Kolkata Soundscapes

Machine Sounds

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Kolkata today, is a changing city. It is rapidly responding, quite positively, to the modern liberal developmental politics of urbanization, and to the demands of the emerging civil society in the age of globalization. The city is expanding in length and breadth in order to accommodate more IT firms, more Special Economic Zones and more and more spaces of global capital. The emerging city, being a sincere contender in the competition to attract capital, imagines itself through the lenses of neoliberal design. Flyovers, Metro rails, industrial complexes, residential projects and skyscrapers are hurriedly fortifying the emerging mahanagar (megacity). Needless to say, the city is inviting a pool of contractual migrant workers from the countryside of West Bengal as well as from other adjacent states who are tirelessly giving shape to this project of rapid urbanization. They live in a ghettoized alien land, they do not know the city, and they do not have scope to unionize. Their new friends are the new modern machines which, as they narrate, have reduced their erstwhile manual labour to a certain extent. The sounds of these machines – sandblast machine, hydraulic machine, piling machine, body machine and so forth – are still undoubtedly terrible ‘noises’ to the sober ears of Bengali bhadralok (middle class gentries) ; but to the working class, these unbearable ‘noises’ have become quotidian sounds.

Here follows an archive of what we may call modern sounds. ‘Modern’ because these sounds are produced by the modern machines and inform us about a particular spatio-temporal moment which is congruent with the technologically advanced modern times of emerging Kolkata. They present before us the image of giant machines, huge engines, urbanity, and of modern times of neo-liberal capital.


The machine sounds which are chiefly documented here are collected from the places like the metro railways construction sites along the Eastern Bypass of the eastern Kolkata, some cottage industries in north and south  Kolkata. Often the machine sounds are also accompanied by the collective rhythmic grunting  sounds (bol) of the labourers who mix their human sounds of labour with the mechanical sounds to enhance their raw body forces particularly to move heavy objects like machines.

In the interviews of the labourers, they talk about their experiences of living with machine and urban sounds.