Exploring Qawwali soundscapes with BEAST

A packed audience enjoyed a sonic exploration of Qawwali music on 26 January 2017 at mac Birmingham, the home of Sampad.

Artist Tasawar Bashir collaborated with the team from BEAST (Birmingham Electro-Acoustic Sound Theatre) to present a compelling 360 degree soundscape featuring melodic fragments of popular Qawwalis that had been digitally reworked, layered, stretched and disembodied.

The new arrangements were influenced in part by the emotional responses of listeners who took part in exploratory workshops during the first phase of the pioneering Qawwali Shrine project in Autumn 2016, with additional input from psychologists and scientists at the University of Birmingham.

As well as offering fascinating context to traditional and contemporary forms of the genre, the evening aimed to experiment with alternative digitally-produced versions of the Qawwalis, to discover whether they produced a different kind of sensory reaction in people.

Harmeet Chagger-Khan, Creative Producer for Qawwali Shrine says
“We were excited that the evening attracted such a mixed audience and caught the imagination of people who had never heard Qawwali sounds, as well as that of the passionate enthusiasts! We were able to gather a whole gamut of responses, with some people debating the importance of truly understanding the lyrics within the Qawwalis on an intellectual level and others celebrating the spiritual sensation that the music inspired within them”

The next stage of Qawwali Shrine takes place in February 2017, monitoring the heart rate and Galvanic Skin Response of participants as they listen to samples of Qawwali. For further information email qawwalishrine@gmail.com or call Harmeet on 07448 267 243. Twitter: @qawwali_shrine

Check out a review of the event below by Jessica Smith, MA Psychology student at the University of Birmingham .

The Qawwali Shrine is mapping physiological, psychological and emotional responses to Qawwali music and exploring whether states of enlightenment and feelings such as Rasa, Fana or ‘the sublime’ can be experienced, measured and artistically represented through new technology. The project has been supported through the National Lottery using public funding from Arts Council England (Grants for the Arts) and is produced by Harmeet Chagger-Khan (Surfing Light Beams). Partners include Sampad South Asian Arts, neuroscientists at the University of Birmingham, Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre (BEAST).

Review by Jessica Smith MA Psychology student at the University of Birmingham:

“Individual reactions from workshops enabled composers, psychologists and scientists to collaborate and re-work traditional Qawwali using technology in a contemporary way. The aim was to immerse the listener and encourage a ‘sharing’ of how this Qawwali makes people feel. After a drinks reception, the audience took their seats.

The variety of listeners made the Sharing even more engaging. Some audience members had never heard Qawwali sounds, amongst some alternative expert ears. The audience responses were compelling: “I really enjoyed the glassy watery sounds in one piece which felt almost futuristic”. Other audience members debated the importance of truly understanding the lyrics. “Qawwali is an art form, a mixture of both understanding the lyrics and the intense sound is essential for me to feel connected”. Another audience member proposed, “Sounds and heart are more important, my universal spirit feels connected, regardless of lyrics”.

As a ‘novice’ to Qawwali, I was enchanted by the music, and the whole combination of sounds and lighting made me feel particularly relaxed. Although I didn’t associate particular memories with the sounds, it filled me with an unexpected warmth and a happy spirit within.
Overall, it was evident that the exceptional, immersive sounds of the BEAST technology heightened emotions, with the audience wanting to hear another piece at the end of the show!

The evening was extremely enjoyable and informative, providing an insightful platform to build upon. Research is being continued for a number of months mapping psychological and physiological responses to Qawwali music.”

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