| sufi dreams
As a spiritual path, Sufism has reflected itself in different
shapes, colors and dimensions through different art mediums. All these
different images have ultimately pointed in the same direction: the self.
Through art, Sufism functions in a circular manner which begins with the
artist, and ends with him/her again. This circular movement is a fundamental
element of Sufism, one which showed itself to me many times during the
making of this album. In every stage of this process when I focused on
some particular melody, prayer or the specific intent of a certain type
of chanting, I ultimately ended up questioning myself. For the most part,
these questions were answered in the process of completing that aspect
of the album; often the answers became new questions. The organic nature
of the album, as it grew and changed in a very natural manner, has truly
made me more aware of myself both spiritually and physically. At the outset
of the album I began by researching the relationship between sound and
silence. I chose to investigate this connection as both of them have for
centuries been valued as meditative art forms/tools within the Sufi tradition.
Contemporary topics concerning the 'self' and the 'other', reality and
fantasy, light and dark, the physical and the spiritual were made clear
to me through this investigation.
Rhythmic Sufi chanting plays a powerful role on
the album. The repetition of the same word again and again gives a renewed
meaning to the deadened significance of the terms; they begin to come
alive, assume a fullness of meaning, and behave in an almost organic fashion.
The term 'music' is used in the Sufi tradition almost in the sense of
a third dimension; one which exists, but that cannot be made truly concrete.
The terminology from the Sufi tradition, and the ambient sounds of other
parts of the world were coming directly to me and it was I as an artist
who became the surface which reflects these to the physical world. This
was the only way that the circle which started and ended with me could
be completed. With this realization made, I composed the first song of
my album. Before anything else, I recorded the chanting of a Sufi dervish
who repeatedly whispers the word "Allah". This I considered
to be a reflection of the outside world on myself; as a complement to
this, and as a reflection from within myself to the exterior, I recorded
the sound of my own heartbeat and layered this on top of the chanting.
Thus I had represented both the physical and spiritual realms using this
simple combination of one word and a single rhythm.
The heartbeat represents the importance and significance
of life, while the dervish's voice relates the influence of the spiritual
world on life. This can possibly be an explanation of the Sufi term 'Al
Khaliq', which means: "The one who brings everything from non-existence
to existence." It is a Sufi belief that the world is continually
created and destroyed in every breath we take and each breath we give;
therefore there is an instant construction and de(con)struction in life
which makes the active process of existence the most important element
of life. The Sufi dervish focuses on the absolute nature of this process,
rather than on the physical world which he believes moves between existence
and non-existence every second.
When I considered the meaning of my own existence filtered
through this first piece, I realized that life floats between these waves
of existence/nonexistence, reality/fantasy, and dark/light. Therefore,
I brought my understanding of daily existence to bear on this first piece.
In the background of the composition, an old Sufi Master tells a story.
He begins: "Do you know the story...." then the sound of his
voice fades away like waves of water as they move away from their source.
Every person has his/her own story to tell and to hear, and I prefer to
leave the completion of the Master's invitation to remember to the audience.
At the end, in addition to the moving sounds of rhythm and the voices
of various people, I added a dream-like effect to signify the ephemeral
and complex nature of the images inspired by memory. Memory is far from
perfect, and it carries with it the weight of all our human desires to
rearrange, alter and erase; to locate and misplace at the same time. Every
act of remembrance creates an equal awareness of the shapelessness of
memory and its inevitable loss; this again reflects the circular quality
of Sufi tradition.
The second track of the album follows a similar pattern,
the only major difference being the abstract chanting used in place of
the voice of the Sufi Master. This chanting communicates a great deal
about the existence and meaning of human desires and feelings. In this
track, however, the chanting covers the whole melody, thus communicating
more about an awareness of the subconscious: almost like vaguely remembering
a dream, but not yet being able to understand or remember it thoroughly
as a visual image or sound. These unclear, foggy images are just as important
as vivid dreams or indeed the subconscious itself, because they prove
to us that dreams do exist even if they are hidden somewhere deep within
the human soul. The founder of the Mevlevi Order, Mevlana Celaleddini
Rumi says: "If you see fake money at the market, this is proof that
real money exists somewhere."
The third track of the album expresses the relationship
between memory and history; the 'self' and others. Opposite elements make
this piece particularly complex as it moves between reality and dreams,
and from the conscious to the subconscious. When a child's voice unexpectedly
talks about a troubled and important period of history, and offers an
opinion of religious figures of different times and faiths, we are intrigued.
Layers of voices switch from the background to the foreground, paired
at times with ambient or rhythmic beats. This represents humanity's naive
and trusting attempt to find "the one who does not exist."
The Sufi artist commands a unique perspective of
the physical world which may have some grounding in Aristotle's ideas
regarding reality. For the Sufi artist reality is the source of all existence,
but it is not in this world itself that reality is to be found. What we
see and perceive as real are essentially no different from what we see
in our dreams, except that we accept them as real, true images. In this
third track, obscure feelings concerning the nature of reality are expressed
as melodic waves, as well as by the sounds of the human voice. This is
reminiscent of attempting to follow the path of reality, all the while
being aware of the non-existence of reality in this physical world. In
Sufi terminology this stage of awareness is termed "Safar: The Journey."
This expression relates to the heart as it starts to turn itself toward
the Real through dhikr, the practice of remembrance. In this stage, the
conscious and the sub-conscious, the physical and the spiritual bodies
become one single source of self. Awareness of the Real moves back and
forth in a wave pattern similar to the rhythmic waves of the breath dervishes
take and give in meditation. This leaves the Sufi artist in harmony with
the movement from existence to non-existence with every breath he takes.
The child's voice creates an oppositional relationship with that of the
old man in the first track. From old to young, inexperienced to experienced,
fresh to tired, different aspects of human life and the soul are significantly
paralleled in this pairing of human voices. Expressions are the waves
of the human soul; they are reflected in different forms on different
surfaces. To understand their specific characteristics it is equally necessary
to understand the language of the heart, and ultimately ourselves. The
third track is accompanied by a poem from Gulshaniraz by Mahmud Shabistari:
Know that the world is a mirror from head
In every atom are a hundred blazing suns.
If you cleave the heart of one drop of water
A hundred pure oceans emerge from it.
If you examine closely each grain of sand,
A thousand Adams may be seen in it.
In its members a gnat is like an elephant,
In its qualities a drop of rain is like the Nile.
The heart of a piece of corn equals a hundred harvests,
A world dwells in the heart of a millet seed.
In the wing of a gnat is the ocean of life.
In the pupil of the eye a heaven.
What though the heart of the corn grain be small
It is a station of the Lord of both worlds to dwell therein.
Understanding ourselves implies understanding everything
that is involved with us. Physical reality carries the same principles
as Sufi spirituality; in his poem, Shabistari draws parallels between
these two elements. The world carries the reflective qualities in which
humanity sees itself. To clarify the vision in the mirror, the Sufi artist
(or dervish) cleans the mirror of his heart with meditation, zikr and
whirling. The inspiration for this ritual cleansing is to be found in
the physical world, which carries out a similar function toward itself
and in relationship with humanity. The fundamental structure of the entire
physical world is composed of single atoms which relentlessly spin both
around us as well as around each other. Each atom carries many blazing
suns, pointing to the unfathomable mystery of life and reality. The Sun
spins around itself, as well as around other galaxies; therefore, when
the Sufi dervish whirls, he does not create a new dynamic on the earth,
but seeks instead to become one with the world. Not to become dizzy in
this spinning universe is made possible by our not being aware; once one
is aware of that, the only way to harmonize with it is to give in and
whirl with the whole physical world. The Dream of Adam attempts to make
clear this dialectic relationship between the known and the unknown, youth
and age, maturity and immaturity, the physical and the spiritual, the
simple and the complex, and ultimately serves to show the connections
between these as a reflection of the human soul.
The fourth track of the album focuses on the tradition
of Sufi prayer. The track begins with a prayer called "Gulbank",
which is the traditional prayer of Sufi Zikr, at the very beginning and
end of the ceremony. The names of significant Sufi Saints are periodically
repeated, and eventually they rhythmically synchronize with the sounds
of the tabla and water. The use of a traditional East Indian percussion
instrument such as the tabla serves to connect the Sufi Music as well
as Sufi beliefs to other Eastern philosophies: Buddhism and Hinduism.
The sounds of water brings to mind the reflective qualities of the world's
physical power, and also carries the powerful meditative quality of the
earth's sounds. In addition to this, using water as an instrument in this
rhythmic and melodic manner mimics the stages of development of Sufi spirituality.
In this stage of awareness, the Sufi artist not only
understands the physical environment which surrounds him, he also attempts
to shape and change this environment. At this time, the Sufi artist not
only seeks to harmonize himself with the environment as in the whirling
meditation, but he also tries to shape the world to be in harmony with
himself. This dynamic and organic action resembles the fundamental principle
of Sufism which is expressed in the first track of the album: that the
world is destroyed and created with every breath we take. This prayer
assists the Sufi artist to not only witness this process of creation,
but also become a vital part of it.
The deep bass sound which accompanies the track symbolizes
the "Sur": a flute which commands an enormously deep voice and
serves as a reminder of the impending end of the world. As the Sufi believes
the world is destroyed and created with every breath he takes, this sound
of the "Sur" is given great meaning as part of the track. The
"Sur" signifies the source of the human soul, the "Water"
the desire for being one with the physical and spiritual world and the
"Tabla" the heartbeat of the human body. The Sufi dervish has
as his goal the production of a harmonized piece of art with these three
fundamental elements of creation.
The fifth track shapes more ambient sounds and free human
voices within a very subtle and peaceful environment; this is the "Waqt
or The Moment". This term expresses one's state when it is being
lived entirely in the present time, without a connection to the past or
the future. In this track, sounds move in different layers of ambient
features resembling the conscious and the subconscious; these melodic
sounds represent movement between different times and realities. The dream
state and awakeness, the real and the surreal, the past and the present
blend with each other.
The last track of the album expresses Sufi ideas and
beliefs about death. Islamic tradition maintains that at a funeral the
last thing to be done is a reading from the Qu'ran. In Sufi belief, death
is regarded as waking up from a dream. The Sufi master and the founder
of the Whirling Dervishes sect, Mevlana Jelaleddini Rumi considered the
occasion of his death to be his marriage night with God; the night that
the lover and the beloved come together as one. As the last track of the
album, the heart-beat rhythm ends the track, which signifies the death
of the physical body and the birth of the soul in a new reality. Water
sounds appear again in this track, as the sound of rain which dominates
the background. At the end of the album, the last human voice we hear
is the same as the first voice featured on the first track, this time
reading from the Qu'ran. This signifies the whirling circular spiritual
and physical adventure of humanity and life. It is a common Muslim tradition
to read chapters from the Qu'ran when a new baby is born, therefore this
chapter can be interpreted as being a herald both of birth and of death.
This also serves to render the whole album unified from the beginning
to the end in a circular pattern.
A Sufi follows this pattern throughout his life from
beginning to end; from his whirling ceremony to his Zikr (remembrance)
meditation. From the smallest piece of existence: the atom, to the largest
physical reality: the Galaxy, our entire universe whirls just as the dervish
in the whirling ceremony. Both the atomic infrastructure of the universe
and the Sufi follow circular patterns, circumscribed in a similar way,
again and again, yet every moment and every step is truly unique and unrepeatable.
Technically and conceptually, this album follows a similar pattern. The
end of this album opens new doors to follow and new questions to answer;
almost like the completion of a whole circle, the end marks the beginning
of new circles.
Mercan Dede, Montréal
reviews & comments
Delicate, sinuous arabic rhythms wind in and around themselves
deep in a lush, layered garden of sighs, heartbeats and breathes while
Brenna MacCrimmon's stunning voice evokes exotic vistas of the inner and
outer worlds traveled to via the heart chakra. Dense, poetic, evocative
and at times deeply melancholy, Sufi Dreams is trance music in the (very)
old school tradition. Spiritual and meditative ancient Eastern chants
and rhythms are gently and subtley married to contemporary ambient electronica
in a ceremony held in the global village square. The ancient meets the
newly born in a cyclic transcendence of temporal restrictions and spatial
delineations which is also reflected in the circular compositional structure
of the individual pieces and the entire CD.
Beautifully written and produced by Montreal based Sufi
musician Mercan Dede and his knob twiddling associate Kristian Kostov
from Eternity, this is an immaculate conception in the most spiritual
and deeply mystical sense that shines with human vulnerability even in
its moments of polished sonic perfection.
Rating : ***** (out of 5 stars maximum)
Hour Magazine, Montreal, April 1998
The Sufi traditions focus on the ecstatic present moment,
where each breath once again begins the cycle of dying and being born.
Using repetitive chants to bring on a heightened awareness of sound, the
chant itself becomes music in which the actual meanings of the words become
less important than the altered state the sound induces. The beginnings
and ends of the tracks circle around together until the swirling vortex
draws the sound into itself. Dede's meditative dream states begin from
a variety of sacred sources. One may be that in the smallest grain of
sand or drop of water, the whole world exists. Another is the biggest
dream of all. According to Sufi philosophy, all of life is a dream, and
when we die, we are actually waking up. The Middle Eastern rhytms and
harmonies are entrancing. I found myself listening over and over, knowing
only that I was drawn into the sounds before I looked inside the jacket
to see what the songs were about.
New Age Voice, March 1998
If I were to pick my favorite new release for the upcoming
holiday season for our market, (which of course I won't), this would certainly
be a main contender. It's got it all: an attractive cover; a provocative
title that lets you know what the music is about; a CD booklet with Sufi
poems for meditation with each selection; intensely interesting, well-written
compositions; world flavor that whirls us to the Middle East; timeless
arrangements that blend modern dance trance with the ululations and prayers
of Sufi mysticism; stellar production value; swaying, swirling, circular
rhythms; immaculate treatment of ambient and environmental sounds; and
profound spiritual focus and understanding -- i.e., each sound has purpose
and meaning. I hope I've done justice to the importance of this recording.
Section : Spiritual
NAPRA REVIEW, Holiday 1997
This unusual and instantly ear-catching blend of sacred
Sufi rhythms and cutting edge electonica, layered with natural ambient
elements, should carry a warning label; it's that addictive! Following
in the footsteps of whirling dervishes, the music melds ethnic instruments
such as ney, bendir, and frame drums with chanting from authentic rituals
into a sinuously rhythmic audio elixir that magically transports one into
an incense-laden realm of ecstatic spirituality. Hauntingly repetitive
vocal riffs and mesmerizing breath expulsions from Brena MacCrimmon and
Muhammed Shams punctuate the deep, sonorous soundscapes created by the
classically trained Dede and partners to brilliant effect. This mystical,
musical meditation is recommended to anyone wanting to be reunited and
lovingly consumed by the flame of their inner Source.
New Age Retailer, March/April 1998
"Sufi Dreams" is the appropriate title for
another extraordinary new debut, this time by Mercan Dede, a Montreal-based
musician who creates an illusional sphere whereby Eastern spiritualism
meets and complements the progressive New Age sound of the West. Compelling
percussion tracks are accompanied at times by chantings from authentic
Sufi ceremonies, establishing an interwoven dialogue between the melodies,
hypnotic rhythms, prayers and chants. Mercan Dede plays the ney, bendir,
frame drum and zarp.
He is joined by Brena MacCrimmon and Muhammed Shams on
vocals, Kiril Mantchev on percussion and James Parker on bass. Kristian
Kostov played synthesizers, did the engineering and helped with arrangements.
Each track offers a perspective of relationships within the dream world,
adorned with poetry, prayer, and subconscious realities, moving in circular
patterns which create a personal relationship with the listener filtered
through their own inner ear. Powerful, aromatic, and a ground-breaking
expression of ambient spiritualism with a very broad and visionary reach.
For the past few months I've been listening to the CD
"Sufi Dreams" by Mercan Dede. This artist is none other than
Arkin Illicali (Mercan Dede is his Sufi name), someone who has posted
to this list over recent months and consistently proves himself a valuable
resource for information related to Middle Eastern, Turkish and Arabic
music and, more specifically, Sufi music.
Unlike many releases, this is one I continue to play
frequently. The remarkable mixing of acoustic elements (vocal, instrumental,
and environmental) with electronic sounds results in a fascinating soundscape.
For anyone familiar with Sufi music and ritual, several numbers will evoke
powerful associations at many levels of consciousness. Perhaps indicative
of the wonderful cross-cultural musical exploration taking place in this
country is the fact that the album was recorded and mixed in Montreal
and draws upon the vocal talents of Canadians such as Brena MacCrimmon
(Torontonian now based in Turkey). This kind of artistic process truly
makes our planet a global musical village.
The packaging of the CD itself is reflective of Mr. Illicali's
talents as a master of Sufi visual arts and of graphic design. It is and
integral part of this album's musical and spiritual unity. For anyone
who may have missed the relevant earlier postings to globe-l, the CD is
available from Golden Horn Records: e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
and the web site is www.goldenhorn.com.
Ronald A. McRae
Director of Performance Arts at Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa,
Appeared on GLOBE-L, Internet Discussion Group on September 21, 1997