Name: Budhaditya Chattopadhyay
Occupation: Artist, audio/media practitioner, author, researcher
Current releases: Budhaditya Chattopadhyay's current releases and publications include sound works and books: Exile and Other Syndromes on Crónica, The Well-tempered City on Touch, The Nomadic Listener via Gruenrekorder and The Auditory Setting: Environmental Sounds in Film and Media Arts on Edinburgh University Press. Between the Headphones: Listening to the Practitioner was published in February 2021 with Cambridge Scholars Publishing. A new book is slated for release in 2022.
If these thoughts by Budhaditya Chattopadhyay piqued your interest, visit his official website for more information. He is also on Instagram.
Can you talk a bit about your interest in or fascination for sound? What were early experiences, which sparked it and what keeps sound interesting for you?
The early fascination was with situated listening - during my growing up as a countryside boy, I used to take long walks in the forests or small mountains, and later when I was in my early teens, bicycling alone through the natural sites exploring the different territories while listening to their environments with ears of wonderment. These early solo explorations have shaped the way how I engage with the world, and how I sense sounds.
In my late boyhood, when I got exposed to sound recording and reproduction machines such as cassette tapes and disc players for the first time, I was overwhelmed with the capacity of the machines to alter my reality, but I was also fascinated by the new sounds - medium-specific noise, such as tape hiss and the clicks and pops of vinyl. Hearing a record player with the surface noise in between sonic events for the first time was a significant rupture in my sonic world, which so far was more ingrained in the natural settings and the habitual environments made of more site-specific and embedded listening.
Recorded sound opened up a new world for me. In recording, sounds were mediated with technological affordances, taking my auditory situation encapsulated in a tangible recorded memory, fixed for posterity. The ephemerality of sound I grew up with faced a significant shift with this intervention.
Later, when I got my first tape recorder, my solo play and self-experimenting with it opened up new spatialities, much of which were informed by the site where I was, the acoustic architecture of natural and built spaces, and the reflective relationship between myself and these.
What's your take on how your upbringing and cultural surroundings have influenced your sonic preferences?
My upbringing was in the countryside, and with cultural surroundings of local music, both Indian (classical) music performed in our household, and the indigenous musical practices I overheard from the tribal villages surrounding our locality.
The ritual and religious practices with sound, such as temple bells, or the sound of Sanskrit mantras coming from daily worship were also part of this situated sonic world. While growing up, these associations left a desire in me to explore ritual sounds, which have remained in my practice as a trace of a traditional association which needs to be probed and redefined.
Today, these listening experiences manifest in projects such as Dhvāni (2020 - 2022), in which I rediscover the ritual sounds in today’s automated environments for a critical re-listening and unpacking.
Do you see yourself as part of a tradition or historic lineage when it comes to your way of working with sound?
Recently, Peruvian scholar Marisol de la Cadena suggested in a talk that ‘there is no singular world, or many discreet worlds. There are only connections and relations.’ Resonating with this perspective, I see myself not part of a particular tradition or historic lineage, but a confluence of various alive traditions and sonic trajectories and lineages not determined by skin colour or national or cultural backgrounds, but remaining emergent and unfolding through cultural mobility, exchange, and global interactions.
In Europe, in some situations I feel alienated as a non-white artist and thinker even though I contribute to the local communities of sound practitioners.
What types of sound do you personally prefer to work with? Are there sounds you reject – if so, for what reasons?
Generally, I don’t distinguish between types of sound, based on their material or vibrational characters. Sounds that engage me usually connect on a subconscious level. Often it happens that some sounds in the habitual environments spark a slow post-cognitive process of recollection or contemplation. These sounds are often random and emergent, and they unfold in uncertain layers of plural narratives and multidirectional developments, often mingled with personal memories, desires, and deja vu situations. This auditory situationism is at the core of my sound practice.
There is always an inter-subjective relationship with the sound environment surrounding me that I find most engaging. Very rarely a sound annoys me. All sounds and noises are interesting for me to varying degrees - often the ontological ambivalence non-musical sounds and noises propose creates a poetic opening. When it comes to rejecting sounds, I rarely use noise reduction to abate certain sounds or noises from my sonic palette.
Having said that, I must admit that I have a particular interest in environmental sounds or ambient sounds, in comparison to, for example, human-made sounds like voice and speech. In my book The Auditory Setting (Edinburgh University Press 2021) I have examined this role of environmental sounds in navigating places, and in perception and cognition and in the world making, particularly in audiovisual media. Sounds of the human voice don’t interest me that much, particularly when it is banal everyday chatter. However, I have a fascination for historical traces of voices, and archival sounds.
In my projects Auralising Archives, and Planchette Bot, I have been working on archival recording of speech as datasets for training Neural Network for generating fictional voices.
Where do you find the sounds you're working with? How do you collect and organize them?
Often I find sounds in my everyday environment: the sounds in the toilet, or in the kitchen, the sound of a computer fan, and the electrical buzz in the form of a cumulative room tone, the sounds of the neighborhood, and the bird that visits me everyday. The early morning sounds from street cleaning cars; the evening drones of a busy city. These are the sounds that find my attentive listening oriented towards them.
I have absolutely no intention of going to remote areas of the Earth in pompous expeditions, and gathering sounds through a colonial mode of extractive ethnography. I don’t intend to collect sounds in order to re-organize them for musical consumption. I very rarely record for compositional purposes. My main concern is to develop an inter-subjective relationship with situated sounds, not to extract sonic objects for fixed compositions to be released on a fixed media, such as a CD album, for sales and make a profit from. With an inclination towards nurturing a reciprocal relationship with situated sounds, I engage with them on a poetic and contemplative level, generating texts through a refractive engagement with sounds and translating the sonic interaction in poetic language.
For example, in my book The Nomadic Listener (Errant Bodies Press 2020) I endeavored to find a language conducive to transducing sonic experiences into words. I consider sonic experiences to be subdued, sublime, and nuanced if our ears are sensitive enough to attune and listen with care. These nuances and intricacies are often lost when they are recorded, collected, and re-organized, stripping them off their situated spatio-temporality and locative traces. Taking this artistic position, I increasingly distance myself from sound recording.
Rather, I would prefer to give back all the recordings (I have made in my formative years following Western canonical work), to the sites they come from. If I record at all, I let them disappear in my archive, only their memory remains.
Some artists use sounds as a means for emotional self-expression, others take a more conceptual approach or want to present intriguing sound matter. How would you characterize your own goals and motivations in this regard?
If I work with recorded sounds, which I rarely do these days, I express myself emotionally. The work then becomes a vehicle for expressing certain emotions generated through lived experiences, such as melancholia, brooding, and existential angst. But the departing point of any work is always embedded in a conceptual premise that leads the work in a particular direction.
In my project Decomposing Landscape (2015 - 2022), I have been working on the conceptual premise of Anthropocene, ecology, and human intervention in the natural settings - the project was presented in various formats, e.g. VR installation and live Ambisonics audiovisual performance. The aim was to intervene in the Anthropocene debate with a grounded and affective approach. In my book The Auditory Setting (Edinburgh University Press 2021) I have studied media production altering ecological codependence into spectacles and consumable commodities, such as an album or a film work.
Affective resonance is often a premise to engage with my work. I deliberate on the scope to open my work up for cross-pollination between conceptual rigor and emotional experiences.
From the point of view of your creative process, how do you work with sounds?
The creative process is grounded in situated contemplative listening to a site. Through engaging in such an unfolding process of listening, I come across various intercepting narratives of the site, in which historical narratives converge with the contemporary. The site can be a physical location, or a subject, or a concept, or a body of knowledge. The attention on this site opens up manifold methodologies to explore.
My work process has significantly changed over the last years. I started with field recordings, which were deeply auto-ethnographic in approach. Most of my early works stem from my life-worlds, growing up in the countryside in India, moving to a big city, and moving to Europe. These trajectories deeply reflect in my works. As a consequence of being in Europe for the last 13 years, I have developed a critical attitude towards the colonial structures operating in European institutions, which exclude voices that are migratory and marginal. I have been developing works in which this criticality gradually has become central.
The work process too, reflects the polemics. I have been moving away from the practice of composing with recorded sounds to produce a deliverable album. Spending time in a studio to process sounds and produce an album as an object doesn't attract me at all. I never indulged in such practices actually. However, for a while I was working with Ambisonics to explore the spatial practices with sounds experimenting with the scope of such multi channel options. But I never had a personal studio. I still don’t have any studio. All the works are developed in a perpetual condition of mobility and nomadism.
In terms of process, I prefer to work collaboratively. In the last few years, writing took much of my time. I enjoy giving shapes to thoughts around listening, being, and sounding.
Which tools have been most important and useful for you when it comes to working with and editing sounds?
While working with sound I hardly think about the tools. The listening ear is of course a ‘tool' to consider, but it is not a utilitarian approach that I embrace with it. The computer has been a tool, but more like facilitating a virtual sociality rather than an actual handy tool. I hardly edit field recording materials. I consider setting up a microphone in situ composing itself. The choice of microphone, recording media, angle, the misc-en-sonore, the location intimately connected to my being there - all of these and many more are factors in this compositional process. Although, as I said, I don’t record much nowadays, but when I did, I never intended to edit the materials. In live performance, I lay the materials to build affective environments in which a listener can communicate with me through the material shared. The mixing console and RME Fireface interface, in this regard, can be considered tools of course. But I never really gave these tools much importance in my work process. They are merely incorporated based on their availability.