You are viewing a read-only archive of the Blogs.Harvard network. Learn more.

Sacred Sound

Week 3: God’s Word as Sacred Sound

This was my favorite piece to create.  I’ll start by explaining the different audio tracks, and then explain what ties them all together.  I pulled from many audio sources, all of which I can provide as needed.

The track consists of sounds from nature, ambient urban traffic sounds, a few musical selections, some voiceover audio, and concludes with a prayer in English.  As the different selections become audible, the emerge and die off into Qur’annic recitation that plays throughout (with some variety of verse and reciter), if quietly at times.  The big idea is that sacred sound in Islam is the word of God as expressed in the recitation of the Qur’an, but it is also found in nature because evidence of God is omnipresent.  The track begins and ends with sounds of nature from which the recitation is born and to which it returns.  This serves to emphasize recitation as a core practice of Islam.

Nelson’s selection from this week’s reading concludes with discussion of the ubiquitous, diverse, and quotidian nature of Qur’annic recitation in many Muslim communities. I tried to incorporate the atmosphere of ambient noise in different settings into the piece.  I like to think of this work as a meditation on the idea of having “as an integral part of your day, a sound with all the implications and power and beauty and prestige of the recited Qur’an.”

  1. Jaggi Vasudev, or Sadhguru, speaks about the re-emergence of Rumi’s popularity today.  He also discusses passion and extremism in expressing love.  This touches not only on the role of poetry as “divine sound,” but also represents a more mystic interpretation of Islam outside of the Qur’an.
  2. Rappers AZ and Nas perform a selection from “Essence” in which they praise Allah, representing a western, current-day manifestation of a different kind of “divine sound.” They continue against a background of traffic noises and (almost inaudible) recitation, which highlights the underlying influence of God in the creation of both art (rap) and the mundane (traffic, e.g.).
  3. Grace Nono performs an indigenous Phillippine vocal piece.  This audio seems to compete with the recitation, the volume of both tracks waning in and out.  The idea is a revival of the notion that religious practices and spiritual expression may sometimes be in conflict, but everything comes from the same ultimate source – they are both expressions of God’s creation. Grace closes with a prayer of peace and of unity, calling upon the creator to bind together old and young, male and female, animals, plants, and nature.

The unifying theme throughout is the irrelevance of time in expression of sacred sound – the merging of old and new as sourced from nature, the ultimate evidence of Allah.