On a day when the Brighton anti-capitalist protest march was kicking off just outside the gallery, it may have not seemed like the best time to view some new artwork. But seeking sanctuary off the street in the former church, now Fabrica Gallery, had a surreal and spiritual effect as 40 angelic voices delivered the Spem in Alium (1573) by Thomas Tallis, one of the most influential English composers of sixteenth century. You can listen to an excerpt of the piece in the following video:
No live singers here though. The Forty Part Motet is a sound installation by Canadian artist, Janet Cardiff, based on the renaissance choral music piece by Tallis and sung by the Salisbury Cathedral Choir. It has been exhibited all over the world since its creation in 2001. Spem in Alium is not often performed, as it requires at least forty singers capable of meeting its technical demands. The piece is widely regarded as one of the best examples of renaissance polyphony and has been described as astonishing and magnificent, often having a profound effect on the audience.
Here each voice in the choir has been separately recorded and played through a circle of 40 speakers. Set to head height and surrounding the nave they act as representations for the human form. You can sit at the centre and take in the total effect, or freely wander along the line from one speaker (or voice) to another – when would you have an opportunity to do this at a live performance?
You can’t help but be moved by the strength of this music and the clever simplicity of the installation. Janet Cardiff is well known for her sound installations, working together with her partner and fellow artist, George Bures Miller. She has created an artwork that combines space with intimacy – a sculptural experience of the Tallis work where music connects with you in such a physical way that you feel enveloped by it.
On her website, Janet Cardiff is quoted as saying:
“While listening to a concert you are normally seated in front of the choir, in traditional audience position. With this piece I want the audience to be able to experience a piece of music from the viewpoint of the singers. Every performer hears a unique mix of the piece of music. Enabling the audience to move throughout the space allows them to be intimately connected with the voices. It also reveals the piece of music as a changing construct. As well 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. 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. You can hear the sound move from one choir to another, jumping back and forth, echoing each other and then experience the overwhelming feeling as the sound waves hit you when all of the singers are singing.”
City Connect suggests: The month of May is an ideal time to enjoy Brighton and while you’re there a visit to Fabrica to experience this installation is highly recommended. Brighton is approximately one hour from London by train. The Fabrica Gallery is within 15 minutes walk of Brighton station and the gallery is open every day between 7 and 29 May from 12pm to 7pm. Late night openings are on Saturday 7 May & Saturday 28 May until 11pm. The last day to experience this wonderful artwork is the Spring Bank Holiday on 30 May when the gallery is open between 2pm and 5pm.
40 Duke Street
Tel: 01273 778 646
Images courtesy of Tony Foster
Video reproduced from YouTube/theprof1958
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