visiting Angkor Wat, we were summoned by ringing gongs to a contempory
Buddhist temple on its periphery. We found a rehearsal underway at
a music school on the temple grounds, monks coming and going and eager
to sit on the rehearsal hall steps to practice their English. The
metalophones are remniscent of the gamelan orchestras of Indonesia.
the third anniversary of their father's death, two adult children
in the old French colonial city of Battambang paid for a memorial
service in his memory. We came across this ritual taking place in
the family's storefront business.
tiny Banteay Srei is a favorite of visitors to the Angkor temple complex.
For a long time inaccessible due to the risk of landmines, the 'temple
of women' is perhaps the most intricately carved and intimate of the
temples. A resident band entertains tourists; most bandmembers are
victims of mines who are missing limbs or blind. They most definitely
rock. (Here's a bandmember listening to this recording.)
the seven hundred year old crumbling towers of the Bayon, in the Angkor
Thom temple complex, devotees still visit in the afternoon to tend
candles, offer alms, and recite prayers. Neither these women nor the
resident bats seemed to mind my lingering to admire the sunlight slanting
through incense smoke.
dusk Angkor Wat closes to visitors, and the grand causeway sees a
leisurely exodus of tourists and those making a living off them. In
this recording, a young monk in a brilliant yellow robe plays a leaf-kazoo
for the stream of the departing in hopes of alms...
first nights in Cambodia we mistook the cicada chorus for some sort
of electronic security system: we couldn't otherwise explain to ourselves
the piercing metalic whine that came up at sunset. The insect choir
captured in this recording reached a sound level that made conversation
traditional option for getting around Phnom Pehn: the cylco, a three-wheeled
bicycle taxi. Nerve wracking at its leisurely pace in heavy traffic,
but guaranteed to give you a taste of the city. Here's part of a ride
we took back towards our hotel, breath held.
sunset near the main entrance to Angkor Wat, justly famous centerpiece
of the Angkor complex. Cicadas and children done with a day of guiding
and hawking; an inevitable motorcycle on the ring road; perhaps the
echoes of a traditional ensemble rehearsing nearby, and the fruit
bats wheeling in the gloaming...
within one gopura (tower) of sprawling Angkor, the Hall of Echoes
resonates when you find just the right spot on the wall to thumb with
a closed fist... When the wall is well-pounded, the deep frequencies
take most of a minute to die away entirely.
ubiquitous as mosquitos and motorcycles, patient rows of souvenier
hawkers barricade every tourist site and demand their fair share of
hard currency. One young hopeful sells ten postcards for a dollar:
the dollar being standard currency in Cambodia. The perpetual question:
how much, and when, and if, to buy.
for the movie that took their name, the 'killing fields' are perhaps
the first thing that one associates with the Khmer Rouge. The Choeung
Ek fields just outside Phnom Pehn now look (one supposes) much as
they did before they became a place of execution: green and innocuous.
Only an inspection of a few terse monuments reveals that an estimated
17,000 people were executed here. This recording captures the odd
resonance inside one grim but effective summation of horror: a glass
tower filled with carefully categorized skulls: 'female, 15-25; male,
15-25; female...'. We found it a bit surreal that every visitor to
the fields is heavily touted to go as well to the nearby shooting
ranges, where assault rifles (and more) may be rented by the round.
The rumor mill insisted that for a price, the adventure traveler could
try a bazooka on an unlucky cow.
Choeung Ek killing fields (see above), one tree is described simply
as 'killing tree': so called because against its trunk, babies and
children had their heads methodically smashed. Nothing to hear here,
underneath its normal leaves. Move along.
playing marbles on a wide, torn-up street not far from Tonle Sap (river):
above on both sides, drab apartment blocks teaming with life. Men
smoking in undershirts, women doing the dishes, plants being watered,
cats being pet. Many streets are un- or only partly paved, and in
places trash collected in heaps; but the city carries on.
productive bats of the National Musuem, which according to the Moon
Handbook generate a ton of guano a month, which is sold as fertilizer.
The museum collection held our interest for an afternoon, but the
fragments of freizes and dislocated statury couldn't compete with
that left intact at Angkor. Still, better to see it jumbled here ~
than in Europe.
private party: an affair for the well-heeled in Battambang. From what
we made out, it was to celebrate the completion a building nearby
(apparently half-complete). We didn't linger, but no one minded my
lurking while I captured a few tunes.
boasts the rapidly-fading remnant charm of a French riverfront colony.
A few blocks back from the river, a few grisly modern hotels and markets
give out almost at once to crowded housing and dirt lanes. Down one
towards sunset, we paused to listen to this maddeningly abstruse P.A.
broadcast: a Morton Feldman ritual, a rehearsal by novice musicians?
I will never know. A few hundred feet later, we passed a pink-lit
bordello, advertised by listless towel-clad twelve year olds (I would
guess) perched on the porch.
work at Angkor: a team meticulously reproduces the original stonework
of a lesser temple, in hopes of shoring up one of its crumbling towers.
Hammers in unconcious polyrhythm.
storefront lecture: but on what topic? Political harrangue, sermon,
or language lesson? My cryptic scribbled note says simply 'storefront
ritual,' and my otherwise detailed travel journal is silent on the
matter I was in a hurry to record my impressions of later that
day, when I recorded a twenty-minute track listed above as 'phantasmagoric
Battambang.' In any event English lessons were to be had everywhere:
I felt bemused, as I did years before passing a building full of schoolchildren
in Vietnam reciting the English alphabet.
nearby Phnom Bakheng, atop a small hill, the towers of Angkor gleam
at sunset: and as the tourists mill, cameras snapping, a band plays
a twenty minute tune, punctuated occasionally by the roar of an elephant
carrying the adventurous (or plump) up the hill... note that the piercing
high-pitched drone-squeal is provided by cicadas greeting the dusk.
better recordist than I would know the name of these birds, which
we heard in the forests around Angkor regularly. Here, at heart-stoppingly
romantic Ta Prohm, two call slowly out of phase with one another,
pausing only for a flock of racous... what? Not ravens. I think they
were white. Ta Prohm has been (controversially) left as it was found'
largely overgrown with banyan trees: which make every visit, especially
early in the morning when you have it to yourself, feel like a wondrous
tank rolling the streets of Siem Reip, staging ground for tourists
exploring the nearby ruins of Angkor. A coup, we wondered? No
a prop requisitioned for the filming of the Tomb Raider movie. Simulated
violence in a country so betrayed by it.