Janet Cardiff’s The Forty Part Motet is currently on display at Tate Modern Switch House.
The Forty Part Motet is an audio installation reworking the sixteenth-century choral work Spem in Alium by English composer Thomas Tallis. Cardiff worked with the Salisbury Cathedral Choir to record 40 individual singers, playing each voice through its own corresponding speaker. The speakers are carefully positioned in eight different groups of five, responding to the structure of Tallis’s complex vocal piece, or motet. Each group forms a choir of five singers with different vocal ranges: a bass, baritone, tenor, alto and soprano. The eight choirs produce harmonies which blend into a polyphonic landscape of sound. Visitors are encouraged to walk among the speakers to hear the individual voices, as well as the immersive sound of the motet. Cardiff said: ‘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.’
Sung in Latin, the first line ‘Spem in alium nunquam habui …’ translates as ‘I have never put my hope in any other but in you, O God of Israel’. Although Tallis wrote his music for a Christian setting, Cardiff has shown her audio installation in a variety of spaces, both religious and secular. The artist is interested in the ways in which music can evoke different emotions.