Merula – Sleep [Men Scryfa 2020]

Merula’s “Hor ch’è tempo di dormire”

Because I am a fresh dew woman, says
I am a moist dew woman, says
I am the woman of the dawn, says
I am the woman of the day, says
I am the saint woman, says
I am the spirit woman, says
I am the woman who works, says
I am the woman beneath the dripping tree, says
I am the woman of the twilight, says
I am the woman of the pristine huipil, says
I am the whirlpool woman, says […]
I am the daughter of Mary

— María Sabina ¹

Sleep awakens with the clunk of a tape player set to record. Tape passes across the heads. Here are the songs of sparrows; beautiful interruptions to convent solitude. Alone and in sisterhood, like other interactions in the cloister. The sparrows are reminiscent to arias I once heard spilling out of patio gardens in Oaxaca’s Convento de Santa Catalina de Siena. Perhaps the birds were recorded from a room with an open window; their texture originates in the background, but releases into the foreground. An innominate rendition of Tarquinio Merula’s (c. 1595–1665) “Hor ch’è tempo di dormire” begins to lift and lilt. A simple cello rhythm in the lower register enters, followed by unobtrusive guitar and the devotional Latin lullaby of the Madonna cooing her Christ-child to slumber.

The recording’s anonymity veils its performers, setting and era: hymnal voices as nameless and dispersed as the birds. Its chameleonic nature evokes an archival field recording of unknown date, likely captured around dawn or dusk, until contemporary traffic noise bleeds in, smudging its temporality.

On second thought it’s a digital recording, which nullifies the opening paragraph. The sibilant transients are merely the cassette; the carrier not the original recording.

Microphone handling noise, passersby, phase processing and digital tape delay meddle with the fib of the artefact – truths and untruths funnelled into uniformity – deepening the incidentals rather than dividing the native from the processed, as would be the case with a dubbed version, which in vague instances the laissez-faire non-production mimics. The consecrated emanations transcend a desire to translate, while the inalienable omniscience of the sacred engulfs faithlessness. Yet in its embrace of melancholia, temporal existentialism continues to reside: mother as comforter and silent mourner – aiding her child to sleep into the tide of death’s eventuality.

Over the first few listens I struggled to get through more than a few moments in trepidation of its otherworldly rapture. I succumbed. As with ecclesiastical, Quranic and appropriations of the holy – such as the Adhan, Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares ², Georgian polyphonic singing and Current 93’s “The Long Shadow Falls” ³ – this version of “Hor ch’è tempo di dormire,” particularly with its sparse effects in tow, impressively blurs the boundaries of the secular and the sacred to keep the tired dichotomy down.

“Dags Att Sova”, the only composition of the b-side, responds to “Hor ch’è tempo di dormire”; slightly more electrified, disquieting, telluric and with an English translation, which as noted, feels unnecessary. Without the sparrows for accompaniment, vocalists Eva[?] and Thomas Bush seesaw before being swept away by an elegiacal and piercing organ. Eva’s voice returns without Bush. At the foreboding climax she recites “take this milk that I offer you / from this immaculate breast / savour the warmth of the sweetness / for it will not last.”

¹ Sabina, Maria, et al. “The Life.” María Sabina: Selections, University of California Press, 2003, pp. 40.

² “Marcel Cellier Présente: Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares ‎– Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares (Volume 1).” 1975.

³ Current 93. “Where The Long Shadows Fall (Beforetheinmostlight).” Dutro, 1995.

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