Sounds from inside the Sistine Chapel
The Sistine Chapel is obviously one of the most famous places on Earth, containing one of its best-known works of art – as such, it’s a visual icon, but little is spoken of its sounds.
The sonic experience is unexpected and fascinating – every five minutes or so, a warden speaks through a PA system to ask for “silenzio… silence” (and to repeat demands for no photography).
The crowds obey and drop into a state of contemplative reverence as they admire the incredible artwork, but as more and more people come in, the noise level gradually increases to a great swell of susurration, until the announcement comes again.
This makes the sonic experience one of peaks and troughs, swells of sounds that follow a regular pattern and form the soundtrack to thousands of people experiencing Michelangelo’s incredible art.
The reimagined sound takes these swells and patterns as its basis, beginning with an intonation of “silenzio”, but replacing the sounds of people with slowly-growing walls of guitar, synth and reverb until the sounds reach a peak – at which point they are silenced again.
At their loudest, you might even hear angelic choirs flying in from above to join the throngs below…
The title of the piece comes from Michelangelo’s poem about the arduous conditions under which he painted the ceiling:
“I’ve grown a goitre by dwelling in this den–
As cats from stagnant streams in Lombardy,
Or in what other land they hap to be–
Which drives the belly close beneath the chin:
My beard turns up to heaven; my nape falls in,
Fixed on my spine: my breast-bone visibly
Grows like a harp: a rich embroidery
Bedews my face from brush-drops thick and thin.
My loins into my paunch like levers grind:
My buttock like a crupper bears my weight;
My feet unguided wander to and fro;
In front my skin grows loose and long; behind,
By bending it becomes more taut and strait;
Crosswise I strain me like a Syrian bow:
Whence false and quaint, I know,
Must be the fruit of squinting brain and eye;
For ill can aim the gun that bends awry.
Come then, Giovanni, try
To succour my dead pictures and my fame;
Since foul I fare and painting is my shame.”