Sound Wizard was founded by Didier, a professional sound engineer, in 1999. The unit specializes in architectural acoustics and system design for professional studios, auditoriums, discos and conference halls. It also designs high-end home theatres, more appropriately called private cinemas, under the brand name Espace. Sound Wizard's work is almost entirely outside Auroville, although it offers free advice to Aurovilians and assistance in purchasing audio and visual equipment.
Auroville Today met the Sound Wizards, Didier, Kumbha and Fabien, in their office in Shakti to find out more about their work.
What are the main satisfactions of your work?
Kumbha: It's fun when things move smoothly and all of us in the team can work on what we do best and be creative. We answer all the client's questions, we work out every detail of equipment and design, we put the client in contact with the right suppliers. Finally we go to test the equipment and acoustics, we enjoy it all for an hour, and then we're out.
How many times does that happen?
Kumbha: Almost never. The process usually stops in the middle for one reason or another – the client is indecisive or has run out of money or lost interest. Then, sometimes a year later, he will suddenly phone you and want to continue, and we have to pick up the thread again.
Didier: Most of our projects drag on, and that kills the fun a bit. Often, however, you build up a relationship with your client which can be very satisfying. A lot of our work has to do with education because, at the beginning, most of our clients don't really know what they want and they know little about high-end equipment. So you explain to them that if they buy this, this is what they will get. Then they get interested, they start buying audio magazines and calling us up with more detailed questions. It's good for business – we had one client who began by wanting to buy a few speakers and we ended up doing a one crore (ten million rupees) project for him. And then at the end of the project they are almost disappointed it's over because they enjoyed the learning process and often want to keep in close contact with us.
Kumbha: The personal touch is very important. In theory we wouldn't have to visit our clients much to do the work but, especially in India , people like meeting, people like the personal contact.
Didier: I've made a lot of friends all over India this way. And going out allows you to take some distance from Auroville, to recharge your batteries. It's refreshing to be with people who are not always talking about Auroville! But the frequent travelling can be tiring and your family life suffers. So now we divide the travelling between us.
Kumbha: I like going out. It's really fun to open up to people a whole new world of sound and visual experience: we can't do this in Auroville right now because people can't afford it. But the thing I most appreciate about going out is seeing how fast things are moving in modern India . Everything is on a bigger scale, everything is manifesting faster than in Auroville, where things move very slowly.
Your clients are very well-off and some must have entirely different value systems and lifestyles to yours. Is this a problem?
Didier: People tend to assume that someone with a lot of money conforms to a certain stereotype in terms of behaviour and lifestyle, but this is not so.
Kumbha: One of the charms of India is that privileged people are often very simple and genuine. They live luxuriously, but you feel they could scale down to much simpler standards if they needed to.
What are the challenges of business in India ?
Kumbha: One challenge is people not meeting deadlines and commitments. Then people in the big cities don't start work before ten in the morning – in the studio business they don't start before 2 in the afternoon – and then they work on late. So we can't tell them we're only here between 9-5 because we offer a high-end service and have to be on-call always. It doesn't bother me to be phoned up at odd hours by a client, but some people might feel it's an invasion of their privacy.
Fabien: Doing business in India is way more unpredictable than doing it in the West; there's so much here that's floating, ungrounded. This can make it tiring and frustrating. A client will say ‘yes' one day and ‘no' the next – it's how things are done here – and if you want to survive in business you have to be very flexible and willing to accept everything and not take things personally. The time you spend on issues outside the purely technical is huge compared to the West.
Kumbha: You soon learn there are many different ‘yesses', and that some ‘yesses' are very close to ‘no's'. So when a supplier tells you something will be delivered by 2 o'clock tomorrow afternoon you have to be able to gauge if this will happen or not.
Didier: But we have to be careful not to get overpowered by the unpredictable part of it. At some point we have to draw a line.
Do you have a blacklist?
Fabien: Not of clients but of suppliers. Our past experience of many suppliers has ranged from bad to very bad. The final option is to blacklist their business, although the people often keep in contact and remain friends.
Kumbha: But even the blacklist slowly gets grey and then white again because we've run out of alternatives!
Didier: It's all to do with finding a work philosophy in others which matches ours. This is getting better. A new young breed of tech-savvy people who move like us. Old-style business in India had a lot of tamas around it.
Do you ever have problems getting paid?
Didier: At the end of my first big project in India I got a big shock. A lot of money was owed at the time of the final payment, but when I asked my client to pay he said, ‘What do you mean? It's the discount, no? In India the final payment is always waived.' I got into a conflict. So I learned quickly. Now we make sure that everything is paid in advance for our services and we don't have to rely on getting the final payment to run the company. Anyway, most of time we don't get the final payment, not because client doesn't want to pay but because the project is never finished!
Kumbha: Payment is not normally a problem because we give a very good service and our clients are happy. Although coming from Auroville brings no advantage in our line of business, people say, ‘Look these guys are genuine, they work hard, let's find out more about this place they come from'. And this can lead on to other Auroville contacts. In this way, our work outside can benefit Auroville. So I see us as kind of ambassadors. We try to represent Auroville in terms of quality and ethics.
For more information go to
www.soundwizard.net or www.espaceav.com