Before I visit Vidarbha: a sound installation

Across last month at Khoj, I worked on a processing sketch titled, “Before I Visit Vidarbha.” It attempts to carry forward my exploration of urban food systems as a part of the PetPuja project.

Background: Some 90,000 farmers have killed themselves in parts of India. Many reasons have been ascribed to this. And the government has gone from denial to acknowledgement to offering limited solutions. The media has of course been following this extensively. Some deeply, some not. More can be read about here, here and here.

This project explores how highly complex issues like this could be experienced in some interactive sonic/musical way.

Description of project: This is a musical instrument which sonically interprets the farmer suicide cases reported in the English media. There are two layers of sound, one a chant and the other a groan. The buttons at the corners of the red triangle can be pressed to add sounds to the soundscape.

The comment here is on the way grassroots situations are dealt with at macro/governmental levels it becomes a play, a game. The visitors to the installation were invited to similarly play with the situation. The way they want. The repetitiveness of the keywords which are picked up from news reports hints on the limited vocabulary the media works with to interpret this situation.

Technical description: RSS feeds of news reports of the farmer suicide cases are pulled in (thanks newsrack) keywords are extracted and built into a chant (using the text-to-speach for Processing: RiTa). The groan is built by chanting the same words very slowly (words/minute). The buttons manipulate Sine waves of different frequencies.


the program starts. the green circles represent the character-lengths of extracted words.

more and more circles… (a lot of words)

photographs of farmers and their families are pulled in from flickr

when the red buttons on the triangles are pressed they become gray. you can add sounds to the soundscape by pressing the buttons.

this is how it was installed. the canvas was projected on a wall and it could be controlled using a mouse on a “wobbly” surface

This is the recorded sound of one of the sessions: vid1.mp3

The project works best when run as a desktop application:

mac os x

CitySpinning @ Khoj (pictures)

(from left) prayas, attia, sandeep, nisha and manmeet

at work on the processing sketch for “Before I Visit Vidarbha” in my studio

putting up the photographs of my performance with the modular jacket for our “open studio”

one of the walls of the display

a visitor

more jackets on the facing wall

a conversation with pooja and her friends

the installation for the processing sketch, “before I visit vidarbha”

another picture of the installation

giving a demo

module for jacket: portable snack kit

The module (attached to the jacket in the picture below) is made from milk packets and cloth. Four pockets are stuck to a foam piece with velcro to stick to the jacket.

The four pockets can be used to sprout moong, gram, beans etc., in quantity enough for a good snack.


back view

you can walk around with it. no problem. food growing on your back!

my moong sprouts were ready to eat in two days!

eat away!

“Voice” under the safdarjung flyover

The message behind the jacket says: “Yeh meri jagah hai” (this is my place).

the flyover doesn’t belong to the public works department (PWD)

the bedroom under the flyover

When I stood under and around the flyover, my jacket saying that “This space is mine,” a drunk guard came and asked me how I could lay a claim on the flyover. It belonged to PWD. He called his senior on the phone and told him that some person was claiming ownership of the flyover!

“Voice” @ the Parliament + Rashtrapati Bhavan

The message behind the jacket says: “Yeh meri jagah hai” (this is my place).

at the gates of the rashtrapati bhavan

walking in front of the north block

@ the north block parked in a “tow away zone”

the guard in front of the north block complex eying me…

parked in the garden beside the parliament

trying to unsuccessfully talk my way into the parliament house

“Voice”: a jacket to say what you want. Anywhere. Anytime.

At Khoj, as part of the Peers 08 residency for masters students. one of the things I have been working on is this as-yet-untitled jacket. The jacket has velcro at the back and different modules can be attached to it.

The first module I have worked on is this array of LEDs, which with a stencil can spell out different words. It is intended to be a platform and mechanism for people to say what they want in cities. Across boundaries and restrictions and politics.

Some quick pictures of the jacket:


(the front)


(the back)

And of the initial trial of the prototype in Khirkee (around Khoj):


(explaining the project to some curious Delhi cops)

Yesterday night I started walking around different parts of Delhi (Okhla, Priya cinema, Bhikaji Cama place, Khirkee) and tonight will be walking around more neighborhoods. Sundeep has been photographing the walks/performances. Will post the pictures here soon.

The statements (in Hindi) I have been wearing are:

  • Mein Ujala Hoon (I am the light)
  • Naya Rasta (New way)
  • Yeh meri jagah hai (This is my place)
  • Khelo (Play)

As part of the “modular jacket” project, I am making other modules which can be attached at the back of the jacket too. Will write more about them soon.