Monday post — awe and wonder

cardiff6 blogSomething lovely from my friend Carole Adrian, who’s Assistant to the Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs at Juilliard.

She emailed me and a few other people about a sound installation by Janet Cardiff, called “Forty Part Motet.” It’s at a place not normally known for contemporary art, The Cloisters, New York’s famous museum of medieval art and architecture.

Here’s what Carole wrote (which I’m quoting with her permission):

I went yesterday, and it is a transcendent, transformative experience.  She has individually recorded the forty voices in a Thomas Tallis motet, sung by the Salisbury Cathedral Choir, and then placed forty speakers in an oval around the perimeter of a small stone chapel at the Cloisters.  The piece surrounds you so completely that you feel you ARE the music — it was astonishing to hear, and to see the awe and wonder on the faces of other listeners.  I was so transfixed, I stayed to hear it re-play five times, and still could hardly pull myself away! 

You can also walk around the room to the individual speakers, and hear each part individually sung.  When the 11-minute piece seems to be re-winding, if you go up close to some of the speakers, you can hear the choristers talking — the mics were on before they began to perform.

It was so moving — I encourage you to do everything you can to get there and experience it, if you haven’t already.  Admission is pay what you wish (despite the sign at the admissions desk), and the piece runs as a loop all day long.  The installation will be up until December 8.

Thanks, Carole.

There are so many things that we can do with music…


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  1. says

    Yes, I just happened to be there yesterday on a weekend trip from NC. It’s a lovely installation. The piece is beautiful in its own right, but having the multiple speakers makes you feel as if you’re part of the choir. Voices “stick out”, as if they were the ones standing next to you, which makes the experience less sterile and “manicured” than the one you’re likely to have gotten had you been sitting in the pews of a church. It brings out the individual timbres of certain sections and singers and reveals that every performance is actually less pristine than its cellophane-wrapped gloss from the audience’s side of things. At the same time, the ability to move around the room during the performance (at the Cloisters) makes for a more dynamic and flexible listening experience. I enjoyed it very much. And one last thing, it was interesting to watch the patrons’ “behavior” and body language in the room: many people (including children) were closing their eyes and meditating or swooning to the music in a way that certainly differed from an average person’s reaction to a painting or a sculpture. There was certainly a group dynamic the engulfed everybody in a way that stood out (in comparison to other sections of the museum).

  2. says

    I’ve experienced this installation twice (NY and Edmonton) and it’s stunning each time. I’ve conducted Spem in alium a fair number of times and know the piece well–but for an audience that doesn’t have that experience (or aren’t even musicians), listening up close and then far away gives a real sense of what’s happening in that music. Quite beautiful!