“…Some people may think of Judaism only as a religion and fail to consider the far-reaching influence of Jewish cultural identification” (Friedman, Friedlander & Blustein).
the audio clip for this composition is near the bottom of the page
Behind the Project Concept:
Along my final year projects, I have developed a curiosity of working with spoken voice and sound. My previous project, A Peaceful Jerusalem threw me into contemporary sound art-practices and acousmatic composition. I knew I wanted to continue researching and learning about these practices. For my final project in falmouth: Kosher Kernow, I decided to create a composition about Jews in Cornwall. This was achieved by creating a Cornish soundscape composition and incorporating interviews, from diverse Jewish residents of Cornwall. The idea for the project stemmed from the belief that this unique combination would be an interesting and creative way of presenting this research, enabling an exploration into the integration of ethics, aesthetics and methods of soundscape composition with oral history research.
To complete the project, ethnographic fieldwork and collaborative methods of inquiry were used to explore the interviewees thoughts and feelings about being Jewish and living in Cornwall. This included discussion and comparison of the how these two tenets are compatible. The piece was an attempt to not only show the creative and interesting side to sound compositional research, but also to provide debate and reflection about the topics being discussed. This work was composed in a manner that focused upon the creative manipulation of environmental sounds as a vehicle of narrative inquiry into identity and has emerged from this study of compositional method rich in reference and symbolism, evoking location and environment whilst exploring the dynamic of identity and cultural identification.
The relationship between the interviewee and the interviewer is what makes oral history so fascinating. To become a good interviewer there is no substitute for practice and experience. Oral history is the more intimate form of interviewing, which, for the interivewee, should not feel like an interview but a simple conversation, with a relaxed pace. Questions were focused directly towards identity: this meant I had to keep the questions as open as possible. When talking about identity, I have found that what the interiveees were trying not to say, was as important, as what they were saying and how they were saying it. Interviewing children was a new experience for me and I didn’t want the outcome to sound like I was interviewing them simply for sentimental impact. By asking the same questions to the children, instead of simplifying or talking down to them, created the best results.
During recording time, Britain was seeing its worst storms for nearly two decades. This meant I increased my recording skill, because I had to, otherwise I risked getting wind driven material. Being thrown into recording with such extreme weather, I had to think a lot on my feet and had to research into creative techniques to capture the diversity of Cornwall’s soundscape. Recording at an old tin mine, I placed my microphone in various mining shafts. This created protection from the elements, and a fascinating natural reverb. Finding ditches and crevasses, helped create diverse spaces that translated into rich recordings, with sounds full of symbolism. The approach of working with whatever is recorded, resulted in a symbolically dense soundwork. It also meant that my compositional skills had to increase, as my sound material had to be composed in a manner that created for the listener a number of different threads to engage with, the soundscape composition, the narratives and the different contexts they created in parallel with each other.
All the sounds in the composition come from this list of various locations:
Going east of Falmouth
Going west of Falmouth
My composing skills increased dramatically since the piece is the longest I have ever composed, and therefore, took a lot more time. With the length of the piece over an hour long, I had to make sure that it kept the feeling of progression. I was using long, sustained sounds, such as waves; so my mix could easily lack movement if these elements were too static. By subtly altering tuning, pulse-width or filter cut-off gradually over time, I created more raw sounds that enhanced the piece throughout. Common practice with binaural recording is to aurally remove oneself from the soundscape by minimising any sounds of movement, (except footsteps in soundwalks) I realised that this could become a powerful parameter to explore. The majority of the piece maintains the tradition of presenting the listener with a perspective from which they are to observe, with no reference to the presence of the recordist. Occasionally, the recordists presence is revealed, a peek behind the composers curtain!
The personal side of the narratives could be highlighted through binaural mixing, and the sounds could emulate this. Since I was using post-production binaural mixing, I was able to manipulate my own version of what that relationship showed, highlighting key points, and perhaps suppressing others. The gestural contours of the narratives are mimicked and reinterpreted, by the soundscape in the contrasting binaural space. The piano music through the piece, are snippets of Jewish folk and prayer song. The songs were often recorded with several different versions (Middle eastern, Ladino and Eastern European). This meant that a song often appears in the composition multiple times, but with different variances, similar to the narratives (though all identifying as Jewish, have different stories to tell).
The Jews Of Cornwall:
The history of Cornish Jews goes back to the 18th century. Though not much research has been written on the subject evidence can still be seen, such as ‘Market Jew Street’ in Penzance, or the Jewish cemetery in Falmouth. Researching for the project, I found out that Cornwall used to have its own Rabbi and that the community here was thriving. Keith Pearce has written an in-depth book of the subject titled: the Jews of Cornwall – worth a read to anyone whos intrested! Today Cornwall’s Jewish Community is small but growing and they often meet to share services and festivals. Whilst I was interviewing various members during this project, I had no idea that a special event was about to take place in the community, the original scroll from the (now closed) Falmouth synagogue was being returned to the community from Truro Museum.
Since ancient times, music has always been a very important part of Judaism. It has been kept alive in various different traditions depending on the locations of diverse Jewish communities around the world. The Music throughout the piece are Jewish prayer and folk songs, interpreted in different styles and from across the scores of different Jewish traditions. Music was originally never written down, but transmitted orally, much like Jewish laws and customs. This was a key compositional context that I wanted to re-create in this music: to try and demonstrate the importance of oral narratives being passed on. Where Jewish music was alive, Jewish traditions were also kept active, and therefore the different groups had diverse variations of the same music. For example: Jews from Morocco start Pentateuch on note E, whereas Jews from Italy start on note F. When music was first written down, time signatures where not used and the music was often written from right to left, to aid the Hebrew underneath. I made sure in my composition to try and reflect the musical diversity of Jewish folk and prayer songs. Different styles and melodies where used throughout the piece, for example; D’ror Yikra from the Sarajevo Melody and D’ror Yikra from the Yemenite community, which are very different. Similarly, the melody from Ki Eshmerah Shabbat from the Baghdadi community is very different from the Spanish and Portuguese melody.
A shofar is a musical instrument of ancient origin, made of a horn, traditionally that of a ram and used for Jewish religious purposes. The shofar is used mainly on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is used as a useful time signal, blown in synagogues to mark the end of the fast at Yom Kippur, and blown at four particular occasions in the prayers on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish new year). To imitate this in the composition, I added a shofar sound throughout the piece to signify different time sections. Furthermore, the full clip with a mother explaining about her boy’s shofar, doesn’t happen until the end of the piece, creating the perspective that the story is not fully told until then. The Jewish sages indicated that to hear the shofar was a mitzvah. They went as far as to consider the scenario of a shofar being blown into a pit or cave and to decide whether a person who hears the original sound or the echo has fulfilled the mitzvah. The Shulchan Aruch sums up that if the listener hears the reverberation, the mitzvah is not valid. However, if the listener perceives the direct sounds, he fulfils the mitzvah. This may be due to the fact that listeners hearing the reverberation, may not know or recognize that the sound is a shofar. Thereby, during the composition when listeners are hearing the processed shofar, they may be unaware what the source is (being acousmatic and unrecognizable). But by the end of the piece, when hearing the recognizable version explained by the mother, the listener has achieved this mitzvah.
The importance of remembering and learning from our past is not new. Zakhor, which is the Hebrew word for remember, features frequently in the Torah. In the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) 32:7, for instance, Moses tells Israel to: “Remember the days of old; reflect upon the years of [other] generations. Ask your father, and he will tell you; your elders, and they will inform you”. The effectiveness of soundscape composition to creatively evoke environments from any recorded material, enables this genre to create layers of history in dialogue with one another, as well as with contexts and environments. To quote Ritchie: “…History should include both the facts about events and occurrences as well as the personal experiences of individuals who lived through these events, who reacted to them, and who’s attitudes helped shape their pace and direction.”
Perhaps because of the social and cultural issues that oral history provokes, some soundscape composers have created autobiographical pieces, or concentrated on themes that are linked to their own identities.My own contribution, for instance, follows my interest in the sounds of Jewish identity. As Chasalow comments: “…where many composers become involved in documenting their own communities, [composers] will build a more complete record than could a centralized project team, even a well-funded one”. Possibly what Chasalow means here is that composers who have a personal connection may go into more depth, either by recording greater numbers of people, or by sustaining interest in projects over a longer time period. Oral history and soundscape composition both communicate the power of listening. They have the potential together, to explore human stories in different forms and to acknowledge that sound has the ability to re-create and mold space and time.By creatively showcasing a detailed acoustic environment, including narrative experiences that many people can relate and connect to, such compositions can illustrate individual circumstances alongside collective understandings and knowledge. Oral history emerged in order to give voice to the minorities that were left out of traditional research (or in some cases the illiterate majorities that were left out of traditional histories of the world). The initial idea of the soundscape appeared as a way of drawing our attention to the everyday sounds we take for granted in our lives, thus both these genres provide a platform and a voice for stories that are normally overlooked and are not usually told. This is why the integration of the two seems fitting and, perhaps, explains why I am advocating it through this project.
AUDIO CLIP OF KOSHER KERNOW
Organisations who helped with the project:
Huge thanks go to all the members of Kehillat Kernow who let me interview them for this project!
Also, I’d like to send gratitude towards the movement for reform Judaism for all their help with music scores.
And lastly, Im grateful towards those members of NNLS, who took the time to review my composition.