Sonic Sidebar: 40 Part Motet

August 3, 2014

One place that new music’s finding audiences is in galleries and museum. One piece in particular has won the hearts of people across the world. It’s called Forty Part Motet.  Sound artist Janet Cardiff uses 40 speakers to play "Spem in Allium," a 40-part motet composed by Thomas Tallis in 1570.   Think of it as Renaissance surround-sound.

Looking for our extended interview with Janet Cardiff? Here it is.



The "40 Part Motet" supposedly "created by Janet Cardiff" is actually "Spem in Alium," composed by Thomas Tallis around 1570. That neither the true composer nor title of this piece was mentioned during this TTBOOK segment is appalling. Is Janet Cardiff taking credit for Tallis' work without attribution, or was this simply a reporting failure on the part of TTBOOK?

Hi Elliot, You're entirely correct. The piece was composed by Thomas Tallis. Janet Cardiff and her partner, George Bures Miller, recorded 40 singers' individual parts. When Cardiff and Bures Miller install the piece, 40 high-fidelity speakers are arrayed in a room, each dedicated to one of the voices. You can hear the extended conversation with her, in which she talks about Tallis and "Spem in alium", by searching for it on this site.