"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, August 4, 2017

Byzantine Architecture and Aurality

I hope soon to run an interview with Nicholas Denysenko about his new book, Theology and Form: Contemporary Orthodox Architecture in America.

But this is a rich summer for those with an interest in such topics, as Bissera Pentcheva has just edited and published Aural Architecture in Byzantium: Music, Acoustics, and Ritual (Routledge, 2017), 272pp.

About this collection the publisher tells us:
Emerging from the challenge to reconstruct sonic and spatial experiences of the deep past, this multidisciplinary collection of ten essays explores the intersection of liturgy, acoustics, and art in the churches of Constantinople, Jerusalem, Rome and Armenia, and reflects on the role digital technology can play in re-creating aspects of the sensually rich performance of the divine word. Engaging the material fabric of the buildings in relationship to the liturgical ritual, the book studies the structure of the rite, revealing the important role chant plays in it, and confronts both the acoustics of the physical spaces and the hermeneutic system of reception of the religious services. By then drawing on audio software modelling tools in order to reproduce some of the visual and aural aspects of these multi-sensory public rituals, it inaugurates a synthetic approach to the study of the premodern sacred space, which bridges humanities with exact sciences. The result is a rich contribution to the growing discipline of sound studies and an innovative convergence of the medieval and the digital.
Pentcheva also has a monograph coming out in September under her own hand, clearly related this topic: Hagia Sophia: Sound, Space, and Spirit in Byzantium (Penn State, 2017), 304pp.

About this forthcoming book, the publisher tells us:
Experiencing the resonant acoustics of the church of Hagia Sophia allowed the Byzantine participants in its liturgical rituals to be filled with the Spirit of God, and even to become his image on earth. Bissera Pentcheva’s vibrant analysis examines how these sung rites combined with the church’s architectural space to make Hagia Sophia a performative place of worship representative of Byzantine religious culture in all its sensory richness.
Coupling digital acoustic models and video with a close examination of liturgical texts and melodic structures, Pentcheva applies art-historical, philosophical, archeoacoustical, and anthropological methodologies to provide insight into the complementary ways liturgy and location worked to animate worshippers in Byzantium. Rather than focus on the architectural form of the building, the technology of its construction, or the political ideology of its decoration, Pentcheva delves into the performativity of Hagia Sophia and explains how the “icons of sound” created by the sung liturgy and architectural reverberation formed an aural experience that led to mystical transcendence for worshippers, opening access to the imagined celestial sound of the angelic choirs.
Immersive, deeply researched, and beautifully illustrated, this exploration of Hagia Sophia sheds new light on sacred space, iconicity, and religious devotion in Byzantium. Scholars of art and architectural history, religious studies, music and acoustics, and the medieval period will especially appreciate Pentcheva’s field-advancing work.
Pentcheva is the author of two earlier studies in iconography, both of which were very positively reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies. In 2006 she published Icons and Power: The Mother of God in Byzantium.

In 2010 she published The Sensual Icon: Space, Ritual, and the Senses in Byzantium (Penn State, 320pp).

Both books deserve a prominent place in any library serious about iconography.

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