guantánamo express

In 2005 I was asked by Matt Smith of First Floor to compose a work on the theme of the 'Radio Roadmovie' for a series he was curating for Kunstradio (ORF) in Austria. My piece, Guantánamo Express, aired on May 14, 2006.

Guantánamo Express is first a portrait of Jesús Ávila Gainza and his brother Julio. It was fabricated from the sounds I recorded around them: the sounds of their lives, their families, their homes, and most of all, with the sounds of their music. It is not only about them; I made it for them.

My wife and I met the Ávilas in Havana as we would come to know them best: through their music and infectious good spirits. Not long after we met, Jesús and Julio invited us to travel with them by overnight train to meet their families and see their home town of Guantánamo. The Ávilas' gracious company in general, and that trip in specific, were the highlights of our time in Cuba.

Like most portraits this one strives to capture more than will readilly fit in a frame. In addition to rendering the talents, relations, and humor of the Ávilas, I wanted it to evoke the peculiar experience of travel by night train through an unknown country. To be half asleep but never fully, to find the rhythm of the rails never far from the ear, to have half-understood half-lit visions pass before a temporarily uncritical mind... this for me is the peculiar but addictive promise of the road.

There is nothing in that promise that is comfortable, quite, or safe, quite; but there is at least that ellusive premonition that life will be for a while fully in you. That question-mark horizon underpins the American myth and American imperative of living most fully on the move.



the other rooms
gauntánamo express
desert sun
the other side
on top of the world
what the thunder said
san francisco sauvignon

would you, would you?
invisible cities
deep creatures
vincent fecteau
monkey pod

Guantanamo Express

It is as an American, lastly, that I wanted to give back to Guantánamo a small reflection of what I found it to be: a town with specific charms and specific problems, filled with specific sounds. This is not much, but I offer it in intentional confrontation to what my country has otherwise made it: a footnote to a now-infamous naval base.

This piece is a departure for me. For one thing, it is on a scale I rarely attempt; it is my single longest composition. Knowing this, may you listen with more patience. More importantly, I consider it a duet: it is a counterpoint beween my own recordings and composition, and the music of the Ávilas. Just as the Ávilas' repetoire includes songs from many sources, I embrace their work in turn; and as they would, take pleasure in sharing it with a bit of myself added.

I have endeavored to leave that embrace open; at times I step aside to let the Ávilas speak for themselves. I take credit in such moments for no more than making recordings. I am happy to have the opportunity to share the Ávilas talents with a wider audience. But I am also proud to have woven something new.

This work is available on CD (suggested donation $15 plus shipping).

guantánamo express 55 MB

Constructed entirely with field recordings made en route to and in Guantánamo, Cuba; featuring the performances of Jesús Ávila Gainza and his brother Julio. Unedited versions of some of the recordings used to compose this piece can be heard on this page (they appeared on the Recorded in the Field By... compilation).

If you enjoy this work, please donate via PayPal:

All proceeds, as did my commission honorarium, go to the Ávilas.