Joanne Lee – Looking Outward 04

Janet Cardiff’s The Forty Part Motet, 2001 plays a 40-track 14-minute recording on 40 speakers.

At The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, an exhibit called “The Five Senses” was displayed from Feb 1- May 4, 2014. Naturally, one of the senses that was explored was sound. Janet Cardiff’s The Forty Part Motet was displayed in an empty room on 40 speakers. The congregational choir of the Gothic Salisbury Cathedral were asked to record a choral arrangement of Thomas Tallis’s Spem in alium (The Forty Part Motet). This is an a capella piece, meaning that there is no instrumental accompaniment.

Cardiff’s installation is not only a technically complex recording, but also has many details to give a unique sensory experience. The most important is that each of the 40 speakers are synchronized to play 1  track in the recording (each singer has their own individual channel). These speakers are placed at eye level in an oval, in groups of 5 (just like in the original chorus). I really admire this installation because I love choral music. There is something unique about the way all of the voices travel to the audience and mesh together to hit you at once, and that can only be experienced live. This installation seems to emulate that experience despite using speakers by giving each voice a different speaker channel. I wish I had gotten to experience this exhibit.

A video showing a glimpse of The Forty Part Motet with a voiceover by Janet Cardiff.

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