Debashis Sinha: The Known World

4 Nov - 4 Dec 2010
Toronto Free Gallery (1277 Bloor St. W)

Co-presented by Toronto Free Gallery

Artist talk: 4 November, 7–8pm
Opening reception: 4 November 2010, 8–10pm

Click here to listen to excerpts from the audio installation

A Place in the Natural World, an essay by Darren Copeland

Watch an excerpt from Debashis Sinha’s artist talk at the opening reception

Debashis Sinha: The Known World brings together series of new, multi-sensory sound and video installations that explore ideas of loss and renewal, transience and permanence in the mundane routines of everyday life. Creating complex rhythms out of ordinary submerged sounds, he draws the audience’s attention to the details within the existing soundscapes in our environment. While Sinha’s sound installations examine ways of listening, his video installation challenges the audience’s passive and measured engagement with artworks in a gallery. Instead, he invites the audience to experience the

sounds, smells, images and objects surrounding them in order to expand their awareness of the temporal and spatial aspects of the present moment.

Debashis Sinha: The Known World
is part of a developing initiative to support the presentation of new work by an artist from SAVAC’ s membership. For more information about this exhibition please contact Srimoyee Mitra, Programming Co-ordinator at



A Place in the Natural World

Darren Copeland

pdf Download pdf (170kb)


Despite a remarkable and highly demanding career as a world music percussionist in Toronto, Debashis Sinha has expanded his artistic territory in the past 10 years. First he ventured into sound art then video art and now installation art. The pulse of rhythmic sounds and his fascination with the passage of time still drive his artistic impulses. They are the main unifying elements to the three works he is presenting at the Toronto Free Gallery this November.

All of the pieces deal with the natural world and in particular the cyclic aspect of nature. The sound and images of the pieces – despite being abstracted by technology – are about connecting to the rhythms of nature and everyday life itself.

The sources of many of the sounds come from the detritus of audio engineering. The buzz of ground hum, the crackle of a loose patch chord, or the clicks of digital audio mistakes are some of the source materials that undergo a series of musical transformations into the sounds that will be heard in the audio installations icefield and cloudfield 1.0. Working with these kinds of sounds are not only very satisfying for Sinha but they function for him as touchstones to deeper perceptions. I recorded an interview with him recently for the Sound as Art radio show on CKLN 88.1 FM and he explained this attraction.

I like the sound of ground hum. For some reason I find it really fascinating — these sounds create an attention in me. An attention to what is happening around me in the immediate moment. Instead find that the meditative aspect of sound is most present when I hear sound that is abstract and has no semantic content. That is what brings out a state of attentiveness in me.

Despite the sounds being from non-natural sources there is an attention to nature and natural processes in the construction of the works. For example, the human impulse for rhythm evident in icefield and cloudfield 1.0 is not unlike the propensity for rhythm among birds, frogs and other creatures of the natural world. Nature also influences the spatial arrangement of the sounds for these pieces. The sounds for icefield and cloudfield 1.0 are positioned in space so that the visitor hears them from underfoot or above ground level, which is not unlike hearing ice crunching below you in an icefield or birds above you in a forest.

In the video installation he sat on the glittering precipice Sinha explores the natural cycle of life and death, transience and permanence as he cared for his father in his last days. He explains this in his synopsis of the work.

The only sound is the sound of a fan in a hospital bed. The video was created from visual material from my father’s hospital room. I decided to stay awake for 24 hours. My father drifted in and out of conscious presence. I took a picture out of the window once every hour and recorded the soundscape of his room. Then I arranged it into a one hour 24-track audio mix which was then stretched in time to last 24 hours. The frequencies from that extended track were used to alter different parameters of the video. The feeling of time passing, the boredom implied by that, are a central challenge to meditative practice. I’m asking the audience to penetrate beyond the surface of what is presented in mundane reality in their perception of a moment.

Pieces that deal with death inevitably talk about the experience of time. The choice to capture his father’s final days with a 24-hour recording was certainly an intuitive choice that in my view invests the piece with its soul and personality.

It seemed to me to make the most sense. Anything less seemed empty somehow — both for the fact that it was a natural cycle and that it was going to be challenging physically.

Thus, the making of this piece was a test of endurance and determination for Sinha. The trajectory of his artistic output from making live music for the concert stage to creating studio-based sound art and video art and then finally to producing installation art are all informed by his search to find the right medium for the right expression. The installation, he sat on the glittering precipice also provides a context for influencing the audience’s perception and interaction with the artwork that he feels is the most suitable for a gallery audience.

There is a different energy in a gallery. It is not just about the piece itself but the aura projected by the piece in the space. You are brought to a different type of attention. It forces you to be in the moment. To experience things in a way that is different than a performance.

There is a certain risk with the work being too reverential, as it can be read simply as a shrine to his father. But Sinha’s approach to the passing of time and to the assembly of materials extend beyond his highly personal reasons for creating the work. Ultimately, it allows you, the audience member, the chance to reflect on your relationship to the passage of time and to your place in the natural world.


Darren Copeland is a Toronto-based sound artist creating work for installations, radio broadcast and multichannel concert performance. He is also the artistic director of New Adventures in Sound Art (NAISA).  NAISA’s SOUNDplay festival features Debashis Sinha in performance with his videomusic work Bodhi Tree on 13 November 2010 (





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