I spent Friday at the North Carolina Museum of Art and by far, the most captivating experience was “Forty Part Motet” at a special exhibition called “You Are Here: Light, Color, and Sound Experiences.”
It was a room full of 40 speakers—apparently every single singer had been miked individually in Thomas Tallis’ Spem in alium for eight 5-part choirs. What that meant was that I could walk around the room, and hear each singer sing his or her part, but it was combined to capture all the reverberation as sung in Salisbury Cathedral by the choir. As you can see by the photo above, the speakers were arranged in choir groupings, and you could easily hear the antiphonal effects of choir vs. choir as well as the thrilling parts when all the choirs sang together. The recording is repeated every fourteen minutes.
Years ago, we tried to perform this piece in of all places, the First Hawaiian Bank in downtown Honolulu, which has cathedral reverberation, if you can believe that. It would have been a thrilling experience — except it turned out to be an utter and dismal bomb! A complete disaster! You need 40 voices who are extremely secure in their parts, plus a really good conductor, none of which we had in that situation.
Here is a YouTube performance by the Taverner Choir of this monumental piece in a graphical representation.
If you are in the Raleigh, NC area, I strongly urge you to visit the special exhibit,“You Are Here: Light, Color, and Sound Experiences,” before it ends on July 22nd. You can find the exhibit’s official photographs at Triangle Today.
In the meantime, enjoy some of the pictures I took.