The Nomadic Listener | Budhaditya Chattopadhyay


The Nomadic Listener | Budhaditya Chattopadhyay
Gruen 201 | Book (+ Digital) Sold Out | Digital > [order]


This is a parallel release from The Nomadic Listener – an augmented book project on migration, contemporary urban experience, and sonic alienation. The book is composed of a series of texts stemming from psychogeographic explorations of major contemporary cities, such as Copenhagen, Berlin, Brussels, Leipzig, The Hague, Graz, London, Kolkata, Vienna, Delhi, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Amsterdam, New York, Paris, and others, through situated writing and field recording. Each text is an act of contemplative listening, where the artist/author records his surrounding environment and attempts to attune to the sonic fluctuations of movement and the passing of events. Each corresponding sound attempts to trace these nomadic interactions in unedited field recording. What surfaces is a collection of meditations on the minutiae of life movingly interwoven with the author’s own memories, associations, desires and reflections. The release and publication are entwined by a QR code for an augmented listening experience that draws up a tender map of contemporary cities, and the often lonely, surprising, and random interactions found in urban navigation.




Book: The Nomadic Listener, Errant Bodies Press 2020
Image credit: Sara El Samman
Design credit: Errant Bodies Press



Field Recording Series by Gruenrekorder
Germany / 2020 / Gruen 201 / LC 09488





The Nomadic Listener | Budhaditya Chattopadhyay
@ Spr.i.t.Z. Nr. 247, September 2023
Die September-Ausgabe 2023 von »Sprache im technischen Zeitalter« widmet sich den Grenzbereichen akustischer Sprach- und Sprechkunst, die oft außerhalb der etablierten Domänen von Literatur stattfindet. Gemeinsam mit Martin Neusiedl entstand für diese Ausgabe eine Erkundung der »Ars Acustica Linguae«: Unter diesem ästhetisch offenen Begriff werden Arbeiten aus unterschiedlichen künstlerischen Szenen und Randzonen der Literatur gesammelt, die mit Sound, Text und Sprache experimentieren. Es geht um Sound Scapes großer Städte, Kürzesttexte im Ostberliner Dialekt, Hörspielentwicklungen, Experimente mit ›Automatic Speaking‹, ›Phantomworte‹ und den Kanon der Lautpoesie. Klangkünstler·innen und Autor·innen haben Essays verfasst, Fragen beantwortet, Projekte rekapituliert. Sie gewähren Werkstatteinblicke und stellen kurze Arbeitsproben zur Verfügung, die man online nachhören kann.


The Nomadic Listener is a field recordings release with a difference. Rather than being a pure audio document of international locales, it’s an augmented book project by Budhaditya Chattopadhyay that ties sixty written reflections and abstract images to unedited field recordings, with audio details accessed from a QR code included inside the handsome volume (the digital component is available from Gruenrekorder, the book from Errant Bodies Press in Berlin). In another iteration the work might have been titled The Nomadic Listener, Viewer, and Thinker, so inextricably bound are the text and visuals to the sound dimension. Here’s a project that fully engages the senses and mind, so much so it renders the possibility of distraction moot. As one absorbs the text and image for each part as the field recording plays, one naturally considers the connections between them and reflects upon Chattopadhyay’s own musings.


He’s well-qualified for such an undertaking. He earned his PhD in artistic research and sound studies at the Academy of Creative and Performing Arts, Leiden University and has written about issues of sound and listening for a number of journals and publications. The meditations recorded in the book are thought-provoking and encourage self-reflection, even if the locations recorded can only be vicariously encountered. Among the cities visited were Berlin, Leipzig, London, Vienna, Delhi, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Amsterdam, New York, and Paris, making The Nomadic Listener a truly global travelogue. An ambient symphony of city spaces and nature settings appears, as do human interactions and animal sounds. Sirens, drills, traffic, hydraulic sounds, intercom announcements, rattling trains, crying babies, church bells, artillery fire, and other details capture the flux of experience and minutiae of everyday life.


With the chatter of people around him and the noise of a construction site close by, thoughts about urban loneliness, selfhood, intimacy, locational awareness, hypersensitivity, and the separation between inner and outer spaces emerge. Chattopadhyay is at times the centre of human activity and at others divorced from it, whether it be physically when he’s studying the world from inside a room or psychologically when he feels distant from those around him. Each setting acts as a record of his attempt to attune himself to the environment, the gesture complicated by the natural disconnect experienced by the traveler who feels uprooted at every moment.


Personal associations, desires, and memories intermingle with observations about the alienation endured by people in close physical proximity but emotionally apart. Technology enters into the picture, too, with Chattopadhyay referencing the distancing wrought by digital phenomena (#16: “As soon as I close the computer screen, the cups, the plates, the books, and the pencils come to life”). Tension emerges also in how others are both nodes connecting him to humanity and intrusions to his concentration. A voyeuristic quality arises in his close observations of their activities, and titillation emerges also (during #29) in his overhearing two people making love on the other side of a wall. Philosophical ruminations likewise occur, #49 a poetic example: “The eluding history of sound is embedded in the silence of the sounding object … Ghostly remnants of voices decades long ago, now circle around the oblivion of the present moment.”


Implicit in the project is the emphasis on deep listening, on the need to concentrate on one’s personal soundtrack as it emerges and not take it for granted (#26: “But my ears are always open to acknowledge the fragile wall of sounds enveloping an uncertain situation at any moment”; #38: “There is a hidden rhythm present in everything here and now,” a rhythm that “needs excavation and cultivation”). There’s a painfully ironic dimension to the release, of course, when the pandemic has brought travel to a standstill—which also works in the project’s favour in allowing those experiencing the material to travel with Chattopadhyay on his way.


One thing I would have liked included: info clarifying the location of each segment; it’s hardly a crippling omission, but knowing that a particular field recording is of Paris, say, or New York would enhance the experience, not detract from it. That said, it’s important to stress that Chattopadhyay’s focus is less on the specific locations than the human experiences arising within them, be they his own or others (#31: My inquiry lies in the blur between sounds outside and sounds inside, in the margin of private and public, between you and me, between all and nothing”). At three-and-a-half hours, the project demands considerable investment of time and attention, yet the effort is rewarded when the result strongly stimulates the senses and engages the mind.