Artifact Analysis: Sounds of Amman

The city of Amman speaks. Only hearing the sounds of Jordan’s capital gave a new perspective  to the city and demonstrated the importance of sound. The recording began with subtle gusts and the chirps of birds. Slowly the city came into perspective as cars filled the soundscape. Finally, the Muslim call to prayer, the adhan, began playing over the city’s intercom system. It is impossible to describe listening to the adhan. My best classifications would describe it as a softer version of opera redefined with the Arabic language. The adhan ended with a transition to spoken word. With the voice turning to silence, the file concludes with the bustling of cars: their loud engines and horns. My mind was buzzing with questions after listening to something that felt so magical.

I started by examining the recording device to the best of my ability. Utilizing the filename, I was able to deduce the type of device. The type gave me understanding into the purpose of the trip and the acoustics of the audio. The specific device is used mainly in an amateur setting where portability is key. The file also gave a number which gave some scope to the breadth of the project (recordings totaled in the hundreds). The device recorded in stereo, meaning it gives a sense of direction when listening. The directional sound allowed me to pick up a lot of nuance about the city before the call to prayer began. Birds chirping in the wind didn’t signal a dense urban squalor, in fact, the opposite, a city filled with nature. Amman was starting to reveal itself to me.

One of these revelations came from the transformation in the sound of the traffic. A sense of urgency formed as the prayer ended, and the cars became more apparent. The constant sound of the prayer suggests a transformation in the environment rather than a change in the setting, i.e., the person moving locations. A possible explanation might be in that people are in a rush to attend the prayer after the call. The call itself provided little information due to it being in an entirely unknown language. Regardless, it was a pleasant listening experience. Another point was the contrast between the calming sounds in the beginning with the more aggressive sounds of the end. The call to prayer had a profound effect on city life.

The mystery of Amman and the transforming effect of the call to prayer is incredibly unique. Most cities do not unite so firmly under a single banner such as Islam. To hear a city moving in ebb and flow seems so distant from cities like New York where the city sounds more like the clashing of cymbals, appearing almost violent. The sounds of Amman transformed my perspective about what it means to be a city.

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