Sound & Politics

Sound & Politics

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This is a clip of the ezan, which is the main subject I have been studying as it relates to language politics and the interplay between religion and secularism in Turkey. The fact that the call to prayer is in Arabic unites the “Muslim World” as the liturgical language is commonly understood, regardless of the native tongue of the worshipper. Performing the ezan in a different language would imply a sort of separation and ethnic division, where the practitioner is placing their own tradition above the language of the Qur’an (Arabic). The common liturgical language shows respect for the religion and worshippers everywhere, even if the Arabic required must be learned as a second language. Thus the use of Turkish language in the ezan for around 30 years represents a significant shift in political thought.

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This is a sound clip of İstiklâl Marşı, which is the national anthem of Turkey and was adopted in 1921. The song is a reflection of the essence of nationalistic sentiment; the lyrics celebrate and affection for the Turkish homeland and was written to help raise the spirits of the military, as with most national anthems. This sound clip is important to the understanding of Turkish secularism, as a framed copy of this anthem resides in each classroom, along with a picture of Atatürk and an image of the Turkish flag. This display represents the devotion to the state and the support of a secular government–while God is mentioned in the lyrics of the anthem, the idea of God is used as a secondary support as a reason to fight for the State. Kemalist ideas of secularism by no means exclude religion, but rather place more value upon national identity than religious identity and separate the government from religious ideas, which may inform—but not dictate—the law of the land.

This last section is a recording of Atatürk’s speech to Turkish youth fighting in the War for Independence. The first thing he says is “Birinci vazifen, Türk istiklâlini, Türk Cumhuriyetini, ilelebet, muhafaza ve müdafaa etmektir.” This can be translated to mean, “Your first duty is to preserve and to defend Turkish Independence and the Turkish Republic forever.” This statement is critical to understand the essence of Kemalism, which resists typical American politicizations like “conservative” or “liberal”—in a sense, Kemalism is an extremely “right-wing” sort of ideology, where the state and the idea of “the people” are revered; however, Kemalism is also—particularly in the context of its time—an extremely “liberal” ideology in its radical break from the Caliphate model of government and the increase in modernizations that departed from the traditional customs of Turkey (such as dress, architecture, etc.). The purpose of the political speech is to rouse a feeling of “togetherness” for something bigger than the self; the rhetoric embodied the desire for a new and better order after the decline of the Ottoman Empire.


Ezan – Fair Use (through Wikipedia commons)

İstiklâl Marşı – Public Domain (through Wikipedia commons)

Manisa Turkish. John Guise, n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2013.

Songs to Sing: Interpreting Bird Sounds

Beak Beats


Fallon, Robert. “The Record of Realism in Messiaen’s Bird Style.” OLIVIER MESSIAEN: Music, Art and Literature.  Ashgate, 2007. Web.

Fitch, W. T. (2005), The Evolution of Music in Comparative Perspective. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1060: 29–49. doi: 10.1196/annals.1360.004;jsessionid=E6A556FFCEC405A4F507649E37E1B40E.d02t03?v=1&t=he67url4&s=532e03e24b7dc922e52e9cf6c08f03a3a28d6d92.

Head, Matthew. “Birdsong and the Origins of Music.” Journal of the Royal Musical Association, Vol. 122, No. 1 (1997), pp. 1-23. Web.

“Hermit Thrush.” All About Birds. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Web.

Roosth, Sophia. “Screaming Yeast: Sonocytology, Cytoplasmic Milieus, and Cellular Subjectivities.” Critical Inquiry 35.2 (2009): 332-50. Print.

Tingley, Kim. “Whisper of the Wild.” The New York Times. 15 Mar. 2012.  Web.

Wagner, Eric. “The Piccolo and the Pocket Grouse.” Orion Magazine. N.p., Jan.-Feb. 2013. Web.

Young, John. “Northern Cardinal Call.” What the Robin Knows. Web.

Resonance and the Om

Monks meditation on waterfall


Essential to an understanding of Buddhist and Hindu cultures, meditative practices, and religious precepts, is a comprehension of resonance. Resonance addresses how even the slightest vibrations transfer energy and subsequently cause movement to spread like ripples until the energy dissipates and the vibrations settle. Resonance also applies to sound studies because of the relationship between sound and movement. Sound waves are caused by movement and even the Brownian motion, the movement of atoms, create sound waves.

Resonance holds a place of great importance when studying these cultures because of the Om and other basic tenets found within these religions. A deep belief in the interconnectedness of the universe lies at the foundations of these two cultures. Understanding the phenomena of resonance is direly important to attaining a state of inner and outer peace is the ultimate goal. By attuning themselves to resonance through use of the Om, meditation, and learning, these peoples are also learning to control the vibrations they cause and to better receive those of others. Resonance is more than just an acoustic property to these cultures; it’s also symbolic of the ebb and flow of life and the universe, of which humans are merely specks within. By exploring resonance within these cultures I will examine these eastern cultures and the sound, mind, and body connections therein from a western intellectual perspective.





The Om is extremely important to meditative and yogic activity in both Hindu and Buddhist culture. This simple sound is intrinsically linked to the very foundations of these two religions, and is representative of the thrumming movement of the universe. This particular video captures a group of Tibetan monks chanting the Om in accompaniment with quiet bells and drums. Though the Om is not always carried out for such an extended period of time, it is often used to denote the beginning and end of different activities like praying, meditating, reciting mantras, or as a preface to a religious text.



Kiai: harmonizing mind and body

East Asian martial arts have been practiced for centuries as both a method of self defense and a meditative spiritual exercise. “Kiai,” an exclamation made during or after an attack, is an important part of the execution of martial arts techniques. The kiai is explained as an outburst of inner spiritual energy, harmonizing the practitioner’s body and mind to press the attack; the practitioner focuses all their energy solely into the strike, and their exclamation has the added effect of intimidating the opponent. Additionally, the physical act of creating the diaphragm-based yell tenses up the muscles and prevents the user from becoming winded or taken by surprise by a counterattack. In this way, the use of kiai in martial arts resonates with our group’s theme of sound connecting the mind and body.

The sample I have included is a video of practitioners of kendo, a practice developed from samurai sword exercises, training. Each individual strikes the dummy opponent and emits kiai in conjunction with the hit. In this case, the syllable on which they are basing the shout is the Japanese word for “head;” in kendo, the kiai’s importance is such that in order to win a match, one must execute kiai for each hit, calling out the part of the opponent which they are striking. In this example, kiai is both a coordinated shout that strengthens and focuses the attack and a required ritual within the cultural and official context of the martial art.

Behind the Lyrics

Every soundscape is comprised of its own explicit set of ambient sounds. These keynote sounds have helped shape various forms of music each with their own distinct qualities and messages. Hip-hop is no exception. Since its origin, hip-hop music has been used as a form of expression around the world, serving as a microphone to the voices of the marginalized masses. From the block parties in New York, to the streets of Bolivia, hip-hop has been used as a major form of expression. Now people are no longer just hearing a good bass and catchy tune, but are also listening to the lyrical stories behind the music. Artists of all subgenres in hip-hop are coming to the forefront and telling their unique stories of the hardships and struggles that accompany their race, class, and upbringing. These stories intricately intertwined with smooth lyrics and popular instrumentals make the hip-hop soundscape truly memorable.

Tupac’s song “Changes” hones in on his struggles with everyday life. He focuses on tribulations such as poverty, drug addiction, racism, and growing up as an African American. This is a prime example of how artists have used hip-hop as a method of expressing themselves through lyrics and music. Shakur’s song embodies the hardships of his everyday life and allows listeners to relate to his situation making this one of the most memorable songs of his time.

Tupac Changes

Ultrasounds and Maternal-Fetal Attachment

My group is exploring the connection between sound and the mind, body and soul. My research looks at the experience of having an ultrasound done during pregnancy. Central to this is the maternal-fetal attachment. This audiovisual experience enhances attachment by giving the expectant mother an opportunity to see the fetus in motion, helping her to make a connection prenatally. The picture of the fetus combined with the doctor explaining what various parts of the picture are in relation to the body helps the woman to understand the reality that she is going to be a mother, and this will be her child. Additionally, the woman is able to see the fetus growing over time as it starts to look more and more like a baby. This connection between souls has become an important part of maternal-fetal bonding in the Western world and is a great experience for an expectant mother.


The sound I included is an ultrasound being conducted on a pregnant woman. The frequency of ultrasounds is so high that it cannot be heard by the human ear; only the image based on the movement of sound waves can be heard. The technology used in this clip is unique because it adjusts the frequency of the ultrasound to a point where it can be heard. The knowledge of what this sounds like is helpful in comprehending the full picture of the woman’s involvement in the ultrasound because it adds an audible component to the central aspect of the experience.


Belonging Through Sound In Hinduism

The sounds that define the religio-culture of Hinduism can be divided into two distinct categories: mantras or chanting and prayers songs known as bhajan. Both are vocal expressions employed to achieve similar goals, however, the practice and setting in which each is voiced is vastly different. The type of verbal worship or prayer that one practices largely defines his place in Hindu society. In this way, the various sounds of Hinduism serve as not only a vehicle of praise and divine relation, but also as a form of identification within Indian culture. In order to analyze the relationship between sound, identity and divine knowledge in Hinduism, it is essential to understand the purpose, parts and practice of each category.

Bhajan is part of Bhakti Yoga, a tradition based in the Upanishadic and Dharmic subtraditions of Hinduism that eventually detached and became its own form of worship. Bhakti Yoga is essentially disciplined worship by means of complete devotion and love. Bhakti can be directed to any deity, however Krshna Bhakti is the most popular due to his accessibility and inclusive reputation, especially for women. The bhajans of Krshna Bhakti are a particularly significant due to the nature of Krshna worship festivals. As a playful and loving god, Krshna Bhakti is practiced through elaborate festivals with dances like the ras lila, sports, delicious foods and fun activities. The dances and songs of Krshna Bhakti are meant to be entertaining, erotic and arousing, allowing followers to reach the purest and strongest form of love for Krshna. One main subject of bhajan is the divine union of Krshna and his earthly lover Radha. By listening, singing, and dancing to arousing music, complete devotion to the divine is reached by sharing ultimate and unrestrained love. One famous devotee of Krshna is Mirabai, a 16th century Hindu saint who wrote songs and poems of love to Krshna. Her work exemplifies the devotion necessary to reach the ultimate goal of liberation through Bhakti Yoga.

Hindu mantras and chanting trace back to the origins of the religion. One of the first rituals that remains the epicenter of the Vedic tradition is the fire sacrifice. Noble priests and householders perform this ceremony at different levels, sacrificing food and offerings for protection, prosperity and progeny. During the ritual, different hymns are chanted to call on the various gods and request divine knowledge in return for devotion. Mantras or “sacred sentences” are also chanted in everyday practice to express devotion in order to increase consciousness of liberated truth.

Both forms of worship achieve liberation from the cycle of delusion via devotion to the divine through vocal expression, however the practices, and therefore practitioners, of each are different, making sound a form of identification. Bhajan is easy to access in the general Hindu population and tend to be more pleasurable while mantra is much more serious and takes a higher status and level of attention. By partaking in vocal prayer, whether it be mantra or bhajan, a Hindu is identifying himself as either a part of the majority with worship integrated into daily life or as a part of the minority that lives as a devotee and student of the divine powers at work.

Annotated Bibliography

Zide, Norman. “Mirabai and Her Contributions to the Bhakti Movement.” History of Religions. Vol.5, No.1 (Summer,1965), 54-73.

Norman Zide is a Professor of South Asian Languages and Civilization in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Chicago. In this article, Zide examines the life and influences of the well-known Hindu poet Mirabai. Miribai dedicated all of her poems, which were sung as bhajans, to Lord Krshna and focused on his divine relationship with Radha. Miribai’s complete devotion to Lord Krshna contributed to the popular practice of Krshna Bhakti Yoga by making devotion more available via the vehicle of music.

Singer, Milton. “The Radha-Krishna ‘Bhajans’ of Madras City.” History of Religions. Vol. 2, No. 2 (Winter, 1963), 183-226.

Milton Singer is one of the nation’s pre-eminent scholars of India focusing specifically on the period of modernization on Indian culture. In this journal article, Singer analyzes the popularity of bhajans in 20th century. He uses the Krshna Bhakti worship dance known as ras lila and the prayer songs that accompany it to illustrate the importance of bhajans in Krshna worship. He also breaks the diverse practice into six distinct categories and examines the social integration of each type of prayer song.

Kinsley, David. “Without Krsna There is No Song.” History of Religions. Vol. 12, No. 2 (November, 1972), 149-180.

David Kinsley was a professor in the Department of Religious Studies at McMaster University who mostly studied the role of the divine feminine in Hinduism. Fascinated by the popularity of Krshna Bhakti, its practices, and how it contrasts with other Hindu traditions, Kinsley claims that without Krshna worship, sound would play a much different role in Hindu culture. The playful music and songs of India exist only because of Krshna worship and, in a historical context, are very new to Hinduism.

Gonda, Jan. “The Indian Mantra.” Oriens. Vol. 16 (December, 1963), 244-297.

Jan Gonda was a Dutch Orientalist and Indologist recognized as one of the twentieth century’s leading scholars of Asian language, literature and religion. His work with Hindu texts lead him to analyze the importance of the spoken word, especially mantra, in Hindu rituals. Vocal expression is central to the rituals of older Hindu traditions, such as the fire sacrifice in the Vedic Tradition. The power of “sacred sentences” are achieved through repetition and emphasis. This journal article also breaks down and analyzes some important Vedic hymns, identifying the poets intent and the importance of the hymns in Vedic practices.

Bhaktivedanta Swami. On the Way to Krsna. London: Bhaktivedanta, 1973. 5-79.

A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada was a Vaishnava teacher and the founder of Interntionational Society for Krishna Consciousness, known as the “Hare Krishna Movement.” He translated over sixty volumes of classic Vedic scriptures and dedicated the last twenty years of his life to publishing his works of religious teachings. This short book of teachings lays out ways to act in order to live a life of devotion to Krsna. One of the most important ways to know Krsna is through chanting. Bhaktivedanta Swami translates the Hare Krsna mantra and explains how to utilize it to see, feel, and relate to Krsna everywhere and always.