At the beginning of my Fulbright year, I attended a conference in Delhi of the International Association of Sound Archives (IASA). I was in India to research Indian music and the early global recording industry (78rpm records, cylinder recording, Edison, His Master’s Voice, etc are my area of expertise, interest and inspiration). I hoped to work with sound artists, collectors, archives and musicians, and to create work based on research and collaboration. I am a sound artist and musician, and generally speaking, highly technical or academic conferences like IASA are not exactly my cup of tea. I prefer to learn through experience.
At the conference, however, I met Moushumi Bhowmik who runs The Travelling Archive. She was presenting at the conference and had a similar outsider “artist” perspective of such big events. We became friends immediately. She and her husband worked collecting the folk music and stories of the Bengali diaspora. Shortly after this meeting, I was assisting them in setting up a festival of Baul music in Kolkata. I was going to return to my hotel, it was late and Moushumi and her husband still had much work to do, yet she invited me to their apartment for a late dinner. “Surely it is too late and you have too much to do, so I will head back to my hotel…” I said. “Yes” she replied, “but it is more important that we eat together.”
This invitation and attitude was an important lesson: research was one thing, but open, personal connection was more revelatory and lasting. I am still in touch with the friends I made during my Fulbright. I authored a book about my research, called Indian Talking Machine full of personal photos and stories of collectors I met. I produced another book about Indian musicologist Deben Bhattacharya (Men and Music on the Desert Road) thanks to introductions to his widow provided by Moushumi. I have returned to India for several other projects, created sound installations and performances based on my experiences, continue to work with curators and artists I met there, and have shared through talks and performances my love for Indian music to a wide variety of people. But in the end, after all, the simple act of sharing meals with collectors or artists and talking about music is what I will always remember about that year (I can still almost taste what was eaten at most of those meals!). The conversation and music sunk into me in a way no text book could have provided. Impossible without the Fulbright, and of course, without the open and warm nature of the Indian people.
Robert Millis – Fulbright to India 2012