Monks of the Grande Chartreuse

Into Great Silence [Music from the Motion Picture]

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Filmmaker Philip Gröning wrote a treatment for a film about the life of Carthusian brothers at their monastery near Grenoble in 1984, but 15 years elapsed before he was granted permission to join in the life of the community and shoot the footage from which he created Into Great Silence. The 2005 documentary contains no narrative or descriptive voiceovers; the images and sounds of monastic life speak for themselves. The soundtrack recording, which at 70 minutes runs a little less than half the length of the film, is made up of the sounds of daily life -- footsteps in a hallway, distant cowbells, a thunderstorm, doors opening and closing, bells, dishes being washed, birdsong, whirring insects -- punctuated by the chanted prayers and psalms that provide the structured regularity of days and nights in the monastery. Just as the film requires the viewer to slow him- or herself down and patiently attend the mundane goings-on in the monastery, the soundtrack asks the listener (in a very Cageian way) to release expectations and simply listen to what is. For anyone willing and able to do that, the sounds become incredibly beautiful. As an aid to meditation, or as an object lesson in learning to listen to our own sound-worlds with full awareness and appreciation, the CD is hugely successful.

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