MICHAEL FRISHKOPF, PhD (frishkopf.org), is professor of music and director of the Canadian Centre for Ethnomusicology, adjunct professor of medicine, and adjunct professor of religious studies at the University of Alberta. His research focuses on sounds of Islam, the Arab world, and West Africa, and music for global human development (m4ghd.org) through participatory action research. He edited “Music and Media in the Arab World” (AUC Press, 2010) and co-edited “Music, Sound, and Architecture in Islam” (U. Texas Press, 2018), with a linked digital collection at archnet.org. He has published numerous academic articles and book chapters on sound, music and Islam. He has also developed virtual and augmented reality interpretations of Islamic soundscapes, including “Virtual Sonic Architecture” (bit.ly/vsahipm), and “Sounding the Garden”, an augmented reality soundscape designed for the University of Alberta’s new Aga Khan Garden (http://bit.ly/soundingthegarden). An online digital repository, “Sounds of Islam”, is under development. In addition, Frishkopf is a musical composer-improviser, performing on nay, keyboards and other instruments.
The Sonorous, Audible Mosque: A New Perspective on Islamic Architecture
We perceive the world through multiple senses. Unlike the gustatory, tactile, and olfactory, visual and auditory senses enable perception at a distance, representing the wider physical and social spaces in which we live. While the mind’s eye appears to represent three-dimensional reality better than its ear, hearing is more deeply enmeshed in social life. Western cultures privilege light and seeing for understanding (insight over hearsay), as does academia, where material things are studied as visual culture. Yet we also hear architecture. Furthermore, sound and audition are profoundly social compared to light and vision. Those deprived of hearing are far more isolated than those deprived of sight. Muslim devotions center on remembering God through sounded words. Mosque design is perforce sonic, its structures—minaret, dome or carpet—designed to enhance collective soundings and hearings: the call (adhan) to prayer (salah), the sermon (khutba), the supplication (duʿaʾ), Qur’anic recitation (tilawa). Sonorous and audible mosques resonate, shaping one another dynamically, facilitating harmonization with local social life. Yet most studies of Islamic architecture reduce the mosque to visual, asocial representations, idealized as a static image, devoid of people or sound, reduced further to a sketch or axonometric projection. Such silent, asocial representations may suffice to write cultural histories, but they fail to convey the richness of spiritual experience. I therefore reframe the mosque as sonorous and audible, its soundscapes as flexible architectural features shaping and shaped by spiritual meaning, towards a more holistic understanding of mosques, and of Muslim life and faith.
For better web experience, please use the website in portrait mode