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Listening Through a Beam of Intense Darkness

009_07 / 29 January 2016


Seth Ayyaz

Listening Through a Beam of Intense Darkness, 2015

8 mins 48 secs


Performed live for fig-2 (48/50), at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London, 30 November–6 December 2015.


On 3 December 2015, as part of Seth Ayyaz's sound exhibition Listening Through a Beam of Intense Darkness (fig-2 week 48/50, hosted at the ICA, 30 November6 December 2015), Ayyaz performed a triptych of electroacoustic works addressing Islamic sonic culture. Makharej (2009) primarily addresses opening the spaces of the letters, drawing equally from the traditions of Qur'anic recitations (tilawa and tajwid) and sound poetry (such as Kurt Schwitters' Ursonate). The Remainder (2013) deals with theological debates from mediaeval Islamic mathematics and investigates number and algorithmic structure. the bird ghost at the zaouia (2010) is based on field recordings made by attending various religious rituals across the MENASA region. It investigates the boundary between music and non-music within Sharia (dubbed as the sama' polemic), and intervenes into space, location and place using recordings taken from Islamic sacred contexts.

The title of the elecroacoustic triptych, On the Admissibility of Sound, echos Al Ghazali's eleventh century text 'On the Permissibility of Listening To Music', a cautionary tale about the contagious effects of music as virtue or poison. The triptych is concerned with the unseen, unspoken and potentially revolutionary problematics of interrogating power in the Islamic sonic-social. Listening operates within these pieces to reveal these regimens of power.

In all three pieces contemporary electroacoustic techniques of sound synthesis and spatialization are brought to bear on 'traditional' Islamic musical concerns such as the recitation of Qur'an, adhan, voice, the admissibility of music, number theory applied to maqammat (pitch) and iqaat (rhythm).


Read Seth Ayyaz in conversation here. See his project On The Admissibility of Sound here.

About the author

Seth Ayyaz

Seth Ayyaz is a London-based composer-performer, writer and occasional curator, who draws on psychiatry, neuroscience and sound art, refracted through extensive engagement with contemporary Middle Eastern experimental music. His sound work spans installation, live electronics, improvisation, noise, electroacoustic and Arabic musics. His work is concerned with (dis)embodied perceptions and how these resonate across psychological and social spaces. His main focus is on listening - and investigating what a sonic assemblage can do. Specialising in live electronics and machine-listening, Ayyaz builds custom performance ecologies for specific situations. Another key focus is between 'Occident' and 'Orient', critically exploring the legacies of Islamic cultures (music, mathematics, medicine, literature, alchemy) that have been effaced in traditional Western historical accounts. Ayyaz's work offers counter-narratives to current metaphors of cultural exchange and hybridity, instead foregrounding issues of friction, displacement and translation.


Ayyaz has presented his work internationally including at Cafe Oto, London; Kunsthalle Luzern, Switzerland; Irtijal Festival, Beirut; Maerz Music in Berlin; the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology, Finland; and the Haus Für Elektronische Künste in Basel, Switzerland. Ayyaz also writes on sound and has been published in The Wire, Organised Sound, and most recently in, On Listening (edited by Angus Carlyle and Cathy Lane) alongside contributors including David Toop, Brandon LaBelle and Ultra-red. Live work includes the Usurp Chance Tour 2014 - Cage and Beyond, produced by Usurp Art Gallery in partnership with Sound and Music. He curated the MazaJ Festival of Experimental Middle-Eastern Music, London, 2010 supported by Sound and Music, City University London and The Wire.