Storytelling school

Sound-Based Storytelling as an Empathy Building Exercise

Among the many phenomenal works exhibited at the India Art Fair 2022, one in particular that stood out was the project SUNO (सुनो). Design thinker Kanchan Joneja, who is a third of the team undertaking this project, describes it as “a new media experience, exploring the intersections between the art of storytelling and digital soundscapes. Crossing the physical and virtual worlds, sensorially and symbolically, she seeks to recreate an obscure site based in the city of Delhi through sound immersion. In a world where the overconsumption of confusing visuals has desensitized us, SUNO invites you to engage, empathize, and discover a hidden landscape through digital storytelling.




Project display SUNO #1, 2022, video Video: Kanchan Joneja, courtesy of Off Center Collective


Project SUNO was conceptualized in response to an open call from Serendipity Arts Virtual in 2021, which invited cross-disciplinary explorations that built from “internet as site”. The three-person team worked hard for six months to develop the project. Besides Kanchan, the team SUNO also includes Sukriti Thukral and Mayank Joneja. Kanchan describes herself as a “passionate and curious design thinker based in Delhi”. She explains that she “often finds herself immersed deep in thorny issues that cross disciplines” and is involved in “designing thought-provoking interventions or finding new ways to tell stories”. She trained as an architect at the School of Planning and Architecture in New Delhi, and her work has been largely impact-oriented, collaborative and rooted in the Indian development sector. Currently, she strives to increase social and environmental impact through multidisciplinary experiences at Off Center Collective. Mayank is a robotics engineer, trained at BITS Pilani, Goa and TU Berlin, who works on drones and camera systems for warehouses, and also enjoys exploring creative coding. He explains that he has worked on interactive art installations in the past, such as the one that aimed to get people dancing to pollution which was shown at Native ’17, Lalit Kala Akademi in Delhi. Mayank was exposed to design thinking through the MIT Media Lab, and tells STIR, “I started looking at issues beyond just engineering problems, but also from a design-centric lens. ‘user. As part of the smart textiles trail, I learned to look at the world of fabrics through an entirely different perspective, and in trying to merge fabrics with sound, I created a prototype speaker in velvet and in conductive zardozi wire. As an avid drummer and drone enthusiast, he is no stranger to audio and has been exposed to many pleasant and unpleasant sounds since his teenage years. Thukral is a fine observer and synthesizer of the world. She is trained as an architect and works in the field of research, strategy and design, where she studies the invisible layers of our environment. With her love for design, data and people, she aspires to drive innovation and positive impact. Like Kanchan, she is also an alumnus of the New Delhi School of Planning and Architecture and a co-founder of Off Center Collective.




Project display SUN#2, 2022, video Video: Kanchan Joneja, courtesy of Off Center Collective


The grant that sparked the project helped advance the work of up to two collectives, suited to the digital realm, during the time of the COVID pandemic. He compared this period to Dali’s melting clocks in his memoir, which is an apt comparison, as time really stretched out, seemingly endlessly. Days have turned into weeks and weeks into months, and the lives of almost everyone in the world have been deeply affected in one way or another. Serendipity and SUNO present themselves as shining examples of the ability of art not only to break monotony, but also to realign our perspectives. It really is a critical need of the hour for us to get away from the barrage of visual information we are constantly bombarded with and to sit back, listen and reflect.




Project display SUNO #3, 2022, video Video: Kanchan Joneja, courtesy of Off Center Collective


Team members SUNO were no strangers to the trials and tribulations of the pandemic, and Thukral told STIR, “Last year in April, India witnessed the deadliest wave of COVID since the onset. My whole family, including me, had tested positive and we were isolated in different rooms of my house. With an overburdened healthcare infrastructure and scarcity of hospital beds, I woke and fell asleep anxiously every day to ambulance sirens, and drew the curtains to cut myself off from the overwhelming outside world. The frequency of these sirens over the duration of 14 days of isolation helped me assess the extent of the COVID situation. I quickly saved these sounds to my cell phone as an archive, realizing the impact of sound on the human brain and its well-being. It was around this time that Kanchan shared with me the open call for the Serendipity Arts Virtual Fellowship 2021. I drew inspiration from these vivid experiences while mapping sounds, synthesizing our research, and building the narrative for SUNO with her and Mayank.




SUNO, tell stories through soundscapes #2, 2022 picture Image: Kanchan Joneja; Courtesy of Off Center Collective


SUNO The storytelling technique is quite fascinating, and the project received a lot of public engagement at the India Art Fair, where the team and their work sparked lively conversations about the possibilities of TechArt as a building tool. of empathy. Kanchan views the experience as extremely positive, as she says, “While the first version which launched online in March has garnered some great responses to our new media art experience, it’s really at India Art Fair that we realized the impact an immersive experience of space and sound can have on people. We were moved to see the level of shock and empathy people have after experiencing SUNO, and many have asked us “what can we do?” Looking to the future, I’m curious to explore how we marry more untold stories with art and technology, to create memorable experiences and investigate India’s social, economic and political context.



Artists Mayank Joneja, Sukriti Thukral, Kanchan Joneja |  SUNO project |  Kanchan Joneja |  STIRworld
Artists Mayank Joneja, Sukriti Thukral, Kanchan Joneja Image: Kanchan Joneja, courtesy of Off Center Collective


It will undoubtedly be of great value to find out what comes next from the team members SUNO; whether as individual practitioners or as a trio. For now, however, we can dream of the endless potential creative endeavors such as theirs.



SUNO |  Narration through soundscapes, 2022, image, Kanchan Joneja |  SUNO project |  Kanchan Joneja |  STIRworld
SUNO, telling stories through soundscapes #1, 2022, image Image: Kanchan Joneja; Courtesy of Off Center Collective