Sounds of home Sounds of Belonging and Otherness

Sounds of the neighbourhood
Sounds of the neighbourhood | © Ira Goldbecher

What do you call home? How much home do you need? Can you identify specific sounds that make you feel at home? With a bag full of questions and sounds, German artist and dramaturge Ira Goldbecher travelled to Varanasi to find not only answers but also soundscapes much different to what she used to call sounds of home...

The audio-walk through the streets of Assi Ghat is the outcome of my research into the sounds and concepts of home. Heimat – the German translation of home – has more meaning to it than the place you were born in. It may be connected to one´s own understanding of the inhabited space and its social and emotional indication, it may be linked to knowledge and foreseeable behavior in others, it may be a form of control of one´s immediate spatial environment. On a different level, this idea is also applicable to the sounds of the place a person inhabits. Is Heimat/Home also defined by the sounds that make up our immediate surroundings? And how much do we consciously perceive of those sounds or have they all been put on mute?

What science says… 

As the perception of noise and sounds can be overwhelming, the brain involves in a process of selection. The majority of everyday sounds is stored in a part of the brain called sensory storage. With the help of (long-term) memories derived from that sensory storage it is then possible for the brain to examine the importance of an audible piece of information. Sounds, that are familiar to us, will not be processed by the brain (about 90-95% of what we hear), while acoustic stimuli, which we cannot classify or which demand an immediate action, will find their way into consciousness. – The question arises whether a person creates a temporary memory of sounds where she lives; sounds which are namely perceived but not transferred in the brain for further procession because they are classified as "identifiable, familiar and reoccurring".

 What Max Frisch asks… 

The Swiss author, who died in 1991, became increasingly critical towards his home country during the later of part of his life. While traveling and living abroad in the United States of America, he wrote a questionnaire in 1971 on the topic of home. The questions entail his approach to home as a key element to identity and belonging. After having translated this questionnaire into English, I conducted six interviews in two different countries (Austria/India) in the quest for different ideas of home. I categorized three groups of interviewees: natives (living in their countries of birth), immigrants (living in their countries of choice) and refugees (living in foreign countries out of necessity). All of them found themselves not only confronted with the same questions and their own emerging concepts of home, but were also asked to identify sounds of home that they did not perceive as audible any more due to their familiarity.
Taking the idea of the temporary memory of non-audible sounds as a starting point and combining it with the insights of the interviews on the topic of Heimat/Home, the audio-walk tries to reverse the muteness of perception by merging binaural sounds from my hometown in Austria with the visual surroundings of Assi Ghat, Varanasi. Therefore, you will not only move through a space that is created by audio-visual opposites, similarities and suggestions but might also begin to question your own conceptions of what home means to you.