Forty-Part Motet – Janet Cardiff

Like many of the visitors to this amazing sound installation, my first visit was so emotive that I had to share it with others. Located in an acoustically perfect crumbling old chapel in Penzance, the Groundworks Janet Cardiff installation Forty Part Motet proved as expected, to be equally as mind-blowing for my nearest and dearest. And even on my second visit, the hairs on my arms rose with anticipation.

Arranged in a circle the forty speakers, set in eight groups of five, the installation enables listeners to move around amongst a choir of forty individual voices. The sound moves from one speaker to another giving the listener an all-immersive feeling that the performance is happening in real time.

The engaging intro of fascinating chatter by the choristers of Salisbury Cathedral Choir perfectly prepares the listener for what is to come. As the atmosphere builds beautifully the listener’s senses are heightened to provide a feeling of full inclusion in the event. The briefest hush of an interlude before the chorister’s voices build, rising and fall in their separate choir sections is perfectly timed.

This all immersive work, which even if you are not a classical music lover will evoke an emotional reaction, is reminiscent of a well-composed film score and deserves your attention for at least three full cycles of the recording.

Janet Cardiff is celebrated for a body of work that comprises audio walks, film, photography and sound installations. Born in Canada and now splitting her time between British Colombia and Berlin, she often works with her partner Georges Bures Miller, as she did on the Forty Part Motet. Her work often enables audiences to experience sound in particular locations or acoustic experiences.

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