Ami ja shuni tumi ta shonoki... In talk with Moushumi Bhowmik and Sukanta Majumdar

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“What about birds of the border area?  They are free aren’t they? Then so is sound.” A shiver ran up my spine as I listened to the storytelling of Moushumi Bhowmik in Travelling Archive- Borders and Freedoms/Borders of Freedom. This year Chobi Mela hosts the sound-based installation by artists Moushumi Bhowmik and Sukanta Majumdar. The installation is intended to be an interrogation of the relation of various ideas of freedom with the physicality and abstraction of borders, mainly in the context of the broken land of Bengal.

We spoke across the borders over phone. Half an hour difference between the lands but the morning chores were the same. The spring cuckoo sang at both ends. “ Keno korlam? It’s nothing out of the ordinary; many people have done the same. For me my own music was the impulse to initiate the project,” singer and writer Moushumi Bhowmik casually utters the words while instructing her house help on the background. “It began as a listening process. The material that came out of it through the recording in an organic way, engendered an archive,” she adds. 

In human physiology and psychology, sound is the reception of audible waves of pressure through different medium and their perception by the brain. What does it really mean to critically read that sound?  16 years on the road into various places in both the Bengals, the artists saw the effect of separation intensify. The people have learnt to mark the difference more than cherishing our shared history. But for them, defying the borders to listen to the people was an act of resistance. In her words, “The mistrust, hatred, anger among the people compelled me to think and take action. Listening to the different stories of people about dislocation was my take. Listening is something that you learn. It is defined by your philosophy and political stance. So critical reading of sound is also subjective.”

Travelling Archive is a practice based research. What is your methodology, I asked Moushumi Di. In her natural soft tone and poetic expression she says, “The methodology is listening and recording.” Giving an example of Sushama Das, elder sister of Pandit Ramkanai Das she says, recordings trigger memory. “Ram Kanai Das er kichu recording shonatei hurmuriye aro onek kotha beriye elo,” she said. “It’s time layered upon time, listening and interpreting sound is an unending process. Time is what we are dealing with- it is all about time. The moment the sound is produced it is dead, it become a part of ether. Recording it essentially is to capture the moment of death and keeping it alive. The scratch, the noise and the absence of sound the recordings have it all.”

The documentation and preservation is also not different from regular architectural archiving method. She compares their archive to a river. “You can stand on the shore, take a dip or swim in it,” the characterised poetic verses of the artist.

The other artist in this journey is sound recordist and sound designer Sukanta Majumdar. I got hold of him at the opening dinner of Chobi Mela X. The question which was directed to him was the use of different language and dialect without subtitle and their expectations from the audience. His response was “We definitely took a chance because we were installing it in Bengal. Had it been in a place say London, we probably had to plan differently. We only urge people to listen.”

The amalgamation of various languages, dialects, Bicchedergan, jarigan, poetry, wedding songs, ambient sound, video and stills is what Travelling Archive- Borders and Freedoms/Borders of Freedom is all about.

by Priyanka Chowdhury

Photo: Travelling Archive

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