Wearable tech to map brain’s response to ‘spiritual ecstasy’ produced by Qawwali music

Birmingham-based digital arts producer Harmeet Chagger-Khan has teamed up with artist Tasawar Bashir and leading British Asian arts agency Sampad, to explore how the concepts of Rasa (a state of spiritual ecstasy and enlightenment) or Fana can be mapped and digitally visualised, using wearable technologies to capture people’s responses to Qawwali music.

Qawwali is a form of Sufi devotional music with a tradition that stretches back more than 700 years. The rise in its contemporary mainstream popularity can largely be attributed to the late, great Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan who is widely credited with introducing Qawwali to international audiences.

Qawwalis tend to begin gently and build steadily to a very high energy level in order to induce hypnotic states and a sensation of the sublime, both among the musicians and within the audience.

From October 2016, the creative team will collaborate with neuroscientists and psychologists from the University of Birmingham, using new technologies to capture detailed scientific data from a group of participants made up of young people and older generations from local communities.

Through monitoring and recording the neurological, physiological and emotional responses to the music, the aim is to test the assumption that it is possible to capture and cultivate a sense of transcendental awe.

The Qawwali Shrine project will also be looking at ways of presenting this traditional roots music in brand new ways, with a view to opening it up to new and wider audiences and reinforcing its contemporary relevance.

As part of this, the creative team will also partner up with Birmingham Electro Acoustic Sound Theatre (BEAST) at the University of Birmingham in January 2017, to present an open performance inviting people from the tech, digital, arts and academic worlds to join the test participants and members of the wider community for an interactive musical experience, that will immerse them in a soundscape of traditional and digitally re-worked Qawwali sounds.

Clayton Shaw, Associate Director of Sampad says

“Although this kind of digital mapping and exploration has been carried out in relation to responses to Western classical music, it’s truly fascinating to now take it one step further by using new technologies to explore how people in the 21st century connect with centuries-old Qawwali music and perhaps challenge audience expectations of how art can be presented”

Producer for The Qawwali Shrine, Harmeet Chagger-Khan adds:

“We want to find out more about how people experience and express the ‘sublime’ and whether similar patterns of response emerge, as they transcend into a state of enlightenment in reaction to the music. Can we pinpoint that state of Rasa, Fana or spiritual rapture? Can science and tech help us harvest that evidence? Can we capture it visually?”

Findings from The Qawwali Shrine will be presented in March 2017 to an audience of trailblazers from the fields of tech, music, science and the arts as part of the University of Birmingham’s annual Arts & Science Festival.

For further information email qawwalishrine@gmail.com or call Harmeet on
07448 267 243. Twitter: @qawwali_shrine



Simi Obra | Marketing and PR Officer at Sampad | simi@sampad.org.uk
0121 446 3268 (calls within the UK) or 00 44 121 446 3268 (calls from outside UK)


About Producer, Harmeet Chagger-Khan | http://surfinglightbeams.com/

Harmeet has more than 12 years’ experience of producing and managing creative projects, working with partners including Sampad, Craftspace, Library of Birmingham, Watershed, THSH Birmingham, Southbank Centre, CAST, Oldham Coliseum and Saudi Aramco. Since her Fellowship on the Clore Leadership programme in 2012/2013 her reach has extended across the sector through audience co-created artistic content with New Art Gallery Walsall (2014); governance at Board level as Vice Chair with C&T Theatre (2015) and artistic production with South Asian women at Southbank Centre through Alchemy Festival (2015). She has completed the RE:Present 2016 programme to increase networks and ensure that her work is relevant within Birmingham.

About lead artist, Tasawar Bashir

AHRC logo

Tasawar Bashir is doctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham. His adventures and studies in Modern Qawwali are funded by Midlands3Cities and AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership.

Tas is leading on mapping and testing how Qawwali and the notion of the sublime are connected, through delivering the participatory workshops, developing Qawwali content for the immersive soundscape performance with BEAST technology, testing possibilities for the wearable technology and sharing data and artistic developments at the end of project symposium. Since 2006 he has worked with young people to realise more than 20 art projects, comprising of short films, scripts, music videos and photography exhibitions. All of these projects examine faith and belonging, inner-city identity and affiliation.

Tas explores notions of the sacred and the Divine using modern technology, data and art-based sound and visual installations. His gallery-based works have been exhibited at the Asia Triennial Manchester and the Venice Architecture Biennale. He is currently the academic artist-in-residence at New Art Exchange Nottingham while pursuing AHRC/M3C funded PhD research at the University of Birmingham on modern Qawwali and the ontology of Sufi sounds. He has worked for Cinephilia, The Drum (Birmingham) and the BBC.

About Sampad Arts | www.sampad.org.uk

Sampad’s mission is to connect people and communities with British Asian arts and heritage and to play a pro-active role in the creative economy.

As a leading agency for British Asian arts in the UK, Sampad continues to take creative risks, delivering projects with national and international partners that push creative boundaries and hybridise traditional forms of South Asian arts with new technologies and digital platforms.

This has led to pioneering initiatives such as its major community heritage project My Route and MANDALA, a strikingly bold production delivered in partnership with seeper, that pushed the presentation of British Asian arts into brand new territory featuring 3D digital architectural mapping along with stunning dance and music as the spectacular finale of the London 2012 Festival.

Photo: Cassipeia A: Cassiopeia A in Many Colors, Smithsonian Institution

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