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“Make Firm Our Steps
2008
Download MakeFirm.wav Right click to download 41.3 mb
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Make Firm our Steps was a piece I created for the National Conference of the Bahá’ís of Australia in 2008. The brief was to “set a prayer to music” for either live or taped performance during pre-session devotions. The community is strongly multicultural, but there are a large number of Persian believers in Australia, the Bahá’í Faith having begun in Iran in the mid 19th Century and being subject to intense persecution in its home country. There is therefore a strong tradition of chanting prayers in Persian and Arabic. I set out to offer a different interpretation of the extended syllables and melisma of chant, using European languages which are not usually heard chanted and also extending consonants as well as vowels. At the time I had just become aware of my own Asperger’s Syndrome and the unusual nature of my occasional experience of “fractured hearing” which most often occurs when I am anxious, and try to concentrate deeply on listening to speech. I wanted to give an impression of how I experience prayer.

I chose a text that explores the concept of prayer “transcend the murmur of syllables and sounds”, obtained the relevant translations and recorded it in Dutch, Russian, Spanish and French, with a recording in the Luxembourg dialect of German contributed by a friend via the internet. In each case the reader also recorded in English with the associated accent. I wanted to achieve the illusion of a “single voice of humanity” by blending the voices together such that the listener becomes aware that the voice has changed mid phrase more than hearing a “new” voice. I realised that a simple cross-fade would not achieve this and that a more technical morphing would be required. This was somewhat more complex than anticipated as the readers all had their own pace as well as pitch and emphasis so once the “crosspoints” were decided I used combinations of Melodyne, SoundHack and Prosoniq’s Morph plugin to manipulate tempo, intonation and formant in order to achieve the effect. While not perfect, there are several places where I think this really worked quite well (1:23, 1:52, 2:32, 3:17). Once the main text was ready, the remainder of the piece was created from the non-english recordings. The manipulation of time, fracturing, spatial arrangement and movement of pitch was achieved with Metasynth, SuperCollider and custom Reaktor ensembles and assembled in ProTools.

Ultimately the piece was played for an assembly of about 600 people through a large suspended stereo PA in the University of Queensland’s conference centre. I was running the AV console and sound of the conference and was frankly shit scared of the reaction. The piece was certainly unlike anything that most of those present had heard before, especially in that context. The reception however was extremely good. Many people afterward came to me and expressed that they found the piece extremely moving. I was moved by their reactions, perhaps it was relief that my expression of something important to me should be so accepted.

Make firm our steps, O Lord, in Thy path and strengthen Thou our hearts in Thine obedience. Turn our faces toward the beauty of Thy oneness, and gladden our bosoms with the signs of Thy divine unity. Adorn our bodies with the robe of Thy bounty, and remove from our eyes the veil of sinfulness, and give us the chalice of Thy grace; that the essence of all beings may sing Thy praise before the vision of Thy grandeur. Reveal then Thyself, O Lord, by Thy merciful utterance and the mystery of Thy divine being, that the holy ecstasy of prayer may fill our souls – a prayer that shall rise above words and letters and transcend the murmur of syllables and sounds – that all things may be merged into nothingness before the revelation of Thy splendor.

Lord! These are servants that have remained fast and firm in Thy Covenant and Thy Testament, that have held fast unto the cord of constancy in Thy Cause and clung unto the hem of the robe of Thy grandeur. Assist them, O Lord, with Thy grace, confirm with Thy power and strengthen their loins in obedience to Thee.

Thou art the Pardoner, the Gracious.

`Abdu’l-Bahá

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