Back in February, we reviewed Kate Carr‘s sound map Lost in Doi Saket, and expressed our desire for a physical release. Our wish has just been granted in an unusual way; Overheard in Doi Saket is presented as a sound card in a case the size as a cheese cracker, along with a booklet the size of a coin. This isn’t what we expected, but it’s really neat. The album feels like a secret document smuggled out of the country, and well it could have been, concealed under the tongue.
The most obvious difference between the sound map and the physical release is the ability to play it through a home stereo. One is immediately immersed in the sounds of Thailand: a motorcycle rides between speakers while the locals converse and music plays. Carr calls this overture “Snatches”, which seems apt; it’s a playful introduction to the aural experience. Another difference is that the sound map contained over sixty segments, while the sound card contains only eleven. Yet Carr has chosen well; in this case, less is more. By selecting a representative variety of sounds, the artist offers focus; the same holds true for the photographs selected, two of which are reproduced here. It must have been difficult to make these decisions, but by boiling her journey down to its essence, Carr has given it form and additional meaning. No longer just a collection of sounds, the Doi Saket collection is also a meditation on the experience, a honing of memories that is now a keepsake.
The humor of the initial presentation is preserved in titles such as “Two Pigeons Trying To Mate On A Wobbly Wire” and “I Ran Up And Down The Stairs Of The Dam”. Carr’s personality shines through. This makes the work a sonic diary to which strangers are invited: we never forget the woman behind the sounds, all but invisible sonically but ever present as a silent guide.
The sounds of Doi Saket are layered here as they are in real life. Simple, non-site-specific field recordings are absent; we never hear “just” a river or an unadorned breeze. Pigeons coo, people sing, and all the while those motorcycles and scooters are present, zipping in and out of the mix on their way to their next essential appointment. A shopkeeper sweeps; a rooster crows; gurgles echo below local streams.
Thailand may be busy and messy, but it is also filled with holiness. The chimes and chants of “Underwater” are reminders of the nation’s spiritual side. It was only a couple months ago that the military staged a coup, but according to some missionaries I know there, this hasn’t affected the smaller towns outside of the capital. Still, with such turmoil, it’s wonderful to have a reminder of the nation’s best qualities: a soundscape that reflects a nation’s hopes and dreams. Carr presents Thailand’s best side through this work, weaving a colorful tapestry of human and environmental sound. One cannot imagine a better tribute to a place that for a brief and treasured time Carr called home. (Richard Allen)