A CASSETTE OF THIS PROGRAM CAN BE ORDERED FROM THE "ORF TONBANDDIENST"
*Guantánamo Express* is a portrait first and foremost of Jesús Ávila Gainza and his brother Julio. It was fabricated from the sounds I recorded around them: with the sounds of their lives, their families, their homes, of time we spent together - and most of all, with the sounds of their music. It is not only about them; I made it for them.
My wife and I met the Ávilas, both exceptional musicians, while visiting Havana in early 2004. We met them as we would come to know them best: through their music and infectious good spirits. After we got to know one another, Jesús and Julio invited us to travel with them by overnight train to meet their families and see their home town of Guantánamo. The Ávilas' gracious company in general, and that trip in specific, were the highlights of our too-brief six weeks in Cuba.
Like most portraits this one strives to capture more than will readily fit in its frame. In addition to rendering the talents, relations, and humor of the Ávilas, I wanted "Guantánamo Express" to evoke the peculiar experience of traveling by train through an unknown country at night. To be half asleep but never fully, to find the rhythm of the rails never far from the ear's attention, to have half-understood half-lit visions pass before a temporarily uncritical mind... this for me is the peculiar, but addictive promise of the road.
There is nothing in that promise that is comfortable, quite, or safe, quite; but there is at least that ellusive premonition that life will be for a while fully in you. That question-mark horizon underpins the American myth (and imperative) of living most completely on the move.
As an American, lastly, I wanted to give back to Guantánamo a small reflection of what it is (or at least, of what I found it to be) - a town with specific charms and specific problems, filled with specific sounds.
This piece is a departure for me as a sound artist in several respects. For one thing, it is an effort on a scale I rarely attempt; in fact, it is my single longest monolithic composition. Knowing this may you listen with more patience and kindness.
More importantly, I consider "Guantánamo Express" to be a contrapuntal duet.
Just as the Ávilas' repetoire as working musicians includes traditional and contemporary songs from many sources, my own extends to embrace their work in turn. I have endeavored to leave that embrace open: several times I step aside to let the Ávilas speak for themselves.
It hope it is clear that I take credit in such moments for no more than making workable recordings. I am happy to have the opportunity to share the Ávilas' talents with a wider audience.
But I am also proud to have woven something new.
A note on process
As with almost all my work, this one was constructed entirely from field recordings. In this case all the source sound was recorded in Cuba, either in or en route to Guantánamo.
I recorded on consumer minidisc - a format I have long advocated - and used Sonic Studios quasi-binaural DSM-6/EH microphones: a combination that affords great stealth and convenience when traveling. No additional sound sources were used, but some recordings were processed during composition.
The microphones I use compromise between true binaural recording and conventional stereo. As a result, this piece translates well on conventional speakers - but I recommend headphones for the full experience.
A note on the future of this piece
After broadcast, "Express" will be made available on a nicely packaged CDR as a fundraiser: proceeds will go to the Ávilas and their families. See quietamerican.org for more information.
Thanks to Matt Smith and Kunstradio for the opportunity to create and share this work. Thanks to Molli Simon for assistance when we needed it most.