Sound waves

Tune in: What did Buddhist monks hear when they meditated in Goan caves in the 6th century?

A Mumbai-based sound research lab is preserving the history of heritage structures through their natural ambient noises.

What does the heritage of a community sound like? A song, a story, a lecture on history?

According to the Mumbai-based sound research laboratory, Sound.Codes, the sound of Goa’s heritage might be the ambient noises of a cave carved in the 6th century.

Sound.Codes has been cataloguing the acoustic signatures of heritage structures across India for the past three years. For its latest project, it visited over 50 heritage sites around Goa to record the characteristic ambient noises.

An audio installation, titled The Acoustic History of Goan Heritage, based on those recordings has been set up at a science and arts festival being held in Panaji, Goa, called The Story Of Space. The nine-day festival, which ends on November 19, explores and creates learning opportunities across science, art, culture and philosophy.

Recording the acoustic signature of a 6th century cave in Goa. Image credit: SoundCodes/Facebook.
Recording the acoustic signature of a 6th century cave in Goa. Image credit: SoundCodes/Facebook.

The installation occupies two rooms at Fundação Oriente, a heritage house turned art gallery. It recreates the architectural history of Goa in the form of sound through a special audio-mapping process.

“When we say ‘acoustic signatures’, we mean the process of how a sound physically propagates and interacts in any given space,” said Akash Sharma of Sound.Codes. “Each space has a specific geometry and material surroundings with its own texture. We capture this information. It’s like the pulse of a space being captured – what we call ‘the digital reverb’ of a place.”

Sharma is a sound artist and researcher, like his colleague and collaborator Snehal Thomas Jacob. For their recordings, the two visited churches, temples, mosques, caves and some heritage homes in Goa.

“Places of worship have a longer reverberant or resonance, so the sound stays in one space for a longer time, and this reverberant creates a feeling of spirituality – the affect is similar in a cave,” said Sharma.

The sound data being played at the festival has been acquired from locations such as Fort Aguada, Rivona caves, Tambdi Surla temple and the ruins of the Church of Saint Augustine.

In an Instagram post, Sharma and Jacob demonstrate the sounds of the Rivona caves. The caves in South Goa are believed to have been dug by Buddhist monks in the 6th century for meditation. The audio in the Instagram video inspires the sensation of being underground in a cool, dark space. This feeling is heightened by the sound of trickling water from the two perennial springs within the caves.

One of Sharma’s favourite structures to create an audio map in Goa was the Penha de França church in Bardez. “The architect and designer of the Penha de Franca clearly accounted for the nature surrounding the structure while designing the church,” said Sharma. “It has the typical long reverberant church sounds, but since it is also built next to a river, the sound of the water is recorded too. The roof is constructed in a way, so that when it rains it creates a very surreal acoustic environment. We could hear all kinds of water dripping sounds and noises everywhere.”

Sound.Codes’ installation at Fundãçao Oriente is divided into two rooms. One is a pitch dark room set up with four speakers in each corner. “The idea is to explore the sounds by walking around the dark room,” said Sharma. “Each sound takes you to a different era staring from the architecture remaining from the pre-historic period – like the natural cave sounds. We have tried to showcase how the Buddhist caves eventually became spaces for Brahmanical chanting.

“The whole audio is around 80 minutes and every one square kilometre roughly represents about 150 years,” he added.

The installation in the second room is more interactive. A timeline on the floor gives context of what the exhibit covers and allows the visitor to stroll through the history of architectural space and time. Each marking on the floor represents a year, the information for which then reflects on a screen set up in the room.

Sound.Codes has done similar projects in other states, like Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Delhi and Karnataka. “Over time, all historical spaces will witness loss of context and content, which includes loss in acoustic data,” said Sharma. “It is important to preserve this experience. Sound is just an alternate exploration of information and an experience, rather than an institutionalised and systematically coded information on a visual or oral tradition.”

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.