Bulgarian Monks Singing

|May 29, 2015 | Europe, Found Sounds, Travels, You Are There

Rila Mountains, Bulgaria : my recent trip to Europe ( returned home night before last, thanks ) reminded me that this clip has been kicking around on my desktop since I recorded it this past Summer. I don’t like taking group tours, but if there’s no other way outside of renting a car to see the most famous place in a country, I’ll do it. And it was worth it. I was taken by the sound of these monks, and the crazy overtones produced by all the vaulted ceilings in this particular church.

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Here is a photo I took of one of the very old frescoes there. About the monastery :Thinner

“ Founded in the 10th century, the Rila Monastery is regarded as one of Bulgaria’s most important cultural, historical and architectural monuments and is a key tourist attraction for both Bulgaria and Southern Europe. In 2008 alone, it attracted 900,000 visitors. The monastery is depicted on the reverse of the 1 lev banknote, issued in 1999. “Thinner

Monks Singing, Rila Monastery

Monks Singing, Rila Monastery

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Dueling Mosques

|October 9, 2014 | Europe, Found Sounds, Travels, You Are There

Istanbul, Turkey : new and old, a big, modern city, but still very much the showplace, glittering jewel, of the Ottoman Empire. Famously, the bridge between east and west – half of the city is in Europe, half in Asia.

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In travel writing ( I read a lot of it, although I’m making an effort to live vicariously through books and blogs less and actually, uh, travel more ), a common theme is spontaneity – ” leave your return date open ” ” don’t book hotels ahead of time ” ” throw out your guide book and just walk the streets ” ( the core message often being something like ” don’t be a tourist, be a traveler, and seek the authentic “ – whatever THAT means ).

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While I have a more extemporaneous travel style than a lot of people, I call bullshit, especially when it comes to research. Why would you not want to know as much as possible about the place you’re going to visit? Which leads me to the giant rookie mistake I made with Turkey – I went to a country in which 99% of the population identifies as Muslim during July, the month of Ramadan, the most important holiday in Islam.  Totally clueless, me.Thinner

Most of the important tourist stuff was open ( believe me, you want to see these amazing places, like this ), but the Hammams, Turkish baths, were closed, as well as a lot of the cooler restaurants, museums, post offices ( yeah, I still send postcards, a lot ). Add huge crowds to that – something I fully expected, traveling to a major tourist destination in the summertime, but couldn’t help getting a little bummed out by ( not all places were crowded, mind you – when I went to the gigantic and awesome Istanbul Military Museum, I was the only person there ) . Throw in, as well, the weather. One of the reasons I took this trip was to escape the famously unpleasant summer in New Orleans, but here I found myself in a place even hotter than that.Thinner

Which, oh well, just means that I’ll have to go back, at a slightly cooler and less touristed time of year. And I will, I definitely will.Thinner

Oh, so, the purpose of this post : Istanbul contains some of the biggest and most famous mosques in all of Islam, and every neighborhood has at least one as well, and every one of these mosques has a muezzin who sings the adhan, or call to prayer, five times daily. In some smaller Turkish cities and towns I visited, you can hear one muezzin at a time, which becomes routine. In a huge city, though, you’re within earshot of 2 or 3 at the same time, which makes a crazy sound – more than once, I stood in the street, transfixed. Here’s a recording I made in the Sultanahmet district.

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Dueling Mosques, Istanbul

Dueling Mosques, Istanbul

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One evening, I went up to a hotel rooftop garden to get a beer and watch the sun set on the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. ( there’s the uniqueness of Turkey – I don’t think a visit to any other Islamic country would result in a sentence containing the words ‘beer’ and ‘mosque’ ).

Zocalo Cathedral Bells

|April 4, 2014 | Found Sounds, Mexico, Travels, You Are There

Mexico City : last November, I was walking through the Zócalo : hold up, now – imagine a village square, like in a little town somewhere, and now imagine the square if it’s sized for a city of 20 million — okay, yeah, right? Massive, thousands of people walking around, selling stuff, trying to get work. There’s always some giant exhibition or festival going on there, and it’s amazing, and you should see it. But also there’s the Metropolitan Cathedral, which is the main church of all of Mexico, which is a country with like 96 million Catholics in it, so that’ll be a gigantic and imposing ( and ancient, and sinking into the swampy ground ) church. Also, the entire thing is built directly over the ruins of Aztec temples and the palace of Montezuma. There are often Aztec dance troupes performing, and people in full headdresses and feathers and sandals and the whole bit, performing purification rituals, and this is an amazing thing : they are Mexican Catholics who speak Spanish, but they are also Aztecs, who are preserving their culture. Can you imagine any other place where people would be allowed to perform pagan rituals in front of a grand Catholic cathedral? That’s the dual-nature magic of Mexico : the priests are descended from Aztecs too.

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I was walking across this giant square, and the bells were ringing, and, who knows how old the bells are, but they sounded old. So many frequencies in the air, atoms colliding with atoms, humming – I recorded some of it on my phone, which, very low bit-rate, doesn’t do that day a lot of justice, but you can hear what I’m talking about.

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Zocalo Bells

Zocalo Bells

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Novice Monks Singing

|April 12, 2013 | Asia, Found Sounds, Travels, You Are There

Luang Prabang, Laos : December, dusk. I was walking along Sisavangvong Road, watching the Night Market vendors setting up their stalls and anticipating a visit to food alley when a tiny, distant sound caught my ear.

Novice Monks Singing

Novice Monks Singing

I followed the sound to a temple, where I found a group of boys singing with their teachers.