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Sound Objects

By Francesco Spagnolo

Published Sep 27, 2022

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Sound Object 1 — Look

Many of the ritual objects used in the synagogue generate sound. Some are designed to produce specific sounds, like the shofar, or Purim noisemakers. But many others —often to embellish, store, carry, and read the Torah —emit sound even though sound-making is not their primary function. Sounds made by voices and musical instruments are closely regulated by rabbinic authorities, but those made by objects are not. This liminal status sheds a different light on an important aspect of Jewish life outside the scope of normative religion, and yet at its very core: synagogue life as a dimension that encompasses both tightly controlled AND subversive behaviors. 

In order to curate “sound objects,” one has to identify specific ritual objects – often categorized by museums and the general public under the rubric of “Judaica”– then describe them by highlighting their sound-making features (bells, clappers, other movable parts), and finally by “playing” and recording them as they are being used. In pairing images of these unique items with the sounds they emit, the aim is to subvert both the categories under which they are commonly understood and the way in which museums traditionally display them, in an attempt to bridge the (so often unavoidable) gap between Jewish life and its presence in cultural heritage collections. 

 

Sound Object 1: 

Torah Shield [76.273.1] (Poland, 20th century) 

Square, arched silver, repousse, stamped, engraved; Torah ark motif at center with columns surmounted by lions flanking center door or plaque for inscription; surrounding floral and grape vine decoration with punched background; three parcel gilt bells with wire clappers suspended from lower edge; linked chain. 

Magnes Database Record 

Sound Object 1 — Listen

Torah Shield [76.273.1] (Poland, 20th century) 

Square, arched silver, repousse, stamped, engraved; Torah ark motif at center with columns surmounted by lions flanking center door or plaque for inscription; surrounding floral and grape vine decoration with punched background; three parcel gilt bells with wire clappers suspended from lower edge; linked chain. 

 

Recordings made by Francesco Spagnolo with an iPhone 4S and the SoundCloud App. The objects recorded were handled by Julie Franklin, Registrar at The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, UC Berkeley. 

Sound Object 2 — Look

Torah Pointer [73.45]: Hand-shaped Torah pointer with twelve bells (Yemen, 20th century) 

Magnes Database Record 

Sound Object 2 — Listen

Torah Pointer [73.45]: Hand-shaped Torah pointer with twelve bells (Yemen, 20th century) 

 

Recordings made by Francesco Spagnolo with an iPhone 4S and the SoundCloud App. The objects recorded were handled by Julie Franklin, Registrar at The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, UC Berkeley. 

Sound Object 3 — Look

Torah finials [68.79.1 a-b]: Torah finials with floral motifs, hand-shaped top engraved with the Hebrew word shaday, and eleven three-beaded clappers (India. n.d.) 

Magnes Database Record 

 

Sound Object 3 — Listen

Torah finials [68.79.1 a-b]: Torah finials with floral motifs, hand-shaped top engraved with the Hebrew word shaday, and eleven three-beaded clappers (India. n.d.) 

 

Recordings made by Francesco Spagnolo with an iPhone 4S and the SoundCloud App. The objects recorded were handled by Julie Franklin, Registrar at The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, UC Berkeley. 

 

View more objects from the “Case Study No. 3 | Sound Objects” exhibit. 

Listen to the full set on SoundCloud. 

 

License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ 

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Francesco Spagnolo is the Curator of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life and an Associate Adjunct Professor in the Department of Music at the University of California, Berkeley.  A multidisciplinary scholar focusing on Jewish studies, music, and digital media, he intersects textual, visual, and musical cultur...

Reflections

For museum-goers:  

How are objects displayed? Can you think of ways in which they are being "silenced" rather than amplified in their presence in a museum gallery/case? (Hint: “decolonizing” a museum is not just about what is on display, but how things are actually being displayed…) 

For synagogue-goers:  

What are the key ritual objects in your synagogue life? Can you pause to consider how they are (often, not always) used in ways that shift the discourse from its more regulated aspects (like the texts and order of the prayers)?  

For anyone:  

How do subversive behaviors impact institutions and their "rituals"? 

 

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