Described as “achingly beautiful” (The New Yorker) and “transcendent” (The New York Times), sound artist Janet Cardiff’s critically acclaimed installation The Forty Part Motet traveled to the High in fall 2014. From the collection of The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Cardiff’s The Forty Part Motet is a mesmerizing reworking of a 40-part choral piece by Tudor composer Thomas Tallis (ca. 1505-1585). The installation features the voices of 59 singers (adults and children) performing Tallis’ Spem in Alium Nunquam Habui (1556), which translates to In No Other is My Hope and is perhaps Tallis’ most famous composition. Each voice was recorded separately, and all voices are played back in unison via 40 individual loudspeakers on tripods (one speaker for each choral part). The audio component features a 14-minute loop – 11 minutes of singing and three minutes of intermission.
Cardiff configures the speakers in a large oval, with eight groups of five speakers arranged together (one group each for soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass). As visitors wander among them and progress through the work, they hear each distinct voice and also experience different combinations and harmonies. A visitor can stand in the middle of the installation and hear all of the voices as they unify into one musical piece or move close to an individual loudspeaker for an intimate experience with a single voice.