Nūr: Reflections on Light is a collection of miniature choral soundscapes exploring the ineffable nature of light, its simultaneous oneness and refractive multiplicity. The collection includes site-specific compositions commissioned by the Aga Khan Museum for the opening of the Ismaili Centre Toronto and premiered by the Elmer Iseler Singers (Lydia Adams conductor) with guest Ismaili singers. The music interweaves the art of Qur’an recitation, South Asian Ismaili Muslim devotional literature, classical Hindustani ragas and North American folk music into multi-layered textures inspired by early and contemporary choral music.
The piece draws inspiration from Ayat an Nūr (24:35)—the Verse of Light from the Qur’an—that emphasises the ever present flame of Divine Light (Nūr) that belongs neither to the West or East, but to all the heavens, earth and creation. I was struck by the metaphor of this all-embracing light of Unity when I witnessed the play of light under the majestic crystalline glass canopy dome of the Ismaili Centre Toronto prayer hall. When I visited the prayer hall for the first time, utter silence overcame me. I felt a sense of suspended breath that became a point of departure for the composition. This profound experience made me reflect on the sound of light, and whether through kaleidoscopic sound we could reach into the invisible unifying silence beyond what we know to experience oneness. I wondered about the sound of light. I felt inspired to reflect on the nature of light, how light could be a wave or a particle, or both. Light could be diffused or concentrated. Light, no matter how you slice it, is still light. White light through a prism becomes many, but still all one light. Spiritual light, Nūr is One, its manifestations many. In the music, like light, voices resonate in unison, splinter into multiplicity, interact and come back to one like the One Soul from which the diversity of all humankind comes and returns (Qur’an 49:13).
Nūr: Unveiled traces a melodic contour based on Qur’an recitation. Drones create tension evoking separation from and longing for unity with the merciful Divine Heart. Wave-like, the melody emerges into light with the statement of Nūrun alā Nūr (Light upon Light).
Nūr: Suspended features melodic fragments from two Indic Ismaili devotional melodies (Sami tamari vadi ma(n)he and Munajaat, Ya Ali Khoob Mijalas) in sonic dialogue with the North American folk song O Shenandoah. In a structured improvisation singers co-create a vibrant sonic landscape in which, hopefully, for even a few minutes, we can experience a sense of kaleidoscopic social harmony and divine oneness. As our light mingles peacefully in the Unity of divine light, may we come closer to harmony, peace, and wholeness.
– Hussein Janmohamed