2014-07-25 / Community

Sound And Art:

The ‘Fort Piece Motet’ At Tilden


The sound of the art: Janet Cardiff’s “Forty-Piece Motet” at the Fort Tilden Chapel, part of the Rockaway! arts festival/exhibition. Photos by Pablo Enriquez/Courtesy of MoMA PS1 © 2014. The sound of the art: Janet Cardiff’s “Forty-Piece Motet” at the Fort Tilden Chapel, part of the Rockaway! arts festival/exhibition. Photos by Pablo Enriquez/Courtesy of MoMA PS1 © 2014. By Susan Hartenstein

Entering the chapel at Fort Tilden is transforming. One steps out of the bustling, green world of a national park, filled with the voices of children and adults at play, and enters...how does one describe it?…the cool, calm world of a more profound beauty; where one is led into the glorious spiritual rhythm of tranquility; a sense of being part of a universal whole, of something greater and higher than oneself. The main chapel room is essentially bare, save for two benches, and lit only by the rays of sunlight streaming through the chapel windows. The ceiling is high and vaulted, encouraging the sounds of this installation to fill the space around the visitor, and the visitor’s interior space.

The music that surrounds you and gradually seeps into your soul, bringing it to a higher consciousness, is a uniquely recorded aural installation by Janet Cardiff, a Canadian artist who works primarily with sound and sound installations.

“Forty Piece Motet” is a complex reworking of a 40-voice motet, “Spem in Alium,” written in the 16th century by Thomas Tallis, perhaps the greatest composer of the English Renaissance. Indeed, “Spem in Alium" can be considered Tallis’ greatest masterpiece. In year 2000, Cardiff recorded 40 individual male vocalists singing Tallis’ composition, each on a separate microphone, and Cardiff’s piece presents their voices through 40 separate speakers. “Forty Piece Motet,” with a brief intermission, is played on a continuous 14-minute loop.

The 40 speakers are placed in a circle in the center of the chapel. Whether visitors stand in the center of the circle to enjoy the power of the ensemble, or in front of a single speaker to concentrate on an individual voice, the impact is equally stunning. One is set backwards by the emotional impact of the crescendos of harmonic lines.

Each visitor will react to the experience in his or her own individual way. But each will come away changed, even for a bit. Most enter this subdued place and immediately become quiet themselves. Then the music begins to wash over them. I chose to spend a long time in the center, and then circled, putting my ear close to each speaker. A young woman did the same, circling in the opposite direction. As I approached her, I saw the smile on her face. As I got closer, I saw tears in her eyes. She did not speak, but I understood because I had had the same reaction.

A man brought his little son, lifting him to each speaker to hear better. The father put the boy down to rest his arms, but the son pointed furiously to the next speaker to be raised once more to the sound. A young man circled in a slow gallop. He is a sound engineer, intrigued and delighted. Each visitor remained silent, to drink in the full impact. Broken once by an audible, “Wow!”

“Forty Piece Motet” will be installed in the chapel in Fort Tilden through August 17. This is a unique and special experience you may wish to visit more than once.

For information contact the Rockaway Artists Alliance: jamesrockart116@aol.com; 718-474-0861.

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Susan, thank you! One can

Susan, thank you! One can describe a painting or a sculpture, but sound and emotions are so personal... Your words are as universal as the piece itself. I relived the experience through your words without being there.


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