Sonic Ephemera

Sound has a way of permeating the body and affecting the nerves and muscles, whether our minds are alert to the possibility or not. Whether arranged in perceptually disharmonious permutations or harmonious concatenations, sound (or its more illegible variant, noise) collides and reacts with space and skin to register its presence. A continuous and prolonged absorption of sonic stimuli can also exhaust the listening body, which then progressively creates a liminal space for sensory reception.

Stepping away from established paradigms in the area of electronic music, Actant Ish S has created a body of practice where he regularly experiments with sounds (sourced naturally or produced through electronic synthesis) to expand the ambit of acoustic experiences. In his installation, An Octagon and A Square, he uses multi-channel sound systems, where multiple speakers are placed in concentric compositions within a restricted perimeter. A brutal visual, the listener is allowed to physically read the space any which way (guided occasionally by ambiguous instructions in text), and walk away with a sonic experience specific to their navigational choices. The sound waves open up a dynamic possibility for sonic porosity, and the listener activates generative impulses to experience the sounds as unique phenomenological experiences.

Ish’s listening room | Credit: Annette Jacob

The speakers create sonic fields that intersect each other, keeping the ear alert to the minutest of meanderings. This creates what Ish calls a “sonic sculpting of space” where a layered listening field emerges as a scaffold for physical occupation. His practice is a conscious departure from the tradition of music-making as it manifests in the hierarchical institution of a concert hall, where the act of listening, he believes, becomes a one-way traffic, arresting the possibility of a shared acoustic experience. An immersive installation that intends for the listener to trace the sound as it travels from one speaker to another, the work uses duration as medium, where the very act of listening through the body constitutes the aesthetic experience.

Actant David Soin Tapesser used duration to produce an acoustic topography as well through his project, 40 milliseconds. Drumming through exactly 15 hours and 48 minutes (equivalent to the average span of time a human body can remain awake through the day, we are informed) and joined intermittently by other musicians who played their own instruments (such as the piano, flute, tabla and cello in practised and improvisatory dialogue with David’s), the artist created a space that was recalibrated for a period in accordance with the uninterrupted drumming and associated sonic entanglements that inhabited it.

The listener here could occupy the immediate space of the Siddhartha Hall (complete with cushions and assorted comfort), free to remain in the space for any duration and come back if they wished. After the initial hours, the performance became its own entity; with people drifting in and out of the space (seen with collective listening behavior), the work no longer catered to a designated audience, but anyone that attuned their senses to it at any point of time, which perhaps includes the non-human entities in occupation of the premises as well. The trajectory mutated with the interventions by fellow artists and the varying degrees of energy and initiation of the drummer, which, in turn, also affected the states of meditation, agitation or exhaustion experienced by the listener in tandem.

The Actants created—not objects—but duration as ‘artwork’, where the experience of listening to the sound constituted its consumption. As listeners, our sense of time shifted with our degree of immersion in the music, as the artist, on his end, also manipulated industrial time by creating—in reverse—duration through music. But David also followed time strictly by not occupying a second beyond the designated minute; the act of adherence served to mark the duration as an ‘incident’ in a before/after bracket. The timer also enabled an anticipation of the end of the performance, the last moments building up to something resembling a crescendo and then, a total culmination of the sonic experience into a contained event imprinted only in passage.

Cover Image: David Soin Tapesser at his drums during the performance 40 milliseconds | Credit: Annette Jacob

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