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The Well Tempered City

If the artist does not remain a listener, but instead registers their presence in the phenomenological development of the artwork by intervening, the outcome can transcend mere impression of the space and become a critical reflection of the relationship between artist and city.

Published onNov 08, 2017
The Well Tempered City

The Well Tempered City: Participation and Intervention in Sound Art

Budhaditya Chattopadhyay
Department of Media, Cognition, and Communication
Faculty of Humanities, University of Copenhagen
Email: [email protected]
Reference this essay: Chattopadhyay, Budhaditya. “The Well Tempered City: Participation and Intervention in Sound Art.” In Leonardo Electronic Almanac 22, no. 2, edited by Senior Editor Lanfranco Aceti, and Editors Candice Bancheri, Ashley Daugherty, and Michael Spicher. Cambridge, MA: LEA / MIT Press, 2017.
Published Online: January 15, 2018
Published in Print: To Be Announced
ISSN: 1071-4391
ISBN: Forthcoming


Within everyday urban experience the methodology of field recording as an artistic practice does not require the artist to directly participate in the mediation process of sound art. However, it can be argued that if the artist does not remain a mere listener/recordist but instead registers his or her presence in the phenomenological development of the artwork by intervening as ‘self,’ the outcome can transcend mere impression of the urban space and can become a critical reflection of the dynamic relationship between the artist and the city. Working on this assumption, the personal context of the artist needs to be examined in order to understand how he or she can intervene in and engage with the process of the artwork. This paper develops the argument from a practice-based approach, drawing experiential accounts of an ongoing sonic interaction-based art project, The Well Tempered City.


Sonic interaction, sound art, auditory experience, selfhood, urban space



In the autumn of 2010, I became an artist-in-residence for three months at Jaaga in Bangalore under the Jaaga Art Fellowship. Jaaga is one of a number of places in India that nurtures innovative endeavors by providing space, infrastructure, and a vibrant social environment for artists, architects, designers, hackers, geeks, and activists. Having been in Bangalore throughout the previous summer under another artist residency where I produced a sound installation based on field recordings I made during my stay, I had already been introduced to its emerging urban landscape. Hence, joining Jaaga was an extension of my ongoing interaction with the city, expanding on the curiosity generated by this encounter.

Jaaga is basically a rack-supported building, using warehouse-shelving components called pallet racks. These racks are assembled and modified in the design of Jaaga so that the building structure does not require a significant foundation. In the context of the emergent urban constellation and architectural density of Bangalore, Jaaga works as a speculative design for future innovation in built spaces. In this sense, it contributes to a thriving group of people active in the field of alternative and future-oriented solutions for urban habitation in India, maintaining its basis in traditional thinking, such as the design of semi-urban locality, neighborhood, and community. The Living Building project in Jaaga has sought to extend the notion of pallet-rack shelving as a skeleton of built space by evolving the metaphor and design philosophy to include other organs such as tissues made of vertical and rooftop gardens, a cascading aquaponic farm, and a circulatory system complete with rainwater harvesting and hydroponic drip irrigation. The plan works as a digestive tract that houses worms, which generate compost out of organic waste: it is a metabolic system responsible for taking the energy harvested from solar panels to generate electricity. The Living Building is intended to eventually develop a nervous system that senses and communicates, approaching a state of ‘consciousness.’ Artistic projects that work with this metaphor and play with the idea of organic building are invited for fellowships to make use of the built space by developing artistic works to facilitate its exhibition and other forms of dissemination.

In my previous artist residency, the project that I pursued mapped the intrinsic and personal encounter of a field recordist with the city, rather than merely recording and reconstructing the urban soundscape of Bangalore. The residency produced the installation, Eye Contact with the City, which has been developed primarily on the basis of intensive recording of underground construction sites and old tapes found at the Bangalore flea market. I discovered these two sonic territories to be fertile areas for providing definitive understanding of the city and its evolving landscape. Later, while embarking on the audio art fellowship residency at Jaaga, I wanted to take the previous experience as a point of departure for transcending mere field recording as artistic practice toward including my own presence as participation and intervention in the urban structure of Bangalore.

The organic methodology—essentially anthropocentric, participatory, and interventionist—along with the subjectivity-informed personal approach I took in the artistic process (and writing about it) relates conceptually to the first-person experience of sound with a theoretical base in phenomenology. [1] In defense of this approach, I draw attention to the fact that recent sound research is increasingly concerned with the first-person and personal experience of sound, involving the subjective issues in listening. In relation to this claim, I quote from a recent interview with artist, writer, and theorist Brandon LaBelle, published on Ear Room:


Ear Room: There seems to be an acceptance of the ‘I’ growing into academic discourse, particularly within sound studies. (…) David Toop’s (Sinister Resonance) and Salomé Voegelin’s (Listening to Noise and Silence) publications on sound and listening, both have a strong, subjective voice. Do you have an opinion on why this trend or acceptance of the subjective is merging into sound arts discourse?

Brandon LaBelle: What I pick up from Salomé’s book is an intense interest in phenomenology and the experiential, so the subjective seems to be coming from this interest. [2]

In understanding an organic ‘I,’ particularly in relation to the process and production of sonic interaction-based artwork, I have also consulted Indian transcendental philosophy and theories of Rasa [3] to shed light on the emotive context of this personal work. In this connection, the emphasis on the personal-subjective experience of sound argues that the phenomenological investigation of the sonic artwork would be simple, lucid, and straightforward in language if the account remained autobiographical. [4] Hence, while developing this paper, a critical articulation of the artistic process with a subjective and first-person experience-based approach has been preferred.


The Auditory Situation

In the first month of my stay, I was asked to develop a rough design for multi-channel sound projection within Jaaga. The design was intended for future activities involving music performances, sound and light shows, and other related events. I set out to map the building in terms of an acoustic estimation, which provided me with ample opportunity to come into contact with the internal structure of the building. I proposed, in this context, to reside within the building and spend as much time there as possible, but logistical limitations prevented me from remaining inside at night. However, during my constant visits and while listening to the different parts of the building, I found certain areas of the modular structure to be acoustically responsive to their surrounding neighborhoods, with everyday sound events such as movement of people and traffic. The shifting collective of sounds emanating from people, traffic, machinery, and other sources in the city found a sensory point of departure in the structure for defining and further framing the fabric of the urban constellation. The environmental envelope of everyday urban life: the various rhythms and volumes of sound generated by a wide range of daily temporal and spatial chronologies would be otherwise difficult to reduce, comprehend, [5] control, or measure in meaningful ways.

In my numerous walks around the neighborhood, I realized that the presence of the metallic modular structure functions as a mirror, contributing to the sonic rubric of the city. It reflects part of the sound field onto the city itself, not only as two-way communication but also as a surface of observation, a surface on which I can place my ears and construct imagery of the general urban soundscape, [6] signifying the city’s perceived ambient sound environment. The field recording at the surface with a customized contact microphone would therefore provide me with the ingredients for a soundscape reconstructed on the recording media, serving my purpose of understanding the building’s auditory situation within the city. In the framework of field recording as artistic experimentation, the choice and identification of wanted and unwanted noises is blurred. The definition of an unwanted noise can vary according to different situations and contexts. This theoretical model of aural inclusiveness and personification, however, challenges the existing sound abatement premises of the soundscape theory postulated by R. Murray Schafer, whose works have focused instead on noise pollution and health issues in light of acoustic ecology and natural soundscapes. [7]

Furthermore, the surface acts as an outreach of the broadband frequencies generated by daily activities within the building itself, such as the irrigation of water pipes for plants, people’s movements, and various electrical machinery. The inner and outer vibrations maintain an ecological balance of what Rowland Atkinson calls “the sonic order of urban space.” [8] In this regard, the presence of the metallic modular structure within the city, having its specific sound world as a module of speculative architectural situation, contributes to the larger social fabric of the city. Referring to the issues of social fabric in urban spaces, Atkinson states:

This aural envelope guides, invites, deters and otherwise subtly influences our patterns of sociability, modes of transport and interactions in urban space—influences we are often not aware of. The city is not then simply an open sensory experience, but one which impacts on us in ways that perhaps we are only beginning to understand. [9]

Essentially, the social movement around the modular structure of the building was influencing its vibration content and other sound phenomena. While I listened to and recorded the sound produced on the building, my interaction with the city as a social entity was being reflected and mediated by the surfaces of this structure. I set out to comprehend the “sonic sensibilities” [10] of an architectural space in progress at the heart of the city. Here, I took Feld’s terminology relating to ways of knowing, in which sound is central to making sense, and expanded it into an investigatory practice of the aural mapping of the speculative building. The process of mapping the sound world of the futuristic structure and its interaction with a typically emerging Indian city led me to further explore the vibration contents produced in the everyday life of the building. This exploration was based not only on the sensory experience of the aural but also on the effect of the social fabric of daily activities on the building, and vice versa. This social constellation also essentially included ‘me’ as what Gernot Böhme calls a “bodily presence”:

The space of bodily presence is something deeply subjective, although common to all subjects. The space of bodily presence is the space within which we each experience our bodily existence: it is ‘being here,' a place articulated absolutely within the indeterminate expanse of space—absolutely in the sense that it is without relation to anything else, especially to things. […] The body itself is given as limited through the encounter with other bodily entities. [11]

I started to examine my position relative to this transient built space within the urban emergence of the city. Am I part of the social organism embedded within the soundings of the modular structure? Or am I an individual ‘self’ standing outside of the social constellation as an observer, listening to and recording the urban situation of ephemeral architectural acoustics that can be altered, modulated, and restructured by my interactions with it?


The ‘Self’

In the opening lines of his paper “Is the Self a Social Construct?” Dan Zahavi writes:

There is a long tradition in philosophy for claiming that selfhood is socially constructed and self-experience inter-subjectively mediated. It is a view that has had many diverse voices. According to a widespread reading, Hegel argued that subjectivity is something that can only be achieved within a social context. [12]

My intention to comprehend the structure by recording its vibration contents following both inner and outer urban social stimulation has been an evolving strategy by developing a sound-based artwork during my residency fellowship. But following the development of my ongoing association with the structure’s sounding on the basis of the phenomenological experience, a new question emerged in relation to sonic interaction with the building: this was a question of ‘self.' Inasmuch as the social organism of the ‘living’ building possesses ‘subjectivity’ in a broader sense, an idea that is at the very core of this project, can I separate myself from the organism and remain an observer/listener/recordist/artist, or is my active participation and intervention ‘given’ in the inter-subjective interaction with the building structures and, consequently, with the city as a whole?

Elaborating on the topic of the ‘self,’ Zahavi quotes Heidegger:

In his very first lecture course from 1919, Heidegger addresses the question as to whether every experience contains a reference to an I. As he remarks, if we interpret an intentional experience, say, the experience of writing on a blackboard, as an experience where ‘I relate myself towards the blackboard,' we introduce something into the experience that wasn’t there from the very start, namely an I (Heidegger 1999, 66). If we really want to describe accurately what is there, we will not find any detached I, but simply an intentional life (Heidegger 1999, 68). But as Heidegger then goes on to say, although my experiences do not contain any explicit reference to an I, it is nevertheless the case that the experiences are present (to me), they are rightly called my experiences, and are indeed part of my life (Heidegger 1999, 69). The experiences do not simply pass me by, as if they were foreign entities; rather they are exactly mine (Heidegger 1999, 75). To put it differently, there is a certain dimension of mineness to the experiential dimension. Thus, whenever I experience something, my self (and Heidegger prefers to speak of a self rather than of an I) is present, it is so to speak implicated. In fact, on Heidegger’s account every experience involves a primitive sense of self. [13]

Extending this idea of ‘selfhood’ to include the process of interacting with the building, I found that I could extend my activity of listening into the haptic sensation of touch at the architectural surface of the evolving structure during my interaction with it. In existential phenomenology, it is the body that experiences, the embodied being that correlates with the world of things and others. [14] This transition from step one (listening/receiving the sounds) to step two (sonic interaction/inter-subjectively interacting with the sound environment of the building and the urban space) occurred as a phenomenological development through the process of locating the subtle vibrating areas on the building and sensing its acoustic structure. The touch unfolded the sensation of vibration at a single structural node of the urban space in my bodily presence at the auditory situation. The first instance of sonic interaction with the situation framed my ‘selfhood’ in the process. I could detect the hyper-responsive zones of the building by touching the surface of what Don Ihde would call the “aspect of auditory intentionality” [15] articulating the attentional selectivity involved in sonic interaction from the general faculty of listening in a broader sense. Henceforth, I could auditorily scan and select from the multitude of sounds that caught my attention or on which I eventually focused.

The cold, metallic surface of the building was no longer unattended; the fragile vibrations that emanated from its surfaces as reflections of the city in its daily activity were felt and heard by the bodily contact of the citizen/listener/artist. The relatively more sensitive zones reciprocally reverberated with the movement of people and traffic. My daily interaction with the city expanded from mere listening, to experiencing its gentle sounding in my body. I could thus derive an auditory imagery of the city in microcosm. The building accommodated inner sources of sound. The objects that provided the source of auditory artifacts were water pipes for irrigating the vertical garden, electrical machines, and people moving up and down the building. These activities worked as an inner osmosis of the fluctuation within the building and offered a parallel repository of sound events. What was my contribution to this everyday evanescent auditory situation? Was it that which Böhme speaks of as involvement?:

What is crucial is my involvement in this space, its existential character. Bodily space is the manner in which I myself am here and am aware of what is other than me—that is, it is the space of actions, moods and perceptions. [16]

During the second month of my stay, I started to engage with the different parts of the three-story building in an active mode of participation and intervention. The approach to participate and intervene involved my physical interaction with the surfaces of the metallic modular structure by touching, tapping, and hitting as the third step of the phenomenological development. This haptic contact opened up a world of sound and vibrations hitherto unknown to me. I had previously listened to the structure as a reflection of footsteps, movements, and other daily activities as an agency of the social constellation surrounding the evolving urban built situation. But my active participation and intervention allowed my ‘self’ to produce sounds by interacting with the modular structures in order to observe how architectural surfaces communicate the physical coupling and the different kinds of gestures involved (i.e. fast/slow, soft/hard, etc.). A question remained: was the physically activated sonic interaction something contextualized, or in what way could these physical aspects of interaction be meaningfully related to produce sonic feedback as tangible artifacts? [17]


The Sonic Artifacts

Physically activated sonic interaction involves what Karmen Franinovic et al. call “embodied understanding of sounding objects” [18] by way of bodily engagement and haptic interfacing. Sensing the sounding objects, such as subtle vibrations created by the ‘self’ in the context of everyday urban experience, can be a starting point for recording and re-interpreting such interactions as phenomena of sound. An embodied representation of engaging physical interaction with the urban structures of the city can be ‘sense data’ for computing sonic artifacts.

In the third month of my residency, I embarked on recording the physical interactions for computational processes. The recording and computing made use of a context-based model of impact interaction that generated sounds of touching, tapping, and hitting. The model of impact was reactive and dynamic. Complex transients were produced that depended on both the parameters of interaction (such as hardness) and on my own instantaneous emotive states. This dynamic quality was essential in situations of repeated, frequent, or sustained contact. [19]

Previously, in the initial stages of field recording at the building structure, I intended to be silent, so that no self-made noises entered the recording medium. The generic methodology of field recording as an artistic practice did not entail that I directly participate in the mediation process of recording. However, following the phenomenological development of my interaction with the building, I no longer remained a mere listener and field recordist but began registering my presence in the soundscape through active participation and intervention. The produced artwork could thus transcend being a mere impression of the urban landscape, and could become a methodological reflection on the interaction and dynamic relationship between the city’s social organism and me. I wanted to understand how I could contextually intervene in and engage with the artistic process of field recording. My registration within field recording was arguably a contribution that intruded on the mediation of the city and became the artwork. The built space acted as a sound-producing instrument, which in turn was triggered by my bodily presence. Böhme writes: “The space of my bodily presence comprises my scope for actions and movements. It might be called my sphaera activitatis.” [20]

My bodily presence, with active participation and physical intervention in an urban built situation, therefore, produced sounds by interacting with the city, producing sonic artifacts at its architectural surfaces and communicating this physical coupling. The discreet sonic artifacts that were thus produced represented impressions of my emotive state, through which the impact—and consequently the texture, tone, and qualities of the generated sounds—were determined, as I explain below.


The Emotive Context

The emotive environment, within which I indulged myself by interacting with the building, can shed light on the different textures, tones, and qualities of sonic artifacts generated from the interaction as ‘sense data’ for further computation. This emotive state was evolving from the start of my stay to the last month of the residency. The state was being defined by the phenomenological development of my interaction with the building structure as an evolving organism within the emerging city. By referring to some personal notes from these periods, I can help explore and articulate my emotive state.

Excerpts from an early blog entry, made during the first month of my stay at the building:

The basic plan on sonification and soundproofing of Jaaga that Freeman and me are currently developing is threefold:

1. Installation of ampli-speakers with individual volume control, line inputs and possibly line outputs. The speakers will be installed in each booth of workspace fed with sound content produced at the DAW. The controls will also enable users to put on their own sounding source on the go while bypassing the central network of audio. The first ampli-speaker is under construction for testing next week (…) [21]

Another entry from my diary, from the last phase of my stay at the building, a phase in which I was intensively engaged with physical interaction at the building to produce sonic artifacts and the subsequent recording of them as feedback for computational purposes, reads as follows:

I hope the bold letters are not going to be over indulgent in the context of arriving at the doorstep of entirety. Of course winter has come and it has glorified the 'sort of' indolent moments around the balconies overlooking city. In the corridor of un-understandable night-walks, music of down tempo rings in the closed acoustic spaces of headband. Towards reaching moksha all our vanities and inhibits come to the closure of re-energizing. In the language of subversion I live, and leave my stream of consciousness into under-frozen alphabets. [22]

This later text frames a poetically indulged state of mind, which is a significant deviation from the earlier blog entry. If these notes are representations of the emotive states of the artist engaged with the city’s architectural space and with the generating of sonic artifacts, we can relate the quality of the sounds generated, recorded, and computed in order to formulate the sound-based artwork. The outcome of this work was processed and produced with a methodical reflection on the developments of the sonic experience, physical interaction, and dynamic relationship between me as a city-dweller and my auditory situation within an emerging Indian city.

I will now consult Indian Rasa theory in order to help fathom the emotive context of the work because I believe that the poetic-contemplative mood that the work expresses can be comprehended by employing Rasa theory on the development of the project. Indian scholar P.J. Chaudhury writes:

Poetry (Rasa) is not essentially an imitation of nature (which includes life and emotions) though nature (city) is depicted in it. To check the naturalistic fallacy in poetics the Rasa School emphasized the experiential aspect of poetic value, the qualitatively new product that must be directly experienced. [23]

The artwork was intended to transcend the recording of mere vibrations produced on the surface of the urban structure by allowing the phenomenological and emotive evolution of the artist and his changing relationship with the city. The work sought to frame the ‘nature’ of the urban constellation, which includes the individual ‘self,' with its own emotive contexts and situations. This has been an effort to touch and sense the poetic vibes present in the contemplative mood of an artist as a natural and organic growth by means of direct physical interaction with the city.

We know what is sound directly by hearing it; indirectly or descriptively in terms of vibrations in the sounding body and air which we may know directly. This is all right so long as we do not confuse the descriptive knowledge with the direct one; do not regard sound as ‘nothing but’ vibrations. The Rasa School holds the essence of poetry to be a quality distinct from its determinants which are more commonly known characters, such as natural situations, human actions and emotions. [24]

In the domain of sound, Rasa is realized when, due to the factors related above, the ‘self’ assumes a poetic mood with a reflective attitude in listening by engaging with the indirect or descriptive knowledge of the sound event rather than with the direct knowledge as mere ‘vibration’ or ‘wave.' This is said to be one of its higher modes of being. [25] Self-awareness, which is one aspect of Rasa (the other being awareness of an emotion), is richer and more profound than is the contemplation of basic or elementary emotions and moods, and is thus more adequate or thorough. The deeper the penetration through thick layers of practical and egoistic conditions with a detached observational disposition to the contemplative core of the ‘self,’ [26] the more universal the work will be. This concept is based on Abhinavagupta's claim that the Rasa experience is alaukika (sui generis), that the spectator does not envision it as something outside himself but instead undergoes it. This process of ‘accommodating within,' or universalization, can be interpreted as a two-way process, from a particular to the universal [27] and back, as a mimesis of the sonic universe within the man. Here, the process of mimesis works as accommodating sound events within the emotive context of the listener using the descriptive knowledge about it such as ‘mood’ through the ‘higher’ realm of introspection. We can find resonance of this line of thinking in Western philosophy as well. In Poetics, Aristotle writes: “Poetry, therefore, is a more philosophical and a higher thing than history: for poetry tends to express the universal, history the particular.” [28] This inclusive poetics involves participation of the ‘self’ in the passional-cognitive state [29] of the artist present within the expression of the universal, which, in the context of my artwork, is a city.


The Artwork

For the final show of the residency, I produced a multi-channel composition “The Well Tempered City, Book I” [30] for installation-performance. Here, surfaces of Jaaga’s evolving building were used as instruments tempered by human intervention by means of my physical presence and haptic participation in the acoustic space of recording. The work was intended to help us understand how city-dwellers personally and emotively intervene in and engage with the urban structure during everyday interaction with the city. The presence of the citizen/listener/artist within the situation was considered a process of participatory mediation through intrusion in the work as ‘self,' thereby becoming part of the work in the process.

The piece was conceived as an ongoing series of compositions involving sound computation as quasi-musical mediation of subtle vibrations at surfaces of architectural construction in the emerging Indian metropolises. These surfaces serve as physical interfaces for citizens’ sonic interaction with their everyday urban space. The project has aimed to compute the recorded vibrations essentially generated through physical interaction, natural participation, and the intervention of citizens at the built spaces of the cities in question, treating them as sense data of sonic experience computed in a multi-channel composition to be installed and performed in a site-specific setting. The project has been intended to represent the inner structures of the architectural and built spaces of a typical Indian city as a living organism within an all encompassing and essentially man-made urban nature. In these artworks, a building has been considered an organism of the urban constellation in which an inner life exists on the fringe of human perception of intimate sonic objects at the surfaces of built spaces. A conceptual aural mapping of the city involves sonic interaction with this inner periphery through temporal experiences and reflection on the intrinsic voices that the architecture of a city produces in terms of minute and subtle noises and vibrations to instigate listening. This digitally mediates and reproduces sonic imageries as a composition of a citizen’s auditory association with the city. In this perception of the auditory urban constellation, the question has been: how do city-dwellers emotively intervene in and engage with the city? The artist’s physical presence within the acoustic space has been a participatory mediation in terms of produced sonic artifacts, which intrude on and become part of the sonic interaction. In the artwork, the city thus acts as an instrument that produces its own hyper-real and digitally enhanced music, triggered by presence of the citizen/listener as the artist ‘himself,’ and involving his emotive states in the process.



Aurally perceiving a city involves a number of aspects that are fundamentally based on a dynamic interaction with the urban landscape. In light of communication theory, these interactions are grounded in an audio-sensory perspective. [31] That is how perception can be studied via an artistic/experimental approach to understand the city in a given social and aural context. In the framework of field recording as artistic experimentation, the choice and identification of wanted and unwanted noises is blurred: the definition of an unwanted noise can vary according to different subjective situations and contexts. This theoretical model of aural inclusiveness and personification challenges the existing sound abatement premises of the soundscape theory postulated by R. Murray Schafer, as explained above.

Following this theoretical model in the representation of the auditory situation in the city through sound-based artwork, the artist does not merely remain a mediator but becomes the carrier of the artwork itself, like the voice of a singer interpreting a Raga in an Indian classical music performance. The architecture of the mood unfolds through the artist’s individual stylistic interpretation. That is how the artwork in question registers the artist’s presence and transcends being a mere impression of the urban space and becomes a reflection of the dynamic relationship between the artist and his evolving urban auditory situation.

Beyond the cities in India, we can also see representatives of sound-based artworks from Western artists. Luc Ferrari, for example, has already moved past the mere acceptance of ambient sounds as musical. His intervention by tape recorder into public places added a level of social engagement to his work. The recorded and disembodied voice of a human being in Ferrari’s work lures the listener into intimacy. [32] Bill Fontana approaches relocation of an ambient sound source within a new context of spatial practice in sculpture, altering the auditory situation of the recorded ambient sound. He conceives of such relocations in sculptural terms because he considers ambient sounds to be spatial in the sense that they belong to a particular location. However, in both of these approaches, the artist becomes voyeuristically involved in the physical world rather than emotively interactive in essence. The interplay between the artist’s social and emotional contexts and their representation in terms of audience engagement could be an interesting premise in the study of sonic art. The process and production of artworks could shed light on the phenomenon of a citizen’s developing relationship with and contribution to emerging built spaces, accommodating the urban experience within the ‘self.'

In an emerging Indian city with a constantly changing landscape and developing architectural space, an urban structure needs to be treated as a situation because of its transient nature. Like the Jaaga building structure, which evolves through everyday use by means of customization at the citizen’s end, the auditory perception and representation of the city in terms of its architectural and built spaces must be participatory, involving the listener’s intervention. Rather than acting as an inert observer/recordist, the listener must physically interact with the city in order to comprehend its ephemeral nature and its constant change and flux, including the evolving auditory situation triggered by the listener. In this interaction, the listener’s individuality becomes vitally important, involving their embodied being and emotive states.

As increasingly migratory beings in a post-global world, we can consider our auditory perception of urban spaces we experience every day to be transitory. The spatial representation of sonic interaction with the cities through which we move and the locations upon which we trespass must be unfixed and evolving, rather than have the musical structure of ‘soundscape’ as the R. Murray Schafer school of thought has thus far suggested. The mediation of urban space on new media is an emerging discourse in perception and representation. To explain, this discourse can be seen as stemming from intrinsic and personalized experiences that are sensitive to an individual’s emotive, situational, and temporal contexts. In the case of the sound-based artwork, I have sought to investigate the essential artistic process of mimesis through which a city is represented during its digital-acoustic mediation in the artwork, by the artist himself. Representation has been considered inclusive and participatory rather than observational in order to coordinate the artist’s situation and emotive context. In the framework of the artwork, I have aimed to understand the Rasa, or mood, of an artist interacting with the territory of a city. The artwork and the discursive writings concerning it were intended to help us comprehend how everyday physical interaction with the city can be articulated in personalized ways by means of a sonic interaction-based artistic process.


References and Notes

[1] Don Ihde, Listening and Voice: Phenomenologies of Sound (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2007), xix, 43, 89.

[2] Brandon LaBelle, “Interview with Brandon LaBelle,” Ear Room, March 2012, (accessed June 1, 2012).

[3] Eliot Deutsch, “Reflections on Some Aspects of the Theory of Rasa," in Sanskrit Drama in Performance, ed. Rachel van M. Baumer and James R. Brandon, 214-217 (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1993).

[4] Don Ihde, Listening and voice: Phenomenologies of Sound, xix.

[5] Rowland Atkinson, “Ecology of Sound: The Sonic Order of Urban Space," in Urban Studies 44, no. 10 (2007): 1905-1917.

[6] Ibid, (my emphasis).

[7] R. Murray Schafer, The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World (Rochester: Destiny Books, 1977).

[8] Rowland Atkinson, “Ecology of Sound: The Sonic Order of Urban Space.”

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Gernot Böhme, “The Space of Bodily Presence and Space of Medium of Representation” (Conference Proceedings, Transforming Spaces: The Topological Turn in Technology Studies, Darmstadt, 2003), 4.

[12] Dan Zahavi, “Is the Self a Social Construct?," Inquiry 52, no. 6 (2009): 551-573.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Don Ihde, Listening and Voice: Phenomenologies of Sound, 43.

[15] Ibid., 89.

[16] Gernot Böhme, “The Space of Bodily Presence and Space of Medium of Representation,” 5.

[17] Karmen Franinovic, Lalya Gaye, and Frauke Behrendt, “Exploring Sonic Interaction with Artifacts in Everyday Contexts” (Conference Proceedings, 14th International Conference on Auditory Display, Paris, June 24-27, 2008), ICAD08-1-3.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Matthias Rath and Davide Rocchesso, “Continuous Sonic Feedback from a Rolling Ball” (submitted to IEEE Multimedia special issue on interactive sonification, 2005).

[20] Gernot Böhme, “The Space of Bodily Presence and Space of Medium of Representation,” 6.

[21] Budhaditya Chattopadhyay, “Budha's Blog: Sound Plan At Jaaga," Jaaga, December 2010, (accessed July 1, 2012).

[22] Ibid.

[23] Pravas Jivan Chaudhury, “The Theory of Rasa," in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 24, no. 1, Supplement to Oriental Issue: The Aesthetic Attitude in Indian Aesthetics, Autumn (1965): 145.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid., 146.

[26] Ibid.

[27] R. B. Patankar, “Does the ‘Rasa’ Theory Have Any Modern Relevance?," in Philosophy East and West 30, no. 3 (1980): 293-303.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Eliot Deutsch, “Reflections on Some Aspects of the Theory of Rasa."

[30] Budhaditya Chattopadhyay, The Well Tempered City, the website of the artist, December 2011, (accessed March 1, 2013).

[31] Barry Truax, Acoustic Communication (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001).

[32] Véronique Larcher, biographical notes on Luc Ferrari for “Sounds French,” the website of Elsa Productions, February 21, 2003, (accessed July 1, 2012).


I would like to thank Jaaga, Bangalore for providing me with resources, funds, and infrastructure for the development of the work. My heartfelt thanks go to the School of Music, Bangor University, North Wales, UK for providing hospitality during my residency to develop the initial piece for multi-channel and stereo mix at Studio 4. I would also like to thank Charles Wallace India Trust London for funding my travel and stay in Bangor. Special thanks go to Martine Huvenne, Tal Correm, and Philip Thomas Lavender for their valuable comments and suggestions on the text. Finally, my sincere thanks go to the Department of Media, Cognition and Communication, University of Copenhagen, where my current research is based.


Author Biography

Budhaditya Chattopadhyay is an Indian-born artist, researcher, writer and theorist. Chattopadhyay produces works for installation and live performance often dealing with contemporary social issues such as climate change, human intervention in the environment and ecology, migration and exile. Conceptually, Chattopadhyay’s work questions the materiality, site-specificity, and object-hood of sound, and addresses the aspects of contingency, contemplation, mindfulness, and transcendence inherent in listening. His artistic practice intends to shift the emphasis from object to situation, and from immersion to discourse in the realm of sound and media art. His works are published by Gruenrekorder (Germany) and Touch (UK). Chattopadhyay is a Charles Wallace scholar, Prince Claus grantee, and Falling Walls fellow, and has received several residencies and international awards, notably a First Prize in Computer and Electronic Music category of Computer Space Festival, Sofia, and an Honorary Mention at PRIX Ars Electronica, Linz. Appearing in numerous exhibitions, concerts, conferences and festivals, Chattopadhyay’s sound and video works have been exhibited, performed or presented among others in Transmediale, Berlin; TodaysArt Festival, The Hague; Donau Festival, Krems; Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín; IEM, Kunstuniversität Graz; Sonorities Festival, Belfast; RE-NEW Digital Arts Festival, Copenhagen; RRS Museo Reina Sofía Radio, Madrid; Q-O2, Brussels; Sluice Screens, London; Akusmata, Helsinki; Overgaden Institute of Contemporary Art, Copenhagen; CTM, Berlin; Errant Bodies, Berlin; CPH PIX, Copenhagen; Hochschule Darmstadt; SoundFjord, London; Deutschlandradio, Berlin; Institut für Neue Medien, Frankfurt; and Nikolaj Kunsthal, Copenhagen. Chattopadhyay has an extensive list of scholarly publications in the areas of sound art, artistic research, contemporary media, cinema and sound studies in leading peer-reviewed journals, most notably in Organised Sound, Journal of Sonic Studies, The New Soundtrack, SoundEffects, Ear │ Wave │ Event, Journal for Artistic Research, and Leonardo Music Journal. He has graduated from India’s national film school, specializing in sound, completed a Master of Arts degree in new media/sound art at Aarhus University, Denmark, and received a PhD in sound studies from Leiden University, The Netherlands.

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