The Forty Part Motet

“You can hear the sound move from one choir to another… and then experience the overwhelming feeling as the sound hits you”


The Forty Part Motet is a sound installation by Canadian artist, Janet Cardiff based on the renaissance choral music Spem in Alium (1573) by Thomas Tallis.

Forty separate voices are played back through forty speakers; each placed torso-like in clusters of five and aligned in an oval.

Cardiff uses sound to create emotional experiences of space and intimacy – You can hear the sound move from one choir to another… and then experience the overwhelming feeling as the sound waves hit you.

The Forty Part Motet allows us to wander freely as if in the presence of live performers. We are able to home in on individual harmonies or eavesdrop on irreverent asides – we can turn or back away – follow movements of sound or find new connections within the polyphonic whole.

Cardiff is fascinated by sound as a spatial form. The physical and virtual space that The Forty Part Motet encompasses connects our bodies to the sounds we hear and allows us to climb inside the music.

Total Visitor Numbers: 38,432


Exhibition Visitor Comments

Wonderful to be able to get into a physical relationship with this wonderful piece of music, to be able to move around to different parts and feel the shape of it and to be able to hear it many times, start to relate to each choir! Brilliant.

Thank you. Thank you. I was rooted to the spot. Not only loving the sounds washing my body clean, but watching other peoples experiences of this marvellous installation too. A highlight of the month.

Surreal, totally encompassing but not overwhelming. Extraordinary performance of this familiar work. Deeply emotional, uplifting.


Image Gallery

Photographs by Philip Carr