Sound art historically derives from electroacoustic and electronic music, where electronics are used to generate or modify sounds. It is sonic and auditory explorers like Luigi Russolo, John Cage, Pierre Schaeffer, Pauline Oliveros and R. Murray Schafer (among many others) that have expanded the understanding of audio culture.
Sound or sonic art has now moved into what is known as “audio culture”, an ever widening category in which musicians, composers, sound artists, scholars and listeners are attentive to a variety of auditory possibilities, sonic material, the act of listening and creative possibilities of sound recording, dissemination, transmission and playback. This “culture of the ear” has come to prominence only recently when social scientists, anthropologists and scholars active in culture studies began to look at sound as a marker of cultural difference and temporal study.
In continuing Khoj’s sound exploration since 2006, we presented another sound residency in January 2013. This residency, titled Auditions, aims to grow opportunities of dialogical and practical exchange to foster sharing and growth of auditory understanding. Taking a collaborative approach, the residency has looked at how low-tech devices can be used to produce different aural modalities by employing various media to craft sonic landscapes. Exploiting the highly interdependent social technology that characterises contemporary society, the residency aims to dispel the illusion of superficial machine mediated relations. It looks to direct attention towards an immersive sonic experience by using simple, inexpensive, recycled technology.
Auditions samples auditory practices of different kinds. Each of the participating artists comes from different backgrounds with contrasting engagements. While Priya Sen’s work is like moving through a sound mine where the listener can excavate sound in different areas of the room and investigates the connect and disconnect between sound and image, Abhijeet Tambe’s Flying creates an immersive environment with a fictional account derived from his personal experience of being in Delhi placed in an intimate environment of a black box. Pawel Janicki’s work is an interactive installation in which he uses field recordings made in Delhi along with a database of the Hindi language. His uses a program that can be easily accessed by anyone. Rudi Punzo’s kinetic sculptures use movement to create rhythmic sounds. Where in Punzo’s work sound is a residue of an interaction between objects, Malose Malahlela’s installation de-contextualises musical installations, bringing forth the innate feelings evoked by music.
The residency has been an opportunity to reveal the many layers of sound encountered, captivated and occupied, and is intended to foster sharing and growth of auditory understanding.
Charu Maithani, January 2013
The common theme in the work by the artists involved in Auditions might be… the lack of a theme. A ridiculous statement for sure. But, focused sound practice is such an emerging field, especially in India, that definitions are proving elusive. The term "sound art" itself is problematic. The invention of recording (in 1877) completely changed how we perceive ourselves and our music. It changed how we make and use sound, just as the expanding of mechanization and the ever increasing human population changed the ambient background-sound of life. If left as an open-ended definition, pointing in a variety of directions, sound art can be a useful though not very meaningful term, an umbrella practice, a catch all phrase… but lets not get hung up on needle in a haystack definitions, in dancing about architecture (to quote Frank Zappa).
Some of the artists here come from a musical background (composing in a traditional style or playing in bands); some come from video and film work and are dissatisfied with the way sound and image can be so co-dependent; some approach sound through abstracted technological interfaces; some through tactile experience; some through performance with objects or voices; some through field recording; some through group participation and interaction; some through storytelling; some through improvisation or intuition. But these are not as disparate "sounding" practices as might first be perceived. All these artists are trying to make sense of new information and are reacting consciously or unconsciously to the experience of sound in India in general, and Delhi in particular. The volume of life here can be overwhelming to both the initiated and the uninitiated, especially for people who are sensitive to sound. You can learn to block it out, to live with it as the norm, but it makes the work of a so-called sound artist a very different experience than elsewhere in the world. The sound here re-arranges your listening priorities and leads you in surprising sonic directions. This is a loud city, there is no denying that, but Delhi has its share of beautiful sounds as well. It is certainly unlike anywhere I have ever been: the car horns, the construction, trucks, auto rickshaws, street hawkers, the television and radio leaking from homes and shop fronts, the barking dogs, the ringing cellphones, the clunk of the night watchman's staff, the calls to prayer, the temple bells, the motors, generators, buses, the sound of multiple languages and dialects. Just as Delhi seemingly wants to disrupt your usual auditory sensors, so to do these artists want to disrupt traditional listening paradigms, to see where that might lead, to hear what new relationships, amongst our senses and amongst ourselves, however indefinable, might develop.
Christian Marclay said, "I think it is in sound’s nature to be free and uncontrollable and to go through the cracks and to go places where it’s not supposed to go…”
So perhaps a show as varied as this is a fitting experience of sound in the context of India.
Robert Millis, January, 2013
Abhijeet Tambe (India)
A story in quadraphonic sound
The work I do usually relates to recorded found sounds and real life conversations that I have during my explorations of a city space. Before coming to Delhi for the Auditions Sound Residency at Khoj, I started reading about the history of the city and became increasingly fascinated by its tumultuous and often violent past. Over the last 800 years (and more), Delhi has been the centre for many a power struggle and the repercussions of these have impacted South Asian history enormously. But how has this history shaped the lives of the people who live in the city today? I tried to explore the city to find out, but had very limited success. I could not make the kind of connections that I am accustomed to making, save one; Saqqlain, who is a qawwali singer from the Nizamuddin basti. But apart from that I mostly felt like some alienated spirit that was observing the street keenly, but from a distance. Like a djinn. And that is how the two characters in the story were born by the time I decided to write a fictional story that used the sound of various spaces in the city. I felt the sound needed to be in "surround" to really get a sense of the spaces that were chosen and I used a quadraphonic set up to record and recreate these sound spaces in 360 degrees.
A quadraphonic listening system uses 4 speakers arranged in a square, facing in towards the centre where the listener is. That is easily achieved. But recording in quadraphonic is not so simple. The choices for microphones, how many are used, and how they are arranged are quite large. And upon listening back the sound image feels very different depending on how it is done. The decision to record in quadraphonic set me on a technical path that had me immersed for weeks trying out different microphone capsules hooked up to various parts of my clothing such as my jacket lapels, collars, and eventually with some success stitched inside the monkey cap on my head. I wanted to try and achieve the feeling of a first person exploration of a city space but the environments I was in were impossible to control. So there I was strapped with microphones, fingers crossed while going through security at the metro stations, walking or taking cycle rickshaws through gullies and evaluating the results in my studio while developing a story. Flying is the result of this process.
- Abhijeet Tambe, January, 2013
Chi-Wei Lin (Taiwan)
Tape for Delhi
A Poem without paper; a concert without instrument
An art installation without art objects?
Inspired by Marinetti’s Parole in Libertà, Polyphonix of Jean-Jacques Lebel, Chinese linguist Bannong Liu's 4 accent theory, and the mechanism of tape player and tape delay, Tape Music invites the audiences to react to a long ribbon (100 meters) with hundreds of phonetic characters embroidered on it. As audiences read the tape, a spontaneous, ever evolving harmony of human music will be created. The expression of each Tape Music session differs dramatically from the next, depending on both personal interpretation and group interaction. The sound created by the audience can be considered as a plastic demonstration of each temporary social gathering.
Tape for Delhi is the Hindi version of Tape Music, translated and fabricated in Delhi during Khoj’s sound residency, premiering at the opening of Auditions on 2nd February, 2013.
The documentations of previous Tape Music sessions happened in different contexts shall be showed in the same exposition, including an agreement between artist and Khoj, which anticipates the tape’s future use in India.
Malose Malahlela (South Africa)
Blossomed in String
“The vocal music has the privilege to take the aid of words to communicate the inner containing mood but the instrumental music has only the vehicle of innate mood of the melody and no words to convey its message”
Malose is interested in exploring the medium that produces sound, based on his impressions of the culture of handmade instruments in India. He is interested in dwelling on how different one stringed instruments, an ektara for example, can have different designs, creations, sizes and can produce separate and distinct sounds. The artistic intent, here, is to try and disclocate the instruments from the context of their design and see them as medium that ignite sound.
Sound requires a medium to propagate, and generally that medium is air. When viewed in relation to South African culture during Dinaka, a ceremonial and ritual dance of northern Sotho speaking people, Sepedi is the medium that composes sound while playing a wind instrument. Similarly the installation embodies the attempt to communicate the innate mood of the instrument in an unreal setting.
Priya Sen (India)
And as an extra, added feature, you spin on the planets’ carousel for free...
Unstable sonic variations through spoken text, recorded sound, and video
It is possible that the spectacle may be witnessed simultaneously as erasure and overload.
Empty and full of everything at once.
They said the spectacle is the historical moment in which we are caught and as an extra, added feature, you spin on the planets’ carousel for free...(From Here by Wislava Szymborska)
The sound environment around the two videos will be unstable in its transmission; it has been composed using recorded sound, spoken text, film soundtracks and composed sound and music. It will be heard and experienced as fragments of narrative, interrupting and interfering with each other, and at times altogether disappearing. [Some of the tracks themselves have been made without editing; I was also exploring in this residency structures in real time and not always its manipulation].
This will hopefully produce the variations I am building around ideas of spectacle and the peculiar landscapes of entertainment and consumption in which we participate.
The spectacle that falsifies reality is nevertheless a real product of that reality. (From Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord)
Snow City is a winter wonderland in the heart of Bangalore – a massive theme park covering 12,500sq.ft with temperatures maintained at subzero degrees centigrade. Entire area is filled with snow made out of water and air, which is eco friendly and edible too.
The circus with its enormous traffic in replacing and recruiting men, animals and apparatus(From A Hunger Artist by Franz Kafka) is almost tragic in its scale and obsolescence. Here, it is also an ode to Jonas Mekas’ 1966 film, Notes On The Circus, an in-camera edited diary on the extravagant outtakes of the circus. This video was made on the last day of Gemini Circus’ Bangalore show in 2012, very close to Snow City, on Parade Ground.
Rudi Punzo (Italy)
Sound of Light vs Sound of Matter
Sound artist, sculptor and performer Rudi Punzo is interested in metamorphosis and its symbiotic relationship with artistic transformation. Punzo’s work mainly consists of creating site-specific music sculptures out of discarded materials.
Sound of Light, is a site-specific installation of photovoltaic insects that interacts with the presence of passers-by. A micro-zoo of frenzy and frantic electronic ‘roaches’ and ‘cicadas’ it reminds us of our dependence on energy sources and the impact of our behaviour on environment.
Aurora Borealis, Italian artist Rudi Punzo’s creation for Auditions Sound Residency at Khoj, in the words of the artist, represents: “A performance, an interactive experience and the description of how deeply it may impact the discovering of such a place as New (and Old ) Delhi on the creativity of an artist obsessed by sound and noise”.
At given times the artist will play a big musical installation– Sound of Matter –intermingling mechanical rhythm of a bicycle with the voices of robot insects, thus freeing the potential of these sounds produced as semi-automatic orchestra.
Rudi normally uses old, broken and recycled bicycles: cutting them to pieces, re-purposing the parts, and welding them together to make his sound sculptures. They are easy enough to find in the Western countries where he normally works, where old objects are more often thrown away rather than fixed. It is generally cheaper to purchase new than to repair.
For Rudi bicycles are not only convenient objects to rip apart and re-purpose, they represent a basic human need for mobility and exploration, they create no pollution, they are good for health and for the environment. They are a basic, simple beautifully designed machine and can be used to generate all sorts of sound.
Coming to India for the Khoj residency, Rudi fully expected to operate as he does in other countries—scavenging flea markets and garbage dumps for old discarded bicycles. However, in India bicycles are rarely thrown away, they are re-used and repaired, passed along, re-sold. They are much too important and expensive to simply discard. This posed a problem for the artist: when he was finally able to purchase an old Atlas bicycle, it seemed sacrilegious to tear such an important object apart. So he worked differently, wiring the bike for sound in such a way that it could be re-used after the show, so that it could return to being a useful, mobile bicycle.
Pawel Janicki (Poland)
New Delhi Audiograph
An interactive, audiovisual installation, New Delhi Audiograph treats some elements of the Hindi language as a structural foundation of a musical composition. The work uses a motion tracking system that enables the audience to interact with the piece. By various moves and gestures, the interactor can modulate and control various parameters of the music and image generated by the installation.
All audio recordings were collected for the installation during the artist’s sonic exploration of New Delhi. As reflected in the early days of his stay in the city, Janicki comments: The alien's stay accumulated words and sounds - obscured and mysterious, but evoking fascination…
Robert Millis (USA)
Robert Millis has been involved in the practice and development of experimental music and sound art in Seattle, Washington for nearly twenty years. He has released over 20 CDs and LPs, composed music for film, theatre and choreography, created and curated audio installations, performed in the U.S. and Europe, and collaborated with visual artists and book designers. Traditional Asian music and the era of early recording (cylinders and 78 rpm records) are of particular interest and inspiration for him. He is the author of Victrola Favorites: Artifacts from Bygone Days (Dust-to-Digital 2008), a book of historic early recording documentation, ephemera and music drawn from Millis' 78rpm collection. In addition to composition, sound art practice and design, he has filmed and produced experimental documentaries on Asian music- Phi Ta Khon: Ghosts of Isan and This World is Unreal like a Snake in a Rope. He is currently on a Fulbright scholarship to research the early Indian 78rpm gramophone industry in India.
As part of Auditions he will present a short performance taking sounds from an old, completely acoustic, wind-up gramophone and reinterpreting them live through a computer.
"...if a new technology extends one or more of our senses outside of us into the social world then new ratios among all our senses will occur like adding a new note to a melody..." (Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Message)