Budhaditya Chattopadhyay: Eye Contact with the City

A ten-minute sound/video installation-project that was the recipient of an Honourary Mention at PRIX Ars Electronica 2011, Budhaditya Chattopadhyay's Eye Contact with the City is newly represented by the much longer piece that evolved out of it called “Elegy for Bangalore.” For the fifty-six-minute work, Chattopadhyay gathered source material during six months of extensive fieldwork in 2010 and 2011 at various locations in Bangalore, India as well as from old reel-to-reel tapes found at the city's flea markets. The result, two years in the making, is no bucolic portrait, but rather a piece that largely concentrates on the industrial sounds of urban development—the myriad noises generated by machines, vehicles, grinding saws, workers, and the like at enormous metro-rail construction sites—resulting in a sound portrait of a “city undergoing dynamic metamorphosis.”

Musical elements do sometimes work their way into the piece but do so almost subliminally, such that the presence of a bowed string instrument, for example, becomes merely one element within a large, complex mosaic—the point being, presumably, to emphasize how fragile such natural, humanizing sounds are when urban development gets underway with such inexorable force. As Chattopadhyay himself states, “The construction sites ceaselessly upset the city, disturbing not only its natural urban landscape but also the city's collective memory, which is intruded on by sounds from the rapid and amorphous urban development.” His notes also help clarify the work's multi-layered structure: its primary layer is the industrial drone, the second is the flea market content that symbolizes the locale's vulnerable history, and the third is the city of Bangalore itself as captured in the rumble of traffic and vibrations of buildings.

To Chattopadhyay's credit, the work isn't one-dimensional, even if its sound elements remain largely unchanging from start to finish, as modulations in dynamics do occur, with the sound mass in some sections amplified in intensity and in others more subdued, almost as if the work site is receding into the distance as one drives away from it. Some degree of subtle sound manipulation also seems to be in play, with hammering noises, for instance, resounding at times in a stutter-like manner (though, admittedly, the effect could simply be the result of natural echo). Regardless, the work proves to be an engaging exercise in site-specific phonography, and the relentlessness with which its industrial elements sound clearly conveys the work's theme.

May 2013