Janet Cardiff - The Forty-Part Motet

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Media Release: January, 2010. 

International centrepiece of City Gallery Wellington’s Festival Season announced

A haunting, evocative sound installation that packs an emotional punch will be the international centrepiece of City Gallery Wellington’s Festival Season 2010. This exhibition has stunned audiences around the world, and City Gallery gives New Zealanders their first opportunity to experience the work. The Festival Season runs 20 February to 16 May 2010, and is proudly supported by ANZ.

The Forty-Part Motet (2001) by Canadian artist Janet Cardiff is an immersive sculpturally-conceived sound piece, in which forty separately-recorded voices are played back through forty speakers. This staggering, enveloping installation is a reworking of Spem in Alium Nunquam Habui (1573) by Thomas Tallis, one of England’s most influential Renaissance composers.

City Gallery Director Paula Savage says that this is a remarkably moving work, appealing to the visitor on many levels. “After the success of our re-opening exhibition Yayoi Kusama: Mirrored Years, we are thrilled to be able to present another major international exhibition. The Forty-Part Motet combines sound, movement and space in a way that makes every visitor’s experience unique. At once intimate and encompassing, tender and incredibly dramatic, this work must be heard and felt in person.” 

The piece subverts the usual presentation of choral works by encouraging the visitor to move freely throughout the performance space. Cardiff says, "While listening to a concert you are normally seated in front of the choir, in traditional audience position.  With this piece I want the audience to be able to experience a piece of music from the viewpoint of the singers. Every performer hears a unique mix of the piece of music.  Enabling the audience to move throughout the space allows them to be intimately connected with the voices. It also reveals the piece of music as a changing construct. As well I am interested in how sound may physically construct a space in a sculptural way and how a viewer may choose a path through this physical yet virtual space."

Cardiff often works in collaboration with Georges Bures Miller and their work Murder of Crows was a huge hit at the 2008 Biennale of Sydney. Cardiff and Bures Miller live and work between Berlin and Grindrod, BC, Canada.

Spem in Alium Nunquam Habui (1573) by Thomas Tallis is performed by the Salisbury Cathedral choir.

Courtesy of the artist, Janet Cardiff.  Originally produced by Field Art Projects with the Arts Council of England, Canada House, the Salisbury Festival and Salisbury Cathedral Choir, BALTIC Gateshead, The New Art Gallery Walsall, and the NOW Festival Nottingham. Thanks to Bowers and Wilkins Speakers UK.