Posted by: bluesyemre | April 4, 2020

Hear the sound of the #HagiaSophia recreated in #AuthenticByzantineChant


Audio technology has made many exciting advances in the past few years, one of which enables recording engineers to capture the sound of a specific space and recreate it elsewhere. Through a process called “convolution reverb,” the sound of a concert hall or club can be portable, so to speak, and a band or group of singers in a studio can be made to sound as if they were performing in Carnegie Hall, or inside a cave or grain silo.

Also being recreated are the sounds of gothic cathedrals and Byzantine churches—acoustic environments being preserved for posterity in digital recordings as their physical forms decay. This technology has given scholars the means to represent the music of the past as it sounded hundreds of years ago and as it was originally meant to be heard by its devout listeners.

Music took shape in particular landscapes and architectural environments, just as those environments evolved to enhance certain kinds of sound. Medieval Christian churches were especially suited to the hypnotic chants that characterize the sacred music of the time. As David Byrne puts it in his TED Talk on music and architecture:

In a gothic cathedral, this kind of music is perfect. It doesn’t change key, the notes are long, there’s almost no rhythm whatsoever, and the room flatters the music. It actually improves it.

There’s no doubt about that, especially in the case of the Greek Orthodox cathedral Hagia Sophia. Built in 537 AD in what was then Constantinople, it was once the largest building in the world. Though it lost the title early on, it remains on incredibly impressive feat of engineering. While the structure is still very much intact, no one has been able to hear its music since 1453, when the Ottoman Empire seized the city and the massive church became a mosque. “Choral music was banned,” notes Scott Simon on NPR’s Weekend Edition, “and the sound of the Hagia Sophia was forgotten until now.”

Now (that is, in the past ten years or so), well over five centuries later, we can hear what early medieval audiences heard in the massive Byzantine cathedral, thanks to the work of two Stanford professors, art historian Bissera Pentcheva and Jonathan Abel, who teaches in the computer music department and studies, he says, “the analysis, synthesis and processing of sound.”

Now a museum, the Hagia Sophia allowed Pentcheva and Abel to record the sound of balloons popping in the space after-hours. “Abel used the acoustic information in the balloon pops to create a digital filter that can make anything sound like it’s inside the Hagia Sophia,” as Weekend Edition guest host Sam Hartnett explains.

Pentcheva, who focuses her work “on reanimating medieval art and architecture,” was then able to “reanimate” the sound of high Greek Orthodox chant as it would have been heard in the heart of the Byzantine Empire. “It’s actually something that is beyond humanity that the sound is trying to communicate,” she says.” That message needs a larger-than-life space for its full effect.

Hear more about how the effect was created in the Weekend Edition episode above. And in the videos further up, see the choral group Capella Romana perform Byzantine chants with the Hagia Sophia effect applied. Just last year, the ensemble released the album of chants above, Lost Voices of Hagia Sophiausing the filter. It is a collection of music as valuable to our understanding and appreciation of the art of the Byzantine Empire as a restored mosaic or reconstructed cathedral.

Hear How Choral Music Sounded in the Hagia Sophia More Than 500 Years Ago

When the Ottomans invaded and conquered Constantinople in 1453, the Orthodox Christian church Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque. As a result, the Christian choral music that had reverberated in this acoustical masterpiece for centuries was not allowed. But thanks to a digital filter developed by a pair of Stanford researchers, one an art historian (Bissera Pentcheva) and the other an acoustics expert (Jonathan Abel), we are now able to hear what a choir might have sounded like in the Hagia Sophia before the mid 15th century.

When they met, Pentcheva started telling Abel about the Hagia Sophia — how we couldn’t really understand the experience of worshipers there unless we could hear the music the way they did. And as she talked, Abel started to feel a prickling of excitement. They could recreate what that music would sound like. If only they could get in the Hagia Sophia and pop a balloon.

When a balloon pops, it makes an impulse, a sharp, quick sound that takes on the character of whatever space it’s in. So when a balloon pops, you’re really hearing the acoustics of the space itself, says Abel.

The marble interior of Hagia Sophia was 70 meters long, while in height it reached 56 meters at the apex of the great dome. The vast chamber and its reflective surfaces of marble and gold resulted in unprecedented acoustics of over ten seconds reverberation time. As a museum Hagia Sophia today has lost its voice, no performances could take place in it. Using new digital technology developed at CCRMA, the second portion of Cappella Romana’s concert at Bing aims to recreate sound of what singing in Hagia Sophia must have been like. Each singer caries a microphone that records the sound transforming it into a digital signal, which is then imprinted with the reverberant response of Hagia Sophia. What you hear as a wet sound is the product of a digitally produced signal transmitted through loudspeakers placed strategically to create an enveloping soundfield. This digital signal may shock you with the way it relativizes speech, transforming its content into a chiaroscuro of indistinct but immersive sound. For the Byzantines, this sonic experience was associated with the water: the waves of the sea.

Last year, the Cappella Romana released an entire album of choral music recorded with the filter — you can listen on SpotifyApple MusicAmazonTidal, or Pandora.

Needless to say, the album sounds better with the best pair of headphones you can muster. You can find out more information about the filter and the acoustics of the Hagia Sophia at Icons of Sound.

See also this online Gregorian chant generator.

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