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Sacralizing space. MATTHEW SANSOM
(Wandering Ear 2006)

 Review by Jay-Dea Lopez

The sounds of seabirds, wind and distant traffic suggest we are positioned at a coastal region, a liminal point where nature meets the urban sprawl. The tranquillity is broken by a man’s voice. Through surrounding public speakers he sings the adhãn (the Islamic call to prayer).  We are in Turkey, seated outside the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, colloquially referred to as Istanbul’s Blue Mosque. Completed in 1616 it is said to be the last great mosque of the Ottoman classical period, standing at 45 metres high with 6 minarets, 7 domes, and with an interior of 20,000 tiles. In this thought-provoking release Matthew Sansom explores the resonance of Islamic sacred music within this architectural space.

By the time the adhãn finishes we have an insight into the Blue Mosque’s physical and spiritual domination of Istanbul.  Sansom then places his microphone inside the Blue Mosque for the second track. With the sounds of the external world behind us we settle inside for the Fajr (dawn prayer). The immense interior houses impressive acoustic qualities. As we wait for the Fajr to begin footsteps and coughs echo from wall to wall. When the muezzin finally begins his powerful voice reverberates throughout the mosque, creating a sense of otherworldliness. The muezzin’s voice is sombre and without any instrumental accompaniment, the pace of the melody is slow and measured. It is a perfect antidote to the bustle of the secular world as the combination of voice, melody, and acoustics produce a meditative stilling of the mind.

Listening to Sansom’s recordings raises some interesting points concerning the way we use and listen to sound in religion. Each of the world’s major religions enact sonic rituals in an attempt to remove followers from their earthbound distractions. Examples include the singing of Gregorian Chants in Christianity, the nigun-rounds in Judaism, group chanting in Buddhism. By transposing prayers into melodic compositions followers can enunciate words in a more heartfelt and sincere way, raising the sacred texts beyond the page.

“Sacralizing Space” features the sacred music of Islam however the employment of sound to enrich and transmit spiritual ideals is a common religious practise. Although we may not understand the language in which the prayers are sung, or for that matter share the same religion, it is difficult to remain unmoved by their melodic and tonal qualities. By engaging with the sacred music of others we broaden our sense of cultural sensitivity, a necessity in this era of globalisation. In this context Sansom’s field recordings demonstrate the value of listening openly to the cultures that surround us.

[Blue Mosque at Istanbul, courtesy of Famous Wonders of the World]

Matthew Sansom website
Wandering Ear website