A reflection on Talking Field: Listening to the Troubled Site [2017]by Budhaditya Chattopadhyay


Chattopadhyay’s work is a sonic diegesis about Tumbani; an area on the borderland between Bengal and Jharkhand in Eastern India.

Tumbani has been inhabited by the Santhal tribe for knowable past. The name is descriptive, it is a  Santhali word that translates to “small forest” in English.

In recent years the drive to excavate areas in india with natural resources, led by corporate industry has taken control of Tumbani. Chattopadhyay writes that once tranquil scenery has been ‘transmuting to become homogenised wastelands.’ Tumbani is now part of the east Indian industrial belt. Mining has brought new sights [thick air from polution – heavy machinery] new sounds [dynamite has been used to create the mine – coughs are now routine; tumbani now has severe problems with tuberculosis from the fumes created by mining]. Lives shift constantly as new townships are created to deal with the influx of workers. Chatopadhyay aims to capture the transitivity in this landscape by sharing an “aesthetic interpretation of the gradual transfiguration”.

The work consists in a multi-channel sound composition; decomposing landscape. Chattopadhyay’s methodology begins with archiving sounds and sights with phono/photo/videographic field work to create audio-visual portraits of the area. This is split into 5 types:


Life and livelihood [both traditional and that of industrial workers]


Land Development

Collective memory [e.g. the ambience of abandoned homes – aural imagery of personal narratives]

For Chattopadhyay the audiovisual archive of Tumbani is essential to the work. The artist here preserves the history of the site.

Chattopadhyay uses sound design techniques to reflect shifts in Tumbani. The sounds of industrialisation use digital audio processes to heighten the sense of their imposition on the scene, while ‘natural’ sounds are left largely unprocessed. Dynamite sounds are panned, time-stretched and saturated, overwhelming the viewers hearing. The sounds become less representational, more abstract and emotional [pain…] This follows the technique of Musique Concrete where sounds are electronically processed but left recognisable which creates hybrid spaces to contemplate the materiality of sounds.

Presenting this story through sound as well as videos and photography helps to immerse the viewer in the narrative. I feel that as I relate to sounds in my life I form a bed of relations to them that rests in my subconscious. When these sounds are played back the relations are triggered, reminding me of these often subconscious emotional attachments to sound. This is often utilized in contemporary british hip-hop and grime. In L3’s – Crash the Coupe the default iPhone ringtone breaks through the hook, disrupting the flow of the song, reflecting the annoyance these digitally synthesised sounds can have on the flow of life.

Although the situated sounds in Chattopadhyay’s piece are not exactly ‘default’ in the way digitised sounds can be, they’re still relatable and emotional sounds. The individual sounds of the animals of Tumbani are not immediately recognisable but they blend into a recognisable natural soundscape, just as the noise pollution post-industrialisation is also recognisable to anyone who has lived in cities.

Aside from immersiveness, I wonder if the audio-visual narrative in this work goes beyond the textual. It is presented chronologically, aiming to represent and reflect, not reimagine.

A reflection on two journal articles

1.    David Overend – A Work on Progress

2.    Budhaditya Chattopadhyay – Talking Field: Listening to the Troubled Site

David Overend

A Work on Progress

Documentation and Exegesis

1.    A Work on Progress was a three-hour durational installation presented at the Arches arts centre in Glasgow on 16 and 17 April 2010 as part of the Forest Fringe Micro-Festival [1].  Programmed alongside ‘a carnival of intimate encounters, audio walks, installations, works-in-progress, secret adventures and interactive experiences, including Tim Etchells’ poster installation and the Forest Fringe Travelling Sounds Library, A Work on Progress took place in the studio theatre, separated from the rest of the festival in the Arches’ only designated theatre space.

2.    Visitors to the space encountered an ‘Aladdin’s cave of resources’ [2],  centred around six interactive stations (light, sound, titles, text, costume and computer). Musical instruments, effects machines, projections, sound and light equipment, and various texts filled the space, and these were all available for visitors to use in a variety of undetermined ways. This set up intended to present an open space with the potential for a range of different modes of engagement and relationships with the artwork, the space and its users

3.    A Work on Progress aspired to the condition of ‘interdisciplinary experimentation’, which finds its precedent in the work of artists such as John Cage and Merce Cunningham at the Black Mountain College. [15]  Cage’s untitled event in 1952 operated through a ‘radical interdisciplinary juxtaposition of dance, visual arts, music/sound, and poetry and text readings’. However, while Cage brought together a group of artists from various disciplines, A Work on Progress explored the possibility of removing the professional artist from the space altogether. The environment that we created in the studio was intended to provide an open and relational performance text, with the potential for a range of different modes of engagement, possibilities for interaction and relationships with the event.

4.    The project is informed by Nicolas Bourriaud’s concept of ‘relational aesthetics’; a model in which the role of artworks is ‘no longer to form imaginary and utopian realities, but to actually be ways of living and models of action within the existing real’. [16]  Relational artworks operate through meetings, encounters and events, as opposed to the object-based art of paintings and sculptures. [17]  The application of a relational aesthetic model to the development of performance practice arises from Bourriaud’s rejection of theatre as a suitable relational artform. For Bourriaud, unlike the performance of exhibition-based relational art, theatre brings together ‘small groups’ of people ʻbefore specific, unmistakable imagesʼ and offers no opportunity for live discussion during the event. [18]  Relational theatre events such as A Work on Progress challenge this position, exploring ways in which theatre can operate through a relational performance aesthetic in which discussion, interactivity and participation replace the ‘specific, unmistakable imagesʼ of the theatre rejected by Bourriaud.

5.    In this final practice-as-research project,

Bourriaud’s concept of ‘postproduction’ introduces a particular formal strategy in which artists refuse to accept the cultural products offered by capitalist society and, like Michel de Certeau’s ‘users’ of everyday life, resist power systems from within

The aim of relational aesthetics lies in ‘art's capabilities of resistance within the overall social arena’, rather than through the direct criticism of society from the basis of illusory marginality. [25]


Theatre on Progress

“For Bourriaud, the important question to ask of contemporary art is no longer ‘what can we make that is new?’, but rather ‘how can we make do with what we have?’ [62]  A Work on Progress adopted this approach as the ways in which users engaged with the stations were determined by the context that we had already established.”

On breaking down the barriers of artist and viewer

Art event

Resources – sound library

Forest Fringe Travelling Sounds Library

Relinquishing control