A rainy stay-at-home holiday provides a perfect opportunity for a trip around the world. The latest sound map from Cities and Memory offers listeners the chance to hear Sacred Spaces around the globe, to note the similarities and differences, and to gather their own conclusions. If in the process one feels closer to God, or simply more at peace, all the better.
Each person’s trip will be different. Mine began in Iceland, where I was a bit disappointed to hear an English-language choir singing “How Great Thou Art”. The reason: it sounded so much like home, when I didn’t want it to sound like home! The reimagined version (“Culture, Art and Harmonics”) was much better, far more mysterious. Fortunately I soon found the page of bell sounds, and realized that Cities and Memory is engaged in a constant process of cataloguing its sounds even between sound maps. Here were the bells of Zabreb, Seville and Venice ~ and these were only the first three locations. Zagreb’s bells are crisp and clear in the unadorned field recording, but Andy Billington’s soundscape “The History of Zagreb” is a fascinating alternate take, rife with looped narration, organ, choir and clocks. A similar thrill is achieved by Walker Wooding, who adds fitting poetry to “Edgar Allen Poe in Seville”. Further on, “A symphony for San Marco” welds strings and other ambience to the sound of the bells. There’s so much more in this section, from Amsterdam to Asiago (not just a cheese), but we have to move on ~ before we do, we highly recommend this as a podcast playlist.
Now let’s return to the sound map, and check out the outskirts ~ like filling in the borders of a puzzle. Here are the sounds of birds and bells in Montreal’s Christ Church Cathedral, balanced by the soft sounds of the altar at Universal Pathways, New York ~ a quiet bench near wind chimes. And now the frantic singing, chanting, rustling and stomping of the Matachinas dancers in San Antonio, Texas. Only a few contributions come from the Americas, which means these territories are rife with unexplored sacred sounds. Better perhaps to swim to Japan (it’s a long swim, but a virtual one) to encounter Buddhist chants in Kyoto, cymbals and drums in Shanghai, prayer wheels in Kathmandu, a boat trip in Myanmar. The world of sacred spaces is starting to open: not just churches, temples and mosques, but nature and interaction. Is it insulting to record the crickets outside of Sicily’s Monreale Cathedral when so much work has been put into making the building a sacred space? Not at all ~ such inclusions represent an expansion of ideas, while further expansions are offered by those who offer altered takes on the subject matter ~ in this case, Sequencial’s “… on glistening singing wings”.
Visitors to the site map will likely be interested in checking out samples from their own territories, if only to see what has been included and what has not. Many of the treasures are far from obvious. If one begins to feel overwhelmed by all the site map clicking, one may simply play the hundred-plus contributions in order. This tactic produces a pleasingly multicultural feeling ~ from hemisphere to hemisphere, field recording to soundscape, church organ to street musicians, cathedral song to remembrance speech.
A few outliers are worthy of special mention: “Trieste Taumaturgo Tech”, which combines techno with church chanting in a manner far removed from Enigma; Angel Muniz’ crazy “Vocal Memories (Montreal), a sub-bass track based around samples from a Jewish funeral home; “Two and a Three”, which overlaps the sound of auctioneers and customers; Myrornas Krig / Cadlag’s buzzing, dripping “Deep Inside the Chapel Cavern”; Tony Whitehead’s captured downpour at the “West Ogwell Church”; Ian Dean’s thick and immersive “The Sacred and the Quotidian”, based on recordings inside the Duomo; and Alex Hehir’s “Falling Gongs (Myanmar)”, a mesmerizing melange of tones. Too much to take in? Try the fifteen-track digital album, which compiles highlights of the reworkings. While the collection is far from representative, it makes an excellent entry point. Best perhaps to wait for a rainy holiday, to travel around the aural world, and to create one’s own sacred space. (Richard Allen)