3 Reasons You Should Experience ‘The Forty Part Motet’

By ALIVE Staff
In Culture

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“The Forty Part Motet” by Janet Cardiff is an immersive sound installation that must be experienced in person. When entering Pulitzer Arts Foundation, you might wonder whether or not you have walked into a church from the sound of the sixteenth-century choral masterpiece echoing from the main gallery. The work, comprised of an audio track played through forty speakers arranged in an oval, is an experience unlike any other. We’ve teamed up with the Pulitzer to bring you three things you should know about this artwork, on view as a part of “Ellipsis” through July 2.

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1/ It’s A Masterpiece
Janet Cardiff’s “The Forty Part Motet” reimagines the sixteenth-century English composer Thomas Tallis’ choral masterpiece “Spem in Alium” (1556). Cardiff commissioned the congregational choir of England’s Salisbury Cathedral to perform the eleven-minute arrangement in its original Latin. Renaissance motets like this one are sacred choral compositions known for the interplay of voices at varying rhythms and pitches, evoking feelings of the sublime in the listener. While standing in the center of the speakers, let the chorus of voices wash over you—the intensity of the music will be like nothing you’ve ever experienced before.

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2/ The Intermission Wasn’t Part of the Plan
The audio track plays on a loop but for three minutes at the beginning, one can hear the sounds of the choir members talking, coughing and laughing. While recording the eleven-minute arrangement, there was a relaxed moment when the vocalists were waiting to begin singing again and the microphones picked up their natural conversations and other ambient sounds. Not originally planned to be a part of the recording, Cardiff later remarked that the intermission was a great addition to the work because “it made the people into real people.”

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3/ There’s No Wrong Way To Listen
The artist stated that she “wanted to be able to ‘climb inside’ the music, connecting with the separate voices.” Try experiencing the installation in several ways: take a seat on the wooden bench to be surrounded by the sound, or walk around the gallery to hear the individual voices emerging from each speaker. Whichever way you choose, or both, make sure not to miss this work before it leaves St. Louis.

Photos courtesy of the mentioned business. This post has been brought to you in part by the mentioned business. Thank you for supporting the companies that keep ALIVE growing. Janet Cardiff, The Forty Part Motet (A reworking of “Spem in Alium,” by Thomas Tallis, 1556), 2001. 40 track sound recording, 40 speakers. 14 min. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder in memory of Rolf Hoffmann, 2002. © Janet Cardiff. Top photograph © 2016 Alise O’Brien Photography. Bottom two photographs by Carly Ann Faye.

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