Sacred & Profane | Iain Armstrong


Sacred & Profane | Iain Armstrong

GrDl 123 | Gruen Digital > [order]



The 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.



01. St. Salvator’s Church Bells
5’00 / 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 / Bowness-On-Windemere, England 2006


06. Buddhist Chanting at Wat Phai Ngoen
5’44 / 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
10’06 / Istanbul, Turkey 2011


10. Coin Offerings at the Temple of the Reclining Buddha
5’03 / Wat Pho, Bangkok, Thailand 2007


11. Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church Bells
3’51 / 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 / Lombok, Indonesia 2007


15 Tracks (66′49″)


Field Recording Series by Gruenrekorder
Gruenrekorder / Germany / 2013 / GrDl 123 / LC 09488





Roger Batty | Musique Machine
Forms of religious worship, and the places where they take place-in are varied & sometimes unique- from the scared & mystical, to the arcane & timeless, onto the seemingly mundane yet still intriguing.  “Sacred & Profane” finds British sound artists & composer Iain Armstrong offering up a collection of fifteen field recordings made in various religious sites around the world over a twelve year period.


The just under 67 minute release finds Armstrong taking us on a fairly diverse, layered and rewarding sonic journey across various continents & many faiths- from small scared sites, to larger temples or churches. From crowded areas of worship, to more inmate & remote places.


To give an idea of the scope & the content of each of the tracks, I’ll give you a run down of the first five tracks here- we move from the ornate yet  sparsely haunting church bells tolling of St. Salvator’s in Casalbordino, Italy. Onto the human chatter &  majestic pray chant of Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.  Over to the aged & various bell/ gong tolling, water rushing & distant oriental people chatter/ pray of Chumig Gyatsa (one of the 24 Buddhist Tantric places) located in Mustang, Nepal.  Though to the muffled people & child chatter, foot falls, boards creaking, cat meowing(!) & benching sitting of Beyazit Mosque Courtyard in Istanbul, Turkey. Onto the duck quacking, children crying, traffic drone, and distant regimented church bell ringing of St. Martin’s in Bowness-On-Windemere, England.


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.


“Sacred & Profane” is another worthy chapter in the Gruen Digital series, with Armstrong taking the listener on a fairly wide-ranging journey through the various sounds & sonic imprints of these places of religious worship.




Guillermo Escudero | Loop
Iain Armstrong is a composer and sound artist based in Birmingham, UK. His interest is focused on environmental sound recordings expressing themselves a particular music that Armstrong exposed for interpretation through listening, digital processing , composition and performance. His work includes soundscape, acousmatic and radiophonic composition, sound design for theatre and visual media, multichannel sound installation and electroacoustic performance.
On ‚Sacred & Profane‘ the recordings span several years and several countries that were visited between 2000 and 2012 in sacred places of Italy, Turkey, Nepal, Germany, England, Indonesia and Thailand.
All these sites are visited by thousands of tourists and in this act of recording and capturing ambient sound, Armstrong asked himself if there is irreverence of what he makes, hence the duality between the sacred and the profane, that influenced him for the editing process in this album.
Several bell clangs, engine sounds on the street and people noises make up different cultures and languages are appreciated on this disc.




Darby Mullins | DARBY’S CHRONICS
Gruenrekorder Special Focus…
A special focus about the great job of Gruenrekorder. Thanks to artists to doing this.


The sound speaks better than words; but ….
One : the sound design was removed of our living space, and we know so well how each new manufactured objects sounds like shit. Is there any escape from the noise ?
Two : the living sounds are removed from the earth, and we also know how each new products of intensive productivity killing life. Is this the sound of silence ?


Recorded in Japan, „air pressure“ it’s a tearing sky by airplane reactors. This project is conducted with great intelligence, and technique quality, put the relationships between sounds scales or how articulate gurgling and air traffic.


Is the sounds that men don’t hear, don’t exist ? From the deaf vibrations taken with some very special microphones (infra/ultra) Artificial Memory Trace (aka Slavek Kwi) forges a new environment where micro-sounds become the center of the listening.


High fidelity ! A sound environment very tiring, where liquids and electricity stand alongside noise of machines, roar of animals…. „Everything have soul, everything“ said the man…..We have the knowledge; and lost the application.


For closed this short selection, the last release (that I received this morning) seems really appropriate….With the injection of sacred, the sound design is bring at the high level. A point out of what humanity can create and thinking for communicate with itself (dead and alive), gods, and nature. How the sound is thinking for pass through a country, space, or matter. How it can drive different kind of informations (like bells for example).
Another idea could be the thinking of survives and the modifactions of things in time ; like the evolution of the manufacture of the coin : shape, sound, light, and weight.