By the Waters of Babylon

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Parable of Sugar:
By the waters of Babylon

مثل شكر:
كنار آبهاي بابل

Samaneh Moafi
With Mhamad Safa
Web development: Luke Murphy

The waters that run through Babylon and Susa carry a curse. It began some 500 years before the birth of Christ. The temples of a migrant Jewish community who had settled along these waters were looted. Sacred vessels were stolen. The sweetest alcohol was poured in them. A feast was thrown. Sacrilege was committed. and the heathen gods were praised. At the heat of the feast, Belshazzar, the king, had a dream vision: a hand was writing three words on a wall. Experts were hurriedly called in to interpret the writing. A Jewish prophet named Daniel accepted the challenge and disclaimed: “the kingdom is measured. It is weighed, and it will be shattered.” This night, marks the fall of Babylon.

The historical accuracy of the story of Belshazzar in chapter 5 of the book of Daniel is widely contested. But his monstrous feast along the waters of Babylon has echoed back into the present. Instead of the sweet alcohol, what is served, is sugar.

Using archive photographs, satellite imagery, historical testimonies, social media footage and images taken during field work, the project interrogates the story of sugar plantations along the Dez and Karkheh rivers in search for Belshazzar’s dream.

Cyclical rhythms, tuning, and harmonies in Babylonian musical composition are derived from an algorithmic rationale in Mesopotamia to tame stochasticity. Transcribed by musicologist A.Z Idelsohn, a recorded 1:30 minutes of Babylonian Jewish wedding song - part of the earliest restorated musical scriptures - is used to feed an Markov machine learning algorithm to generate the 10 min composition of Babylonian futures.