Nothing describes the sense of sound better than the ancient Hindu text of Rig Veda. Written 1700–1100 BCE, the Rig Veda calls sound the “primary organiser of sensation”. “In the history of man, sound preceded sight as an organization of both sensation and embodiment,” writes Antonio T De Nicolás, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the State University of New York, in Meditations Through the Rig Veda: Four-Dimensional Man. “Sight may provide a lot to think about, but it is only in sound that all the thinking is done. No wonder that sound, the word, has been attributed with power, even magical power, or even more, the word has been proclaimed the Son of God.”
Which is perhaps why the Mix The City (MTC) project—launched first in 2016 by the British Council and revised in 2018 to incorporate the Northeast in its six-Indian city soundscape—has evoked the aforementioned inherent and primal response (which is often subjected to blasting Britney Spears during peak traffic hours) in this VICE writer.
MTC’s extremely engaging online space is known for capturing the “sounds of the city”, allowing the users to choose different sound forms (played/sung by musicians of the chosen city) and arrange them to form a unique creation. You can overlap, mix, add effects. There are other countries on the platform too (from Glasgow to Berlin, to Tel Aviv and The Balkans). From India, the contemporary sounds from the metros (Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Bengaluru) charm, but it’s the unfiltered sounds from the Northeast that stick.
The Northeast sounds include some of the most intense musical acts from the region: Abiogenesis and Tetseo Sisters from Nagaland; Koloma from Tripura; Lawrence Lalnithanga and Zothanmawia Mamawia from Mizoram; Rida and the Musical Folks from Meghalaya; Sofiyum from Sikkim; Rishav Bhuyan, Hirak Jyoti Sarma, Arak and DJ Sagar from Assam; Lama Tashi from Arunachal Pradesh; and Sampaa from Manipur.
This intuitive mixer (which allows the mini-tracks to dissolve and merge) is made up of 12 samples, which has raised concerns for some in terms of the length of the samples and proper representation of the instruments allocated to specific regions. However, as you arrange the pieces, you realise the strength, instead of cacophony, of the multitudes of sound possibilities. From the strains of the bamhum, a wind bamboo instrument created by Abiogenesis, to the Ksing Shynrang and Kynthei (male and female drums, respectively) of the Khasi drum traditions—the experience is more than just aural.
Needless to say, we had some fun in arranging a few samples. Check this one out:
Pallavi Pundir is on Twitter.