We were fortunate enough to spend some time in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and one of the defining sounds of the city is very obviously the five-times-per-day call to prayer – the call to prayer sound is today’s focus in our Future Cities world tour.
In different parts of the city at different times of the day we recorded this absolutely beautiful sound, and here are five very different ways to reimagine and think about the sound of the call to prayer.
First up is a full call recorded in Deera Square, a site perhaps best known as the location of some of Riyadh’s public executions – in fact, it is sometimes known as Al-Safaa Square (Justice Square), and colloquially called Chop Chop Square.
This call was reimagined by John Ov3rblast, who wrote:
“Silence represents the first light, the beams from the sunlight, while a new day, the sacred moment when the sun lightly spoke, arises from the horizon.”
Just around the corner from Deera Square, on the same day, a muezzin’s call to prayer is unusually stop-start, continuing with repeated short phrases over a few minutes, while in the background you can hear the bustle of the capital city at sunset.
For this reimagined piece, we’ve taken the stop-start nature of the call to prayer as a starting point, and wanted to highlight something of the disjointed staccato feel, but also the sense of calm generated by the simple act of repetition.
We’ve limited ourselves to one instrument, the Jupiter-8 synth, creating a series of repetitive notes that enter into a dialogue with the muezzin’s call, depicting what this particular sonic experience felt like to us as we were recording it.
Our third call to prayer is the Maghrib (the sunset call to prayer or the “west prayer”), recorded on this occasion at around 6.00 pm in the Diplomatic Quarter of the city.
In this reimagined piece, “The West Prayer”, lines of synths begin with a “call and response” dialogue with the call to prayer lines, until they come together in unison and create a unified wall of inclusive sound.
Our penultimate stop is beneath Riyadh’s most famous building, the incredible Kingdom Tower. Here a fountain hisses outside the Four Seasons Hotel, as a brief call to prayer is broadcast outside from a nearby minaret. This was recorded on a mobile phone, with a corresponding drop in quality level in the field recording.
Saudi Arabia is a country of subtexts and undercurrents, particularly in its current state of transition.
In listening to a typical call to prayer broadcast out into the midday sunshine from a nearby minaret, we wanted to explore what else might be hidden on the airwaves across Riyadh, if only we knew which bandwidths to tune into.
Blended in are other calls to prayer and idents/interval signals from Saudi radio stations, both present and from the 1970s – pirate radio, illicit music and late-night broadcasts are suggested over the audible soundscape of Riyadh.
For our final stop, we’re in Al Bujairi village, one of the most popular destinations for families to relax, stroll and hang out on a weekend evening in Riyadh. Here we can hear the sunset call to prayer on a Friday evening as families mingle and children play in the background.
Jeff Dungfelder reimagined this call to prayer sound in our Three Words project:
“The Three Words from this location are “civil-slacker-reaction”.
“The inspiration for my piece “Al Bujairi” is based on incorporating the meaning of these two words from the original sound file location in Saudi Arabia – Civil (relating to ordinary citizens and their concerns), and Reaction (a person’s ability to respond physically and mentally to external stimuli).
“The field recording that I have used for the foundation of this sound piece is from the historical village of Al Bujairi (Saudi Arabia). The Islamic call to prayer (the adhan), has the root meaning “to listen”. The adhan is called out from the mosque five times a day, to make available to everyone (civil – ordinary citizens) the summary of Islamic belief: “God is great” and “There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of God”. This statement of faith, called the Kalimah, is the first of the Five Pillars of Islam.
“With this piece I have envisioned a world of sound that with repeated listening inspires peace within. With the “act of listening”, the many layers of sound weave together to reveal an opening of ones heart (reaction – responding physically and mentally). In a sense, this listening becomes a form of prayer. One translation of the adhan even says “prayer is better than sleep”.”