Title: This Voice Was Once Spoken
Artist: Paul Purgas
Production: 2022-23

This Voice Was Once Spoken audio essay evidences the cultural contributions of the Indian Workers Association (IWA), focusing on a poetry festival hosted on February 11, 1978. The event, organised by Ajmer Bains on behalf of the IWA, was held at the Sidney Stringer Centre for School and Community Use, Cox Street, Coventry, a place committed to learning and civic engagemnet. It took place during a period when the city and surrounding regions were dealing with the economic and social challenges resulting from de-industrialisation. The centre, established by the Community Development Programme (CDP) – a nationwide government– aimed to tackle societal and infrastructural inequalities in inner-city Coventry, creating and inclusive and accessible environment for its community. 

The Voice Was Once Spoken incorporates a variety of archival recordings, including reel-to-reel tapes from the festival, oral histories, traditional Indian music, broadcast media, and field recordings from areas circumnavigating the Ring Road (A4053). The composition weaves a sonic narrative that reveals previously-unhead accounts from the IWA community and its affilates, underscoring the personal challenges tied to migration and the socioeconomic conditions encountered at the time. The artist Paul Purgas’s assemblage of historial recordings underscores the enduring signifcance of the IWA’s cultural efforts and establishes links to contemporary debates on immigration and multiculturalism. 

Paul Purgas is an artist and musician specialising in sound, performance, and installation. Trained originally as an architect, Purgas has exhibited projects at venues including Tramway, the Serpentine, Tate, Kettle’s yard and Spike Island. Purgas’ written contributions include essays for the Unsound: Undead collection, published by Urbanomic/MIT Press, and articles for the critical journal Audimat. 

Much of Purgas’ recent work is based on research conducted at the National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad, India, a city renowed as a hub for modernist ideas in design and technolgy during the 1950s and 1960s. Purgas investigated the history of an electornic music studio established at NID by the New York composer and pianist David Tudor. They discovered that a Moog synthesiserhad arrived at the studio through the connections of Gita Sarabhai, who had studied with John Cage and was from a prominent local family invested in established the NID. In the archives, Purgas discovered a series of reel-to-reel tapes made by unknown composers on the Moog between 1969 and 1973, uncovering a forgotten chapter of India’s electronic music history. These findings led to the release of The NID Tapes: Electronic Music in INdia 1969-1972 (2023), and album that archives this period. Accompanying the album is Subcontinental Synthesis (2023), a book edited by Purgas that includes texts exploring India’s post-independence ventures into experimental design and radical pedagogies, alongside its interactions with the international avant-garde, in the context of Western ideological expansion during Modernism’s ascendancy. 

Purgas’ further research into the identities of these composers contributed to the BBC Radio 3 docuumentary Electronic India, which was broadcasr in 2020. Purgas has also drawn on this research for the exhibition We Found Our Own Reality, initally presented as part of Brent2020 in collaboration with Camden Art Centre and later developed into a solo exhibition at Tramway, Glasgow (2021) and CTM Festival Berlin (2023).