How do we manage the process of loss and alienation when looking from the perspective of the soon to be lost? What kind of empathy should we develop as listeners towards an effaced, or soon to be effaced, habitat? What is an ecological crisis in an era where an accelerated need to improve, industrialise and colonise becomes the norm in countries of the Global South? What is there to be saved and transmitted to the Western World in search of a critically informed exchange? What kind of creative methodologies should we develop to achieve this? What is the role of an artist in the process? How do we render acknowledgeable the wealth of cultural products, creative practices and indigenous habitats that have never seen the surface of History’s big and exclusive agenda?
Media artist, composer and researcher Budhaditya Chattopadhyay dares to tackle these questions. His recent publications (including Sound Practices in the Global South and Sonic Perspectives from the Global South) address a gap in knowledge by highlighting the creative sonic practices and decolonial soundmaking of countries of the Global South. As a recording artist, Chattopadhyay sets up a nexus of associations, provocations and uneasy observations about the violent and accelerated urbanisation and industralisation of Indian cities and habitats, operating as “a nomadic listener,” recording and reflecting on what he hears.
Withering Field, released by the Portuguese label Crónica, follows this same line of work, providing a 35-minute contemplative listening journey through the alienating process of dislocating indigenous habitats from their natural settings, in specific sites now considered Special Economic Zones (SEZ), forced to gearing fast towards a contemporary urbanisation. Contemplative listening places the listener at the heart of the process. Through the different sequences of the work, the artist presents what is/was at stake, what was and will be.
The location’s acoustic properties are introduced through minute and meticulous recordings of foreground and background details, machinery versus natural habitats, and a swarm of insects. There are moments in the recording in which the indigenous non-human and human communities seem to be attempting to contest and reverse the irreversible, standing against the wave of erasure. Every sonic gesture in Withering Field leaves a testimony of a passing trace in defiance of loss. At 09:00 the machinery is already getting closer, occupying the foreground, and yet eight minutes later indigenous drumming and singing emerges amidst the noise to protest and to reclaim. As the work comes to an end, we witness the gradual dislocation of these voices as they become engulfed in the hum and noise of contemporary urbanisation, reminiscent of fast metro trains, ventilation units and traffic jams. They become an echo and a stain against the walls of the new built cities.
Withering Field is a longform collection of intense moments of clarity and contrast and a great introduction to Chattopadhyay’s very personal and critically engaged work. (Maria Papadomanolaki)