wandering about in renaissance polyphony…

February 20, 2010 at 11:14 am | Posted in art, musings | Leave a comment
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…isn’t something you get to do every day is it? On my way home from work the other night I visited Janet Cardiff‘s ‘The Forty Part Motet’ at the Howard Assembly Room of the Grand Theatre. This is sound-art installation that may well be of interest to the readers of this blog. From the website:

A unique sound installation based on Thomas Tallis’s masterpiece for forty voices, Spem in Alium. In Janet Cardiff’s re-working each of the forty voices are heard through independent speakers placed throughout the Howard Assembly Room. Audiences are invited to wander around the room and absorb this rich, aural experience.

The artist explains:

With this piece I want the audience to be able to experience a piece of music from the viewpoint of the singers. I placed the speakers around the room in an oval so that the listener would be able to really feel the sculptural construction of the piece by Tallis.

The piece is, in this performance, about 14 minutes long (a more compact version can be had via Amazon as an mp3 for a mere 69p) and walking around ‘inside’ it really is quite something. You can stay in the middle of the room, turning your head involuntarily as each sub-choir of five speakers takes turns being dominant, you can glue an ear to one speaker and be a ghost at the shoulder of a particular singer, you can wander about in it being overwhelmed by the moments when all join in en masse. Charmingly, Cardiff has kept three minutes of pre-performance chatter by way of an interval and you can listen to individuals gripe, laugh and cough before it starts. I listened to it all the way through twice.

There is nothing to look at: the utilitarian speakers and their stands are actually quite ugly, but the room itself is worth taking in at length as will be your fellow listeners. There were about a dozen when I was there. These included a chap chewing his lip trying not to cry who went and stood in a far corner with his back to the room when he noticed me noticing him, an earnest looking couple following the score and various others meandering or sitting, eyes closed, enjoying a post-work dip in the transcendent. Free to get in, see website for opening hours.

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