Sonic Storyboard: The Call To Prayer

An Interactive exhibition that explores the sonic nuance of the Call to Prayer, Abu Dhabi May 2014

As an artist I encounter the world first and foremost as a soundscape, a never-ending, always-intersecting, and at times sensually offensive, immersive aural experience. The idea of the Sonic Storyboard came about as a part of my fascination with the exploration of sound through the act of decoupling and then re-coupling visual and sonic material through technological mediation. Through this process, visual imagery and field recording are used to immerse the visitor in a multidimensional environment, whereby the strategic placement of visual art and sound installation creates a moment of simultaneously seeing and listening to a story. In a world where we are socialised into the immediate gratification of the television or movie watching experience, the Sonic Storyboard initially offers a decoupling of the visual and sonic experience and ultimately a re-coupling that is activated and defined by the user. By asking the viewer/listener to exist in a suspended reality where the visual and the aural tell a story that she must work to understand, one cannot help but participate and in turn engage with the work.

The Islamic call to prayer is recited five times daily as a way of signifying the prayer times to Muslims. Depending on the individual interpretation, the prayer times can signify when you should pray, or in some cases the time between each call serves as a window when one should pray. The five prayer times span from before the sun rises to after the sun sets, and are dictated by the sun, making the timings different daily. The five prayer times are known as Fajr, the early morning prayer (before sunrise); Dhuhr, the noontime prayer; Asr, the late-afternoon prayer; Maghrib, the after-sunset prayer; and Isha, the late evening prayer.

Traditionally the call to prayer served as a “soundmark” (Lee, 1999, p.87), which marked the boundary of a given Islamic community, based on the area over which the muezzin’s voice could be heard. Whereas traditionally the muezzin, or reciter of the adhan, would recite the adhan from the top of the minaret, in modern day the muezzin recites the adhan into a microphone that is broadcast over loudspeakers, affixed to the minarets of the mosque facing outward, toward the community. In urban contexts, where people may not liveor work within earshot of a mosque, people use technological aides to help them keep track of prayer times, like a radio adhan, an adhan alarm clock, or a smart phone app with the call to prayer times for each city around the world.

There are specific rules of recitation that guide muezzins around the world in the way they recite the call to prayer. Though the recitations of the adhan vary by country and individual muezzin, as is evident in the recordings I have taken, there are two basic styles of recitation that are followed by all, the tartīl and the tajwīd. The tartīl is an extremely powerful style, characterized by a steady chantthat does not boast many melodic flourishings, while the tajwīd, or tajawwud, is a highly elaborate style boasting many elaborate vocal extensions and flourishings. (Sells, 2007, p. 163).

Sonic Storyboard is a project developed from recordings of the Islamic call to prayer, also known as the adhan, azhan, or namaaz, depending on where you live, The idea for this project was to capture a wide range of adhans from around the world and play them back in interactive environments to help bring greater awareness about the sonic nuance and diversity of the call to prayer. Gathering these recordings independently is a time consuming and expensive task, which lead to collaboration with others through crowdsourcing and social media sites, as well as friends and colleagues who were happy to record the adhan during their travels.

Sonic Storyboard: A Call to Prayer aims to challenge and shake up a visitor’s assumptions and perceptions; the piece unfolds through images and sound, exposing the nuanced beauty, complexity and cultural variations of the call to prayer that resonate from all corners of the world. This Sonic Storyboard presents the visitor with the experience of standing in front of, inside of, or down the block from different mosques in cities around the globe. I was interested in how collecting recordings and images of the call to prayer from different mosques, then synthesizing them into a contained sonic environment, could engage listeners to challenge their perception of the call to prayer and spur dialogue around it about what people really hear when the hear the call to prayer.

Storyboard Photos