Floating miasmic vapors. A chorus of mystery monks. Flights of Angels. Clouds and swirls of echoes. Weightless sounds that swirl and eddy and carry you downstream on your timeless journey to sleep, to death, to birth? It started with a clap – actually three – recorded as acoustic test tones inside one of the many ancient cisterns beneath Istanbul (Constantinople back then). Philip Blackburn then analyzed and stretched the reverb of the space as it were by an electron microscope that revealed the resonant frequencies unique to that giant chamber (the idea was to play it back in the same space and see if it set up any unexpected standing waves). But he found that it did some magic even just with headphones. He mixed in the psalm-chanting voice of star vocalist Ryland Angel, and Justinian Intonations (2021) emerged from the damp gloom. It is a kind of mindful trip down Memory Lane to Unconscious Avenue, one that enlarges your head and plays with your thoughts – ever emerging and receding into the shadows – and perhaps holds similar healing properties as the pure water that formerly filled the space.
The Theodosius and Basilica cisterns from the 5th and 6th centuries are two enormous tanks made from marble and granite with giant columns supporting arched roofs. Built to filter and store water from nearby aqueducts, they even included subaquatic carvings and statues of Medusa arguably never meant for human eyes. Water, when you need it, is truly sacred. In fact, the Plague of Justinian (so named for the Emperor who caught it in 542 and recovered) that devastated much of Europe and the Middle East for two hundred years has contemporary relevance for us today. Total immersion – wave after wave – may provide the spirit some refreshment, unmoored from the world above. This is underground music suitable for any float tank experience. The album opens with Out Beyond: a Call for Non-Judgment (2017), for conch shell chorus and voice, on a text by Persian mystic, Rumi. The distant calls, chatter, breaths, and crunching footsteps in the snow are where the two worlds – outside and inside – touch. Let us go through the round and open door. Grammy nominated vocalist, Ryland Angel’s voice has been heard in movies, opera houses, and major concert halls throughout the world. This is its first appearance in a cistern. Environmental sound artist and composer Philip Blackburn was a choral scholar at Cambridge before embarking on a voyage of creative sonic discovery. His often hallucinatory works have been described as “ambient with heft” and “knocking reality sideways.” Thanks to Serkan Ozkaya, Ryland Angel, and Alp Sen, master clapper.