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Could a piece of software make you think differently about sound? Could it reflect ideas, the culture of listening?

The developers of the SUFI series of plug-ins seem to think so. In place of screencasts showing which knob to turn which way, they head with a video crew to Morocco. The “instruction” might be about the value of reflection or call to prayer, about living as much as how to use a tool. You can see the first two examples: a meditation on the idea of daily interruptions in the soundscape coming from God, and a collection of electronic drones set to a beautifully-shot backdrop. The interfaces are rendered in graphics and (for the vast majority of us) a foreign language, and instead of reverting to the conventions of plug-in design, they assimilate ideas from another culture about tonality and function.

The plug-ins will be released for Max for Live on the 8th of May, and VST plug-ins later on. (Some version of the Max for Live plug-ins are available now – links at bottom.) The collection includes:

  • DEVOTION, lowering your volume five times a day at the time of call to prayer
  • A drone machine (in the second video, sounding quite nice)
  • Four soft synths tuned to Arabic maqam scales. (They describe these as “North African maqams,” but I believe the tuning should be consistent with the use of maqam elsewhere around the Mediterranean and Arabic world.
  • One drum machine amidst the synths, Palmas, with a hand-clapping UI (see screenshot).

You have a week to practice learning to read neo-Tifinaght Amazigh script.

Updated: There are in fact no references in the videos here to Sufism, but the creators respond to questions about why they selected this name on their FAQ. As with the videos above, collaborations and friendship inspired their thinking. They write:

The title is an homage to several Moroccan Sufi musicians we’ve worked with over the years who influenced our thinking about musicianship & sound itself, as well as a way of foregrounding the complex but largely unremarked relationship between faith and technology. We’re fascinated with how software and digital environments encode cultural values and beliefs by conditioning choices and framing possibilities. For example, If Apple is a secular religion, selling contemporary magic, then should that change the way we feel about – and engage with – its operating system? The spirit of Sufi aphorisms, we hope, is manifest in these plug-ins. At a literal level, many of the roll-over infotexts come from Sufi verse.

Apart from being an interesting “cross-cultural” exercise, though, these plug-ins can serve as a reminder of two things. First, design choices are constrained only by your imagination. Aside from any perceived cultural values, you can really make software do, theoretically, anything – and make any sound. Convention can be a useful tool, but it can also become a prison. Second, the creators consider VST compatibility as a way to reach users in the Middle East and Africa. Whether this particular effort is successful or not, those are massive and growing audiences. (To anyone reading there, by the way, hello from way up at this end of the Northern Hemisphere!) Of course, these plug-ins will be just as foreign to nearly all of that audience as it is to, say, producers in Melbourne or London, but as we watch the videos from Morocco, it’s worth considering just how small our Internet-connected planet is – and how wonderfully-vast the spaces between us, and the possibility contained there, remains.

Software can serve for a medium for collaboration, as in this case, which ties together a variety of backgrounds from traditional producer to Amazigh musician. The Amazigh people, tying together modern Arabic culture and language with Phoenician roots (much like my own Lebanese ancestry), represent a rich practice of music. Just as the remote, historical world of J.S. Bach might direct a modern software plug-in, these can, too – and in living fashion.

The work is led by Jace Clayton (DJ Rupture), with programmer Bill Bowen, designer Rosten Woo, Amazigh musician Hassan Wargui , and videographers Maggie Schmitt and Juan Alcón Durán. The creators report that “a physical Sufi Plug Ins Forever Box is expected for late 2012, and Clayton is currently preparing an installation version of the Sufi Plug Ins.”

Mark your calendar for next Tuesday, or join the mailing list at the site. More information:

http://www.beyond-digital.org/sufiplugins/

Thanks, Jesse Engel!

As seen on maxforlive.com (thanks, David):

Devotion: http://www.maxforlive.com/library/device/1140/devotion
Drone: http://www.maxforlive.com/library/device/1139/drone
Palmas: http://www.maxforlive.com/library/device/1138/palmas
Hijaz: http://www.maxforlive.com/library/device/1137/hijaz
Bayati: http://www.maxforlive.com/library/device/1136/bayati
Saba: http://www.maxforlive.com/library/device/1134/saba
Khomasi: http://www.maxforlive.com/library/device/1133/khomasi

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For photographer Liz Hingley, one of the most familiar locales was also one of the most uncharted. The images in her series “Under Gods” capture cultures from all parts of the globe, many in various states of religious practice. In one, a Jainist woman prays while wearing a mask over her mouth, preventing her from inadvertently breathing any microbes or insects in, which would go against her religion’s non-violent beliefs. Another photograph shows three Catholic children, Polish immigrants, rehearsing carols. In another, a Hare Krishna trudges uphill, through the snow, to distribute books. Each photograph seemingly shows a different world, yet all of the images were shot along a single stretch of road in Birmingham, U.K.

Crammed along a two-mile stretch on Soho Road are more than 30 religious buildings in a city that is home to more than 90 different nationalities. Hingley grew up in Birmingham so she had personal knowledge of the religious diversity that existed in her hometown, which she was often reminded of whenever she returned. “I was going back to Birmingham and seeing this celebration among all this diversity and I thought that this was something that I wanted to look at,” Hingley, the daughter of two Anglican priests, told TIME.  And look she did, spending nearly two years capturing the practices and interactions of this multi-faith community. The result is the Under Gods: Stories From Soho Road series, which has been shown around the world and made into a book.

Though she was familiar with the area, having lived in Birmingham until she was 18, Hingley said she was caught off guard by the religious mélange the community held. “I had no idea that there were so many different religions and practices going on in just one street,” she said.

It was a lot to document. A day of shooting could start as early as 5 a.m. meeting Hare Krishnas who gathered to chant, before she’d attend a lunch at the Vietnamese Buddhist temple and then move on to the park with members of the Jesus Army, an evangelical Christian movement. “It was a very difficult project to finish [each evening] because you’re tired at the end of the day and you think, oh, I’ll just see what that building is,” said Hingley, who describes herself as “nosy.”

That nosiness clearly paid off, however, as she captured some wonderfully intimate moments. Several photographs show the ways in which the different cultures overlap in the small community, as their paths frequently intersected. One photograph shows a young Muslim girl, cloaked in Islamic dress, speaking over the fence in her backyard to her Jehovah witness neighbors. Another shows a Jain schoolgirl, sitting on the floor reading in front of an Indian sitar while beside her poses another girl, her neighbor, in white ruffled Holy Communion dress.

For all of the stark contrasts that appear in the work, there’s also a sense of ease to the images. Soho Road — which enfolds people of the Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Jain, Christian and Sikh faiths — appears as a cultural mosaic, with each set of traditions represented as a distinct part of the community’s whole. Hingley said that the work has inspired her to continue the series in Paris, where she’s just completed a show with Next Level projects, adding that she’s interested in the experiences of religion in the secular state. She’s also quick to point out that her series isn’t about dogmatic beliefs, but rather how beliefs pervade people’s lives. She claims that Stories From Soho Road was personal for her—a look at her own journey living in Birmingham.

“I don’t feel that it’s documenting religion or just that. I feel it’s about many things. Religion is definitely a part of your daily life. It’s everything,” she said. “I wanted to show what it gives people and the beauty it can bring to people’s lives.”

Liz Hingley is a photographer currently based in Paris. See more of her work here.

Megan Gibson is a Writer-Reporter at the London bureau of TIME. Find her on Twitter at @MeganJGibson

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