SOUND MAPPING - Similarities, opposites and the magic of suggestion

During my first week after arriving at the Alice Boner Institute, I spent a lot of time taking to the streets around Assi ghat. Assi ghat - named after the river Assi that originally opened into the Ganga and is now reduced a foul smelling drain – is an area of vast spaces for public ceremonial celebration along the river banks as well as a labyrinth of small alleys, coffee shops, food stalls and busy streets. Assi ghat has the right amount of intimacy, dark and private places, bustling city life and an atmosphere of immensity and spiritual elevation – it offers a variety of spaces to shift in and out of.

I knew that I wanted to keep all of the route for the audio walk within a 10-minute walking distance to the institute where I decided to place the starting point for the event. I thought about spreading out the map of the individual sound stations in favour of finding places that had an interesting or beautiful touch to it in terms of exterior/interior design or atmosphere. However, I felt that – by expanding the area for the audio walk – the sound stations would lose its density and connectivity to one another. I wanted to create a spatial body of sounds that could be able to correlate and densify without losing energy due to distance. The sound stations that I picked so far are common and therefore strongly affiliated with ordinary life on Assi ghat. They are tiny corners - not to be noticed at first glance-, they are barber shops, sports centres, neglected houses on the verge of collapse, green parks, calm alleys and loud streets that bustle with the sounds of traffic. They are seen every day. They belong to the many impressions that in total make up a visual inventory of Assi ghat.

Walking around the institute with earphones and listening to the sounds that I had recorded in Linz, I noticed three things:

  1. Originally, I wanted the individual sound stations not to be connected by sounds. Practically, you could have listened to sounds at a certain place and then when the recording stopped and you wanted to continue walking to the next station, there would have been only the sounds of Varanasi as you perceived them through your own ears. While walking from place to place, I realized though that going in and out of sounds from the equivalent situation in Linz breaks the continuity and atmosphere of the sound space itself. It felt disruptive as if the lights in a theatre went on and off after each scene and therefore prevented the audience from immersing into the narrative of the play. I wanted immersion to be a vital part in the creation of the third space of this audio walk and therefore decided on adding intermediate soundscapes that would function as bridges between the sound stations as indicated on the map. Immersion and coherence of sound and sight are meant to run like a thread through a narrative that entirely draws on the emotions and thoughts stored in the participant´s memory of previous experience and knowledge.

  2. While walking and listening to the recordings from home, I noticed that the sounds of Linz and Varanasi mixed. Although I had put in earphones on a relatively high sound volume, I could still make out the noise of traffic on Assi Ghat Road – a busy street around the institute. Linz (Austria in general) does not compare to the volume level and business of Indian city life. So by taking a less dominant soundscape into a more dominant one as a base, the third audio space created itself naturally. Both soundscapes are binaural – live listening is binaural in itself – and therefore they fused into one another spontaneously and naturally.

  3. Similarities, opposites and the magic of suggestion: Bringing Austrian sounds to India is an opposite in itself and is intended to not only encourage the question of Heimat on levels of auditory perception but also trigger emotions and stories that arise from the confusion of sound and sight, the unknown in the familiar. When contemplating about what sounds to pair with which stations, I chose to use three methods: similarity, opposites and suggestion. The first category is the most obvious one: Same place, equivalent sound. For example, this would apply to the supermarket I picked; in this sound station you will be able to enter a small scaled supermarket on Assi Ghat Road while listening to sounds from a larger scaled supermarket from Linz over your earphones. Another example from this category but a little different in its match is the temple sound station: you will enter a temple and listen to sounds that I recorded while attending a catholic mass. Obviously, although the places correlate in terms of their function (houses of prayer), the sound and sight of this pairing will not go hand in hand entirely due to different rituals. The second category (opposite) is a mixture of necessity and conscious decision making. One of the most interesting sounds that I had recorded in Linz were violently moving sounds like trains in a train station or vehicles passing on the autobahn. Evidently, there are no train stations or highways on Assi ghat. So, those stations could only be placed in opposites like in very narrow alleys. The space created here is therefore theatrical as the the participant´s brain will try to make a connection between sound and sight. Making that connection will only be possible through imagination and narrative. The third category of suggestion is one that I discovered by walking along a street that was lined with high walls. I was listening to sounds of the main shopping street in Linz (Landstraße) that also featured trams, people talking, street music and speakers on a political campaign. By hearing sounds that suggested people in action that I could not see, I automatically imagined them to be behind those walls. As I result, the situation went from theatrical and fictitious to real but unseen. The same technique applies to the construction site sound station that I want to place in front of the facade of an old and uninhabited house.

After roughly drafting a map and marking the sound stations on that map, Harsha and I went to talk to people that were affiliated with the places. All of the shop owners were friendly and curious about the project. Next step: graphic design and sound editing!

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