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Why I Love... Sonic Vacation Albums

Sonal D'Silva By Sonal D'Silva
Published January 2024

Sonic Vacation Albums

I’ve worked in audio for over a decade now, but on vacation I documented things just like everyone else does: with photos and video. That changed after a work trip to the Seychelles. I stood by the side of a dirt road, waiting for the rest of the crew to show up. It was hot and humid, and I was beginning to feel sleepy at 10am, so to keep myself awake, I turned on my Zoom H4n and trained it on the mundane sounds around me: the idling engine of the crew truck, the crunch of gravel as the locals walked by, walla from the fruit stand as people waited for fresh slices of papaya and tangy mango. When I listened back, a few months later, I was surprised at how vivid the memories were — like the audio was a codec that contained a massive file of smells, sights, and other hidden sounds, ready to be uncompressed.

I saw the tallest breaking waves I’ve ever seen on a beach in Sri Lanka... the photo did not do them justice; the sound, though, was pure power.

Since then, I’ve created a sonic album of every trip I’ve been on and it’s glorious; I can’t believe I didn’t think to do it earlier. I saw the tallest breaking waves I’ve ever seen on a beach in Sri Lanka but without any real reference for scale, the photo did not do them justice; the sound, though, was pure power. The wind sweeping autumn leaves along the street reminds me how cold it was in the Hague when we got lost and walked in the wrong direction for 20 minutes. I crank up my recordings of a fading campfire in the sleepy hill station of Panchgani, each crackle and pop becoming softer as the flames died down; in the background I hear voices from the bungalow at the top of the hill, arguing about the rules of Uno. The heavy doors of the Paris metro closing with a hiss remind me of how we stood on the platform looking at a poster for a Mark Knopfler gig and wondering if we should go. “Some other time”, we said. A few months later, the pandemic happened.

The great thing about creating an audio album is you can now do it with any recording app on your phone. If you’d like to carry audio gear through airport security, do so, by all means, but be prepared for encounters like the one I had where I was asked to explain my Zoom H4n. I showed the security officer how the recorder worked; she stared at me, and picked it up to see for herself. Then she said, “Zap zap!” and waved it about as if she were using a Taser. “That’s what it looks like,” she said, laughing, as I laughed along, ready to be done with that little interaction.

It’s worth all the trouble, though, I realise as I listen to another recording from my Sri Lanka album. Our hotel was located at the edge of a national park and animals regularly wandered the property. A hotel‑mandated guide escorted us to our outdoor dinner and I turned my recorder on as we walked in silence. Crickets, our footsteps, and then another sound in the distance. I whisper to our guide, “What is that? Monkeys?” He hesitates, then whispers back, “No, ma’am. Your friends.” Indeed, that was the sound of the rest of our party trying, and failing, to keep it down at the poolside dinner. No photo could have captured that moment in all its hilarious glory.