Sounds of Mount Desert Island

Aaron Jonah Lewis

Sounds of Mount Desert Island is an aural portrait of the island of Mount Desert, in Downeast Maine. The tracks on this two-disc set have been selected from a large collection of field recordings from September 2004 through April 2005. These CD’s present an audible cross section of Mount Desert Island, using only the actual sounds as they were captured by microphones in the field.

Listen and purchase all volumes at Bandcamp

From the Bar Harbor Times, February 10, 2005:

“…The collection is rich and varied. Unexpectedly, it also has a powerful visceral impact. Lacking direct visuals, sounds on Lewis’s recordings no longer come across as discretely significant entities but as a layered, almost musical aural sensation that creates new abstract images in the mind’s eye. The shifting aural images possess texture and depth with multiple sonic sensations glimmering in the interstices. The microphone seems to be no mere recorder of sound but is enveloped within, giving the listener an insider’s experience. A light rain with the visuals turned off becomes an evolving abstract formation, an engulfing curtain of dense, mercurial flow counterpointed by the babble of atomised pocks on welted surfaces. The overarching hum of a diesel engine trails a subtle, thumping bass. By a wharf, a boat’s low-key thrum in the middle ground is washed by the high-pitched chatter and echoes of gulls in the background; the water’s surface gently splashes with a pebbled, silky sound in the foreground.

On the road, an enormous deep-throated surge, only a truck, is viscerally frightening in its seizure of all aural sensation. The hard, sharp sounds of metals and machines occurring in flurries at a dump are penetrated by the strangely attractive, lulling backbeat of a truck backing up. At a market, jolly voices blossom as spectral presences without form or sense — inquiries, exclamations and observations, out of context, making an abstract poem, humanity murmuring not as disconnected individuals but as an enfolding sussuration. Like a movie’s soundtrack, the sounds seem to portend mysterious arrivals, shifts in energy, imminent departure, a weaving of webs.

Lewis’s excitement, low-key and sincere, is infectious. The process inspires curiosity; without thinking about it, you start listening more intently to sounds near and far and thinking differently about tone, inflection and rhythm…”

-Article by Laurie Schreiber

From the Bangor Daily News, May 11, 2005:

“Deep into a cold November night this past fall, Aaron Lewis strapped a microphone to his head and settled quietly beside Lake Wood in Acadia National Park.

His goal was to record the snapping and popping sounds created as the small lake froze over. But Lewis was startled as the sound of a beaver breaking the newly formed ice interrupted his chilly vigil.

“It was really scary,” he said Tuesday evening at the opening of his sound exhibit at College of the Atlantic’s Dorr Museum of Natural History. “I was so surprised by that sound. I recognized it as a beaver, but I couldn’t see it. That was a thrill.”

Lewis recorded that event, and many others, as part of his “Sounds of Mount Desert Island” project.

During the eight-month recording process, Lewis opened his ears to the myriad sounds of the island, from chattering tourists to the waves in Thunder Hole, from the wind atop Cadillac Mountain to water moving under ice.

“The way it developed into being a sort of documentary archive of Mount Desert Island is that I’ve lived on this island for three years and I didn’t even know how to get to all these places,” Lewis, 23, said. “Recording a place creates a strong connection.”

A small but enthusiastic crowd of people sat in comfortable chairs and put on headphones at the museum, some closing their eyes to enter more deeply into the world that Lewis has recorded.

“It’s definitely really amazing to hear something so clear and close,” Tara Jensen of Montpelier, Vt., said. “You can be really present with sounds. … Because you’re not physically seeing it, you’re able to imagine a lot of it.”

Like any good scientific observer, Lewis painstakingly recorded the time, date and place of each of his recordings.

He climbed Beech Mountain at 2 p.m. Dec. 8 and caught the crisply percussive sounds of dripping water and billowing winds.

The nighttime beaver splashes he recorded in November sound clear and dramatic. The listener can hear how the sudden burst of beaver noise woke up birds and set off a chain reaction in the animal kingdom that eventually caused faraway dogs to bark and howl.

“It was a very inviting, distinctive environment that he created,” Susan Lerner, director of the Blum Gallery, said after she took off her headphones. “It was really satisfying to just experience the sounds.”

Lewis said that he had trained since childhood to be a classical violinist, but that his experiences delving into the field of sound art, or recording naturally occurring sounds, has been ear-opening.

“It’s a different perspective,” he said. “It’s a whole new world. I often compare it to photography … it’s like taking a picture with a microphone.”

-Article by Abigail Curtis