Quiet American

by rthieme on September 6, 2004

100_0477Now that “Islands in the Clickstream” columns have been published as a book, it is time to explore tangents that illuminate the deeper implications of technology as well as write reflections.

This review describes the work of Aaron Ximm and his Quiet American web site. Ximm’s award-winning “found sound” constitute exquisite islets in the clickstream, especially his one minute “audio vacations.”

Among his diverse offerings, my personal favorite is Bronwyn Ximm’s narration of Annapurna: Memories in Sound, recorded during a three week trek in central Nepal.

Truth-in-advertising requires that I acknowledge Aaron Ximm a.k.a. Aaron Thieme as my son.Aaron Ximm is a cultural artisan trapped in a computer programmer’s body.

Article by Misty Harris, CanWest News Service

His e-mail address is a homage to a Haitian voodoo god. His surname is a reference to his wedding date in Roman numerals. And his online portfolio, www.quietamerican.org, is a nod to a Graham Greene novel about Vietnam.

But it’s Ximm’s Internet love letter to ambient sound that’s
earning him international acclaim.

Buried in Ximm’s web portfolio is a secret link to “audio
vacations,” the latest cult hit among the overworked white-collar set. The 60-second vacations (accessed by clicking on the American flag above the site menu) are mp3 files featuring ambient noise from around the world. Simply choose a place to “travel,” plug in your headphones and drift away.

No passport required.

“One of my intentions, of course, was to carve out a moment for people to remove themselves from the pressing concerns of their own lives, if only briefly,” Ximm says. “(A minute) is long enough to convey a sense of time and place, and short enough to demand attention.”

The 33-year-old San Franciscan calls the audio vacations a
“gateway drug” for people who might otherwise ignore this form of ambient art. He hopes they’ll inspire people to recognize the beauty in random soundscapes, much the same way as they’d regard a sunset or a painting.

In just 19 months, traffic on Ximm’s site has grown to nearly 10 times what it received before the vacations were added.
“Travelers” now represent 90 per cent of all visitors to

“We live in a media-saturated culture,” Ximm says. “I thought
there was something sort of pleasing about using all this technology to remind people that what’s around them is worthy of listening.”

Included in the nearly 90 minutes of mp3 trips are a walk through the beer gardens in Munich, the lullaby of terra cotta wind-chimes in Turkey, the sound of a snow trek through Halifax, and an overheard conversation (via underwater microphone) between eight bottlenose dolphins.

According to author Ken Blanchard, whose books include The One Minute Manager, The One Minute Apology and the One Minute Golfer, Ximm’s site may be a touchstone for time-management issues in western society.

“We really have to take a look at our lives,” he says. “Maybe if we start with a minute and realize how powerful and refreshing that is, maybe we’ll move to two minutes and eventually start to find real space in our lifestyle.”

Although skeptics claim a minute isn’t long enough to find Zen in the computer, Blanchard believes that if it’s a “focus minute,” it can indeed be therapeutic. He explains the real problem as one of breaking through workaholic culture in order to cultivate that minute.

“We got conned in the ’70s,” Blanchard says. “People thought
with new technology we would have a lot more free time, but we don’t at all.

“Now with the computer and the Internet and the voice mail, people just think they’re supposed to be available 24/7.”

CanWest Global is Canada’s largest media company and newspaper publisher. CanWest papers include: The National Post, Edmonton Journal, Ottawa Citizen, Vancouver Sun, Calgary Herald and Montreal Gazette.

Misty Harris
National Consumer and Social Trends Reporter
CanWest News Service
[email protected]

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