Sacred & Profane

Sacred & Profane is a field recording album I released on Gruenrekorder Digital GrDl 123 in 2012. You can purchase a digital download from the Gruenrekorder website

he recordings in this collection span several years and several countries. They are essentially documents of my travels as a tourist with a microphone. Each soundscape was recorded in a sacred place, or captures the sound of a sacred ritual. This notion of sacred sounds was the initial thematic concept for the collection. However, while selecting and preparing the material I became more aware of the secular sounds that are present alongside the religious sounds I originally set out to record – the profane. These commonplace, usually quieter sounds have a powerful ability to frame, contextualise and ground the listener, drawing one back from the spiritual and abstract, to the concrete.

What is also interesting for me, as a non-religious visitor / listener / observer, is how one feels as an outsider, sometimes literally confined to the outside of the temple. In this scenario, I am uninitiated in the mysteries and rites of the religion, but yet participate in my own tourist rituals of visiting these ‘important religious sites of interest‘, and documenting them with numerous photographs or sound recordings. I am required to partake in rituals such as ‘remove your shoes and place them in the plastic carrier bag provided‘ to carry with me whilst visiting mosques in Istanbul. I exchange my Thai Baht for 108 satang to make offerings to the reclining Buddha in Wat Pho. I find myself asking to what extent do these acts really demonstrate reverence? Is there some irreverence in the manner that one ‘collects‘ religious sites?

Religious sites and activities have historically been one of the most prominent contributors to the soundscapes of human habitation, and in a world that grows increasingly noisy these sounds often still prevail; though their reach may be somewhat limited or require amplification. Ironically, it is within the architecture of these same sites that one may seek relative silence, or certainly a hushed sanctuary when the tourists have subsided.

And so this duality of the sacred and the profane, of prominent punctuation and muted quietude, inside and outside, came to influence my process of deciding what sounds to include in this collection and where, within each recording, to make the cut.

“The fifteen recordings last between just under the two minute mark, to just over the ten minute. And for the most part Armstrong mangers to select the perfect length for each of the tracks- so you get a good idea of each sites various sonic make-up & individual sound map, yet you never become bored or jaded, as he keeps the feeling of variation, setting & often wonder flowing from track to track.”

Full reviews of this release can be found on the Gruenrekorder webpage:

Track listing:

01 St. Salvator Church Bells 5’00
recorded from a nearby rooftop, Casalbordino, Italy 2009

02 Entering Sultan Ahmed Mosque 1’46
Istanbul, Turkey 2011

03 Muktinath – Chumig Gyatsa 4’54
Mustang, Nepal 2007

04 Beyazit Mosque Courtyard 4’42
Istanbul, Turkey 2011

05 St. Martin’s Church Bells 4’14
recorded from Bowness Bay, Bowness-On-Windemere, England 2006

06 Buddhist Chanting at Wat Phai Ngoen 5’44
recorded from T.I.T. Tower balcony, Bangkok, Thailand 2007

07 Sultan Ahmed Mosque Steps 2’40
Istanbul, Turkey 2011

08 High Cathedral of Saints Peter and Mary 4’39
Cologne, Germany 2000

09 Adhan (Call to Prayer) in Istanbul 10’05
recorded in the grounds of Istanbul University, Istanbul, Turkey 2011

10 Coin Offerings at Temple of the Reclining Buddha 5’06
Wat Pho, Bangkok, Thailand 2007

11 Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church Bells 3’51
recorded from Breitscheidplatz, Berlin, Germany 2000

12 Sultan Ahmed Mosque Courtyard 3’35
Istanbul, Turkey 2011

13 St. Philip’s Cathedral Vestibule 1’37
Birmingham, England 2012

14 Mani Wall Prayer Wheels 1’04
Chame, Manang, Nepal 2007

15 Adhan (Call to Prayer) on Gili Trawangan 8’01
Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Indonesia 2007