Sound As A Point Of Contact

One recurring motif to which the ARSP team has been attuned is how different sounds–including those deemed religious and those deemed secular–intersect and overlap in particular social contexts. We are interested in what it sounds like when religion spills outside of the institutional boundaries meant to contain it and, conversely, how the ambient sonic qualities of a given social situation shape the experience of religious life. In these moments, sound becomes a point of contact, mediating interactions among diverse religious communities, between religion and its broader social environment, and between human practice and the natural world. The following clips offer a few examples of what we have found:

1. Isha prayer at the Noor Islamic Cultural Center

Located just outside of Columbus proper, the Noor Islamic Cultural Center is one of Central Ohio’s largest mosques. On the day of the 2016 Presidential Election, the NICC served as one of the region’s largest polling sites. Likely for political and safety reasons, it abstained from projecting the Islamic call to prayer throughout the day, but resumed doing so for the last prayer of the evening, the Isha prayer, which took place shortly after the polls had closed. At the time this recording was made, it was pouring rain. The combination of the precipitation and the prayer made for a mournful-sounding recording — which, in retrospect, seems suggestive of the election outcome and the xenophobia and Islamophobia that have flourished since then.

2. Buddhist Chant

Wat Buddha Samakidham is a Buddhist temple in the Theravada tradition, whose community consists primarily of Lao- and Thai-Americans. In May 2016, the temple celebrated Vesakha, or the Buddha’s birthday, with a special weekend-long festival. Inside, the temple’s resident monks engaged in lengthy sessions of chanting and meditation, while outside was staged a cultural bazaar, with food, kiosks, and vendors selling all sorts of Thai, Lao, and Buddhist-themed goods. This recording begins inside, with the monks, and then gradually moves outside, where the sounds of the monks’ voices can still be heard, just barely, amidst the background noise of the festival and nearby highway. Their faint echoes subtly undercut any sharp distinction between inside and outside, temple and marketplace, religion and culture.

3. Meeting during Asatru Midsummer gathering

In July 2016, the Nine Worlds Kindred, an Asatru group based just outside of Columbus, convened for a Midsummer ritual. Asatru, rooted in ancient Germanic (predominantly Norse) literature and lore, is strongly nature-based. In this clip, the sounds of the Midsummer meeting at the group’s hof – a large, outdoor shed where many gatherings occur – spill outside and combine with the sounds of the surrounding farmland, underscoring the faith’s connection to the natural environment.

4. Ethiopian Timket celebration

In late January 2017, the Columbus Ethiopian Orthodox community observed Timket, a celebration of the Epiphany. The event began at a banquet hall on the southeast side of Columbus, from which community members transported a replica of the Ark of the Covenant to their church, located right alongside a busy thoroughfare. The following clip illustrates what this church service sounded like – from outside of the building. Sonorous music rattles the church windows and combines with the sounds of passing traffic, suggesting both the volume of this religious community and its integration into the city.

Recordings, images, and writing by Lauren Pond and Isaac Weiner
Audio editing by Lauren Pond

Sounds of the Holiday Season

Religion is often portrayed as a discrete entity – as something that’s confined within the four walls of a church, mosque, temple, synagogue, or the like. Our current work on the American Religious Sounds Project begins to challenge these assumptions. Through our field recordings and essays, we have started to explore how religious sound can seep out of its traditional confines and interact with the surrounding sonic environment – sometimes in a confrontational manner, and sometimes in a more symbiotic one. We’re examining how sound can serve as a point of contact between different faiths, between religious and secular spheres, and among religious followers themselves.

It has been particularly intriguing to listen for overlapping sounds during the holiday season, when many faith communities celebrate in the public sphere. The following audio clips and collages illustrate some of the sonic diversity and overlap of the holiday season in Columbus, Ohio.

In North Clintonville, members of the local pagan community gathered for a “Krampus Parade,” which celebrated the spirit of Krampus, Santa Claus’ devilish Germanic counterpart. As legend has it, while Santa rewarded good children, Krampus punished those who behaved badly. On Dec. 4, Columbus pagans in costume paraded down North High Street, during which time they uttered chants and played a variety of drums and noisemakers. In doing so, they hoped to celebrate the spirit of Krampus and attempt to cast evil out of the world. Listen to the sounds of the parade:


Members of Columbus' neo-pagan community lead a parade down N. High Street in honor of Krampus, the mythical Germanic "Christmas" devil that swats naughty children and scares them into being nice. He is the counterpart of Santa Claus. The parade began at the Boline Apothecary and ended at the Magical Druid bookstore. Participants dressed in a variety of interpretive costumes to honor Krampus. People: JJ Parkey (white costume with horns); Seamus Dillard (leader; red hat and skull staff); Jeffrey White (red beard with fox pelts).



Across the city on East Livingston Avenue, Spanish Catholics participated in a procession for Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Virgin Mary as she allegedly appeared to Christian convert Juan Diego in the 1500s. She is considered to be the Patron Saint of Mexico. Each year, Spanish Catholics across the city hold processions in her honor, during which they utter recitations, sing, and play music. This year, a crowd of about 50 people trudged two miles in the snow and slush to the Christ the King Catholic Church. Listen to the sounds of the procession:






At the Easton Town Center, one of Columbus’ busiest shopping malls during the holiday season, the sounds of Christmas music and sleigh bells overlap with the din of consumer activities. Listen to the sounds of the holiday shopping bustle:


In Bexley, the public gathers for an annual Christmas tree-lighting ceremony at the corner of East Broad Street and Drexel. This recording came from the 2015 event. Traffic was blocked as the Bexley High School Vocal Ensemble led the crowd in caroling, punctuated, of course, by the sounds of jangling keys during “Jingle Bells.” After a communal countdown, Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler pushed down on a detonator to light the tree, but the real climax came when Santa Claus entered the scene on the back of a fire truck, lights flashing and sirens blaring, eliciting both cheers and tears from some of the younger people in the crowd, many of whom then lined up for a turn on his lap. This lighthearted event combined religious and civic themes in surprisingly complex ways. Listen to the sounds of the festivities:



Photos by Lauren Pond & Isaac Weiner
Audio recordings captured by J. Caroline Toy, Isaac Weiner, and Lauren Pond
Audio collages produced by Lauren Pond