Sonic-Arts in Bhutan

From August until November of 2022 – I was employed by a vocational program in Bhutan to offer a course on Sonic-Arts as an introduction to Sound Engineering.   My goal and intent was to work with the relatively simple setup that was offered by the organization to help introduce students to basic aspects of Sound Technology.  My methodology was to use Sonic-Arts as an open ended approach – in order to develop thorough understanding of modern sound technology techniques and approaches. 

The students were generally from rural backgrounds with little to no experience with computers or other recording technology.  Everyone however had access to smart phones and had some concept of their own country’s media – popular music, rap, and cultural programs that were presented on the TV and Radio.

We started every day of the three month course with one hour of group listening experiences where I introduced them to recordings, radio shows, compositions, and other sonic-art works.  After we watched some documentaries or youtube programs on subjects ranging from physics, art, to software we were going to be using.  Then in the afternoon we proceeded to apply these things in field recording walks around the campus or studio time or computer time.

I trained them to make field recordings, record interviews, use recording devices, understand digital file formats and to transfer the files to computer.  On the computer we studied Reaper DAW – as it is an accessible application that they can easily continue to use on any computer that they might have access to later on. 

We started with making radio like voice overs, then adding sound elements to make sound stories and then proceeded into more experimental sound works based on their own developing sound libraries. Later on – we introduced film sound design techniques and started to practice foley and ambient sound design for film clips. 

The students really began to excel at sound design for clips and we wanted them to carry on for sound design for films made by other programs that where happening.   But the administration put some barriers in place which sadly limited the development of the students. 

My observation was that media such as film and sound design are not well developed due to people being unable to access neither studio equipment nor appreciate at home more high fidelity playback of sound.  So the practical aspects were limited due to a lack of understanding and application in the culture.

Nonetheless the students were offered an opportunity to reflect on perception and the potentials of new media to explore this perceptual field.   However the way of the world is that appreciation is not enough – being that the focus on monetization on any activity that humans engage in – tends to flatten the potential of the work itself.   Being unable to immediately ‘monetize’ or even for that matter ‘substantiate’ sound – made for some confusion as to how this skill could be applied in their culture.

I had an extremely brief meeting with Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche – who requested me to have a discussion about sound – but that being unmanifested – he did command me to ‘help the Bhutanese understand sound’ – I tried my best, but there seems to be different kinds of barriers to this as I began to find out.