has been trotting the globe recording what he calls Les Cartes Postales Sonores, or “sound postcards”.

Initially intended for family and friends, he recently launched a website where people can listen to the audio snippets and watch short videos from around the world.

“In my travels, I have been inspired by the soundscapes, traditional music and cultures of the places I have been,” Hairon, currently a resident of Dhaka, Bangladesh, said via email. “As a music and sound enthusiast, I naturally wanted to capture and collect these to share with my family, friends and others. I am especially interested in capturing the music and culture from local or ethnic minorities.”

Influenced by ethnomusicologists like Alain Danielou, Peter Hamel and Deben Bhattacharya, so far he has recordings from Australia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Turkey and Hawaii.

During a trip to Cambodia he recorded traditional Khmer music around the Angkor temples, music from the ethnic minorities of Ratanakkiri and Mondulkiri provinces, soundscapes of waterfalls, flora and fauna at Bokor National Park and insects, frogs and horses at Sen Monorom. In Phnom Penh he recorded ambient sounds such as traffic and voices at Boeung Keng Kang Market and people practising tai chi early in the morning on the riverside.

In June this year in Tong Vong Las, a village in Ratanakkiri’s Ou Chum district, Hairon recorded a kreung tarum (sacrifice ritual) held to appease a spirit and lift a curse from a rice field. During the ritual, men from the village played five gongs as the villagers drank rice wine before a cow was slaughtered and roasted on an open fire.

Hairon said that on listening to the recording he heard some “inexplicable artefacts”, including what sounded like an elderly woman laughing.

“I know, this is creepy, but this voice was definitely not audible during the ceremony,” he said. “Maybe my recorder has the possibility to capture spirit sounds.”

He said the recordings were like musical compositions but with environmental sounds instead of instruments.

Last month, Hairon collaborated on a project with colleague Saphy Vong for an installation at the AS((EAR))N exhibition at Museum Siam of Bangkok and a presentation titled The Sound of Cambodia: Past and Present with the founder of the Cambodian Music Archive, Oum Rotanak Oudom.

His next project is to work out a way to incorporate the sound postcards into physical objects.

“The physical postcards [could] also be used as a source of income for communities that want to sell them to tourists,” he said.

To check out some of Julien Hairon’s “sound postcards”, head to lescartespostalessonores.tumblr.com or facebook.com/lescartespostalessonores.

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