Perhaps having been brought up in a religious environment has it’s influences, but I am fascinated by the different religions of the world. When I travel, I always take every opportunity to visit religious buildings, talk to people about their beliefs and try to learn from their values. My travels often take me to countries where I encounter a religion that I know nothing, or very little about, and I consider discovering more about this to be an important part of understanding the culture. In doing so, I am often overawed by the soundscapes that I encounter and, where appropriate, I try to record these.
Before I travelled to South-East Asia in 2009, I knew very little about Islam, apart from what I had briefly studied at school. During my time in the region, I visited Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, as well as Malaysia, a multiracial country with Islam being the largest practiced religion. I discovered a great deal about the religion during my time there and many of my preconceptions changed. I visited some beautiful mosques in both countries and had some wonderful exchanges with locals. But what impressed me the most was the soundscape during the adhān or call to prayer. Adhān is called out by the muezzin (the chosen person at a mosque who leads the call to prayer) five times a day, traditionally from a minaret, summoning Muslims for mandatory prayers. The principle is for this call to be heard in all corners of the city, town or village, hence the use of a minaret. The acoustic effect is that the sound often reverberates off buildings and landscape creating a very interesting soundscape.
Mosque Recordings in Asia
This first recording was made in a small village opposite the entrance to Tamen Negara National Park, Malaysia. I was there during rainy season, so tourist numbers were very low and the local population was probably only a few hundred. The one, fairly small mosque was situated very close to my bungalow – not so great when you are woken for the first call to prayer at 5am, but nice to be able to get a clean recording. What I love is the feeling of being very far from everything, with just the insects and one distant motorcycle accompanying the call to prayer.
This next recording was taken later in my trip at a coffee plantation near to the Ijen Plateau in Java, Indonesia. We were on a stop-off during a marathon few days where we climbed two volcanoes, Mount Bromo and the Ijen Plateau. Myself, my girlfriend and our guide were the only two people staying the night at the plantation and all the local workers lived in the village below. As the call to prayer began that evening, I decided to record as I had a good position high up from the village where the mosque was. What I didn’t realise was there were a number of mosques in the village and they soon all began to broadcast the adhān at the same time. The result can only be described as a cacophony. I generally find the call to prayer to be sonically interesting, but this odd mix wasn’t too much to my liking.
Mosque Recordings In Israel
In 2010 I spent a week in Israel and high on my list of places to visit was the city of Jerusalem. The history of this place speaks for itself. In the space of a few hundred metres one can visit the holiest place in the Jewish religion (The Wailing Wall), what is said to be the third holiest place in Islam (Dome Of The Rock) and one of the holiest places in the Christian religion (the Tomb Of Christ in the Church Of The Holy Sepulchre). Just by walking around Jerusalem’s old quarter, the historic and religious importance can be felt. Although there are clearly defined quarters for the different cultures, it’s a small city and the melange is quite impressive.
Of course, this feeling I have described inspired me to record the soundscapes that I encountered, including the call to prayer. What is interesting with the adhān in Jerusalem is the way the sound reverberates around the small, high-walled alleys. This first example was recorded in the Muslim quarter and features the call to prayer from two different minarets – one was about 300 metres away, and was my subject of the recording, but another can be heard off in the distance. Similar to the example from Tamen Negara, Malaysia, the birds as well as the city noise add to the overall feeling of the soundscape.
This second example was recorded from the courtyard of a church that was literally opposite the mosque, just going to show how much the different religions of Jerusalem share the same space.
Whilst some may find these types of soundscapes similar, I love to hear the nuances between the various locations and look forward to recording more of these types of soundscapes as I travel to new countries in the future.