Eye contact with the City: A discourse on contemporary urban sounds

Budhaditya Chattopadhyay, Maria Papadomanolaki

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This recorded conversation takes its departure from a critical listening to a sound work elegy for Bangalore (Chattopadhyay, 2013a, b, c) originated from an award-winning project Eye Contact with the City (Chattopadhyay, 2010 – 2013).[1] Originally produced for and aired at Resonance FM, London as part of an interview project Sensing Cities,[2] the dialogue between artists and researchers Budhaditya Chattopadhyay and Maria Papadomanolaki aims to develop a discourse on contemporary urban sounds. While responding to the interviewer/interlocutor Papadomanolaki, Chattopadhyay contextualizes his work within a body of research and artistic practice as well as recurrent thought-stream, and conceptualizes the sound work stressing on the notions of urban alienation and the lapses in the (aural) memory through frenzied navigation in the contemporary cities, arguing for the contemplative listening as a strategy for empowerment and emancipation.

Elegy as a form denotes melancholia and lamentation especially for the dead or the passed away. In the work elegy for Bangalore,[3] the poetics of elegy is explored towards the expression of sorrow over the passing of time, affecting detachment, decay and departures in aural memory within the transfiguring landscape of a city. The passing of time forces the disappearance of the hitherto known landscapes from the immediate sight into pervasive emergence of a megalopolis that is under rapid growth and development. Stemming out of intense phenomenological experience embedded in a psychogeographic practice of dérive (Sadler, 1999; Bassett, 2004; Coverley, 2010) in an Indian city and its complex sound world, the work represents a sonic construct that investigates the processes of unadulterated listening to the city under dynamic transformation. Working on the assumption that passage of time can be captured employing a contemplative and poetic mood of elegiac pacing as a methodology of listening to contemporary urban sounds, this work uses indolence in order to facilitate meditative and in-depth observation of the city involving a keen sense of temporality and spatial history that reshapes memory associations disconnected and erased in the pervasive passing of time.

The primary material for the work was gathered in six months of extensive fieldwork. The audio composition took two more years to take a final shape. The sounds that were gathered during the extensive field recording undertaken at different locations of Bangalore City, embody the imagery of urban growth, exemplified by the enormous metro-rail constructions. This disruption occurs in an anticipation of idleness quite typical of Bangalore and similar to that of other Indian cities. Sounds restored from the collection of used reel-to-reel tapes found at the flea market provide insights into this idleness within the city’s endangered memories. Apart from being mere auditory information extracted from the industrial environment of the construction sites, the field recordings are the impressions, reflections, and musings of a nomadic listener. They are intensive and inclusive of the phenomenological experience of attentive and expanded listening and recording at various locations in the city.

These recordings can also be considered as the location study and field research towards developing the composition. The primary layer of sound as industrial drone formulates the quintessential continuo on which tones and textures from used and damaged tapes are posited and re-contextualised as the secondary layer of experience. The city of Bangalore, the protagonist in this work, appears as the third layer in terms of various traffic rumbles and minute vibrations in buildings. These recordings have augmented the imaginary, surreal cityscape by framing the fleeting, transient impermanence of sounding urban growth. The strategy of the composition primarily remains a digital-acoustic mediation of recognisable environmental sounds and contexts; the aim has been to evoke the listener’s spatial association, pre-cognition, and imagination of the city that is currently in a state of slow decomposition. In this context, the conversation between Chattopadhyay and Papadomanolaki helps to locate the transcendental potentials embedded in the work towards conceptualizing a number of issues the artists have been concerned with, namely urban sound, contemplation, listening and memory.
Original languageEnglish
Journal[In]Transition Journal
Issue number6.2
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jun 2019


  • soundstudies
  • audiography
  • urbansounds
  • listening
  • memory and place


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