Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Soundscapes

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Back in the days before Facebook
Boy does that sound old!
But it’s true – there was a time when there were no social networks as such, and we roamed freely through the web, looking for new treasures, for people to meet, for information to trade.
Most of us ad websites, some were beginning to dabble with blogs.

beforesocialmedia

It was in that heroic time that I discovered The Quiet American.
No, not the Graham Green novel1

The Quiet American is a website – and the alias of the gentleman that maintains2 it.
The website hosts a huge collection of sounds.

The opportunity, the thrill, and the risk of travel is being present to the world. My goal with Quiet American is to sketch in sound the experience of being in an unfamiliar place.

There are two main repositories of sounds, on the website.
One is called Field Recordings, and provides an ample sample of environmental sounds collected by the Quiet American as he traveled the world.

What kind of environmental sounds?
From Nepalese elephants scratching to sounds of the marina in San Francisco Bay, you get the lot.

Old-Delhi-Crowded-Street

Then there is the One Minute Vacations, sound-bites contributed buy the community.
And here, variety – in terms of subject, location and color – is incredible.
Anything, from tube stations to folk festivals, is here, in handy, one-minute sound snapshots.

It was a pleasure, going back to the Quiet American pages and seeing that – while the project appears to be on hiatus – the sounds are still there.

I don’t need to explain what kind of resource this is for a writer.
But there’s more.
There is a pleasure, in digging in the collections, in exploring the virtual shelves of this website, that’s closely connected with the pleasure of exploration, of travel.
It really amounts to traveling without moving.
Then, we have a number of choices – we can just sit in the dark and listen to the sounds, letting our imagination do its part, or we can leave the sounds in the background and search the web for matching images, for maps, for texts, to complement the experience.

studyalbum2

Both ways, the collection of sounds set up by the Quiet American is a treasure trove, a place to go back to, again and again.
Minimalist and maybe off-putting to some, The Quiet American is not a “friendly” website – you need to put work in finding out what you are looking for – but the reward is well worth the effort.
You’ll need to use your headphones.


  1. but there is a connection with the novel – you’ll have to find it for yourself exploring the website. 
  2. maintained/used to maintain? 
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Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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