Kolkata Soundscapes

Machine Sounds

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. 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.  


Labourers work at the construction site of a residential complex in Kolkata February 22, 2013. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

The following recordings are examples from the project archives. They are essentially modern sounds produced by transportation and industrial machinery. They inform the listener about a particular spatiotemporal moment which is congruent with the technologically advanced modernity of a consistently progressive metropolis. They present an image of giant machines, engines, urbanity, and of modern neoliberal capital. In the interviews of the labourers, they talk about their experiences of living with machine and urban sounds. In the one recording (0025), for instance, wage-labourers from Bihar elucidate their experiences in working at a quarry. One of the individuals explains that he was trained partly by a Malaysian supervisor before finding work at Kolkata. 

The approximate geographical area around which field recordings were conducted: 



Recording (0020): Tram ride from Lenin Sarani to Sealdah.

Date of Recording: 21 August 2013; Format: MP3 (192kbps) – Original: WAV (44.1khz, 16 bit audio)

Recording (0021): Sandblasting at Metro Construction Site in Sealdah

Date of Recording: 23 August 2013; Format: MP3 (192kbps) – Original: WAV (44.1khz, 16 bit audio)

Recording (0022): Ambient Sound (Marble Grinding with intermittent sounds from a conch-shell)

Date of Recording: 29 August 2013; Format: MP3 (192kbps) – Original: WAV (44.1khz, 16 bit audio)

Recording (0023): Electronic Grinder at street-side shop

Date of Recording: 2 September 2013; Format: MP3 (192kbps) – Original: WAV (44.1khz, 16 bit audio)

Recording (0024): Road Construction Machinery (Pitch and Cement maker/roller) at Eastern Metropolitan Bypass

Date of Recording: 2 September 2013; Format: MP3 (192kbps) – Original: WAV (44.1khz, 16 bit audio)

Recording (0025): Short Interview with contracted labourer at Metro construction site (Eastern Metropolitan Bypass)

Date of Recording: 3 September 2013; Format: MP3 (192kbps) – Original: WAV (44.1khz, 16 bit audio)