Budhaditya Chattopadhyay

Arithmetic of Distance
 5′:24” –  2011/2015

Arithmetic-of-Distance_photo_courtesy_V.RuotePhoto courtesy: V. Ruote

When did you start working with sound, and who were your references at the time?

From my childhood I liked to listen to classical music (both European and Indian) on radio. It was a family practice of appreciating classical music, both my mother and sister being singers of Hindustani tradition. In my boyhood I was particularly fond of Johann Sebastian Bach’s choral and orchestral works. I later became more interested in his works for solo instruments, such as The Well Tempered Clavier and Goldberg Variations. In Indian repertoire I liked both Khayal and Dhrupad, though later my interest grew around Dhrupad, rendered both for voice and the instrument “Rudra veena”. My brother-in-law, the renowned Indian sculptor late Sarbari Roy Choudhury, had a large collection of 78 and 33 rpm discs as well as spool tapes of classical music; weekend visits to the family house and his studio in Shantiniketan, Birbhum, was instrumental in developing my musical tastes and satisfying the crave. So classical music was a starting point. However, my interest in sound in general was indebted to a portable tape recorder given to me by my cousin sister when I was around 8 years old. It was a Japanese recording machine with a few blank complementary tapes included. First thing that I recorded was my mother singing, and I noticed while I played them back how the interior space of the room was recorded when I was going away from the site of her singing. The spatiality of sound mediated in the recording process was the source of my interest in sound. Recording ambient sounds in liminal spaces was an extension of that interest – a practice that stayed with me ever since. If talking of reference, my references are the Dhrupad singers, namely the senior Dagar brothers with their incredibly grainy voice rendering and intriguingly unbalanced sitting position in recording. My other references are Johann Sebastian Bach, and of course György Ligeti, whom I would discover subsequently. In terms of references in “sound art”, I came to know about the term and its practitioners much later, when I came to Europe in 2006. The Frankfurt-based label Gruenrekorder was my first entry into sound art. Lasse-Marc Riek – the label owner and my good friend since then, released my first work in 2006 in a compilation, and a solo work in 2008.

Can you talk about the relationship between your artistic practice and your theoretical research?

I interpret “research” as a compulsive and obsessive act of seeking a way out of a basic problem or a fundamental question that drives the search in the first place. The question or problem is usually philosophical rather than existential. The way out is marked by a specific approach to address the problem, an apropos style or mode of expression in articulating the process of the pursuit, and communicating the findings in the public sphere. Earlier I tended to differentiate my artistic practice and research, thinking that artistic practice is far more rigorous (such as field recording on site) than doing research. I came to understand how thoroughly draining research can be when I felt constrained within institutionalized versions of doing research, namely in the academic world of the university. At this point of my career I do not distinguish my artistic practice from research. This I grasp after considerably struggling with the futility of keeping them separate. Now I know that they are just the other sides of the same coin. I have learnt to negotiate with the idea that I can accommodate differing patterns of inquiry in an evolving body of work following the thoughts that I nurture.

Could you say something about Arithmetic of Distance, the piece you will present during Helicotrema 2016?

Arithmetic of Distance stems from my fascination as well as disillusionment with Europe, through coming to know its superiority complex, narrow rational structures and spiritual emptiness, besides its vast resource of celebration in artistic imagination, cultural aggressiveness and material pursuits. The raw materials of this series of works are the recordings made during my stays in various parts of Europe, namely in Florence, Aarhus, Berlin, Copenhagen, Graz, Brussels, London (which is Europe no more) and so forth. The material of this particular piece was recorded in Florence, and originally composed in Bangor University, North Wales, in 2011 when I was an artist in residence at the school of music. The piece later went through a number of (re)mixes, finally last year (2015) I came up with a definitive version, which will be presented at Helicotrema 2016. The idea behind the piece is the simultaneously engaged and disengaged situations within which I, over these years, have come to experience Europe as a great psychogeographic notion rather than a fractured landscape with a disintegrating conscience. As a cluster of nations it might be failing miserably, but as a noble concept it will survive I believe, and that is my message.