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Ambient sounds: Indian film versus sound art

Audible Absence: Searching for the Site in Sound Production

On March 9 sound artist and artistic researcher Budhaditya Chattopadhyay will have his public defence Audible Absence: Searching for the Site in Sound Production. In his research, Budhaditya is taking a critical attitude towards the cinematographic notions of diegetic (narrative) sound, mimesis (imitation of reality), presence, artistic transformations of soundscapes, and technological innovations. The project highlights the inherent similarities and differences between the ways ambient sounds are used in film and sound art and its main aim has been to investigate how the latter practice informs the former and vice versa.

Budhaditya cites examples from a substantial number of Indian films and in addition focuses on three of his sound artworks. All case studies are examined via critical listening, historical mapping, and thorough analyses of its sound production processes. Finding inherent similarities and differences between the ways ambient sounds are used in film and sound art has culminated in new knowledge.

Indian film

Budhaditya focused on Indian film. Being born and raised in India, he had access to many Indian film archives. According to Budhaditya, Indian cinema is slightly ignored in film sound scholarship so far. The field of film sound-studies is mostly based on American cinema.

Because India is a large producer of films and there is a serious lack of scholarly work on Indian cinema from the Sound Studies perspective, he decided to focus his research on Indian cinema.

Budhaditya divided the Indian films in three historical markers: 1931- approximately 1950: sound recorded and mixed in mono  with mainly single microphone set up. From 1950 till the 1990’s sound was primarily dubbed and from 2000 sound was recorded mostly digitally.

“Dividing these three areas of sound production helped. It provided links between certain techniques available to specific phases of production and aesthetic principles shaped by the respective phases of sound practice. I looked at representative films, whose narratives are based on certain landscapes, developed through recording certain sites and places.”

And about the relation between Indian films and his own sound art, Budhaditya remarks:

“The project makes an effort to posit my own artistic practice within a historical trajectory, showing that presence of the site in cinema is constructed according to the narrative strategy and technological context of sound recording and design, while in sound art there exists a tension between documentation and abstraction of the site in the composition of ambient sounds via practices of field recording and subsequent artistic transformation via digital manipulation.”


The project draws input from prominent Indian sound practitioners in the form of interviews, which, alongside Budhaditya’s own sound artworks, constitute the empirical basis of the dissertation.

“These sound practitioners are all well-known in the Indian film industry. I used their input not purely as evidence, but as an inspiration and a sort of validation. I was trained as a film sound practitioner and so I needed validation besides the empirical data for my project.”

Sound artwork

Budhaditya also draws input from three of his own sound artworks: Landscape in metamorphoses, Elegy for Bangalore, and Decomposing landscape. All three artworks were analyzed from the perspective of psychogeographic listening,  diegetic sound, mimesis and presence.  

“Looking at my work from those perspectives - the four primary concepts in my research - I developed the idea of presence from the experience of working with sound art myself. That idea I implement in the presence produced in film sound. I tried to figure out how presences are produced seen through the lenses of sound art. In sound art you don’t have to limit yourself to an image-based context; one creates primarily sonic experiences. For me that has been  a helpful perspective to look at cinematic sound.”

The experience of site’s presence

People go to cinemas. With my research I would like to inform filmgoers, how it is done. What can be done to look further at cinematic sound from an artistic perspective and how that can be enriched through the experience of site’s presence, of “being there”. Presence is major parameter, how to produce a sense of being there. Being there means getting a sense of the site’s presence. Without that the work cannot engage the audience. From mono to Dolby systems, we see an increasing fascination for immersion. I believe I also established the concept here by knowing the work of sound artists; this conceptual basis will help filmgoers to comprehend how film sites are captured and presented.”

Artistic Presentation March 8 in Studio LOOS

As part of the defense, at ACPA, PhD-candidates also need to elucidate their thesis and outcome with an artistic presentation as their research is a practice based research. On March 8, Budhaditya will introduce his research, present a few clips of Indian films, and play two of his sound artworks. Afterwards there will be a Q&A for the promotion committee members as well as the audience.


March 8: Artistic Presentation, 19.30 hrs. Studio LOOS Den Haag. Entrance is free.

March 9: Public defense, 11.15 hrs. Academie gebouw Leiden.

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