40 Part Motet, Janet Cardiff

Janet Cardiff, born in 1957, is a Canadian artist who mainly works with sound and sound installations. With various recording technology, Cardiff has created many remarkable sound-based works since the early 1990s in collaboration with her husband and partner George Bures Miller. They often play with different kinds of reality – a story, a walk, and a philosophical reflection on the nature of identity. Blurring the line between diegetic and non-diegetic space by using sound, the works often absorb staging, theatrical and cinematographic effects. Her binaural audio works are very intriguing, and this physical sensation made me want to experience what it feels like to be surrounded by 40 speakers – her installation 40 Part Motet.


I’ve always wanted to see this work. However, life seems never allow me to do so. I was “infatuated” with the music of choice, the simplicity of the installation, and the chosen venues (that have been shown in the publication and media). I missed many opportunities while I was in Canada. Fortunately, the work has come to York, and eventually, I got the chance to see the work in person.



During my BA, my collage course instructor once told me that she had Stendhal Syndrome, the experience of being overwhelmed by art (“art attack”) when she encountered 40 Part Motet.


What if there wasn’t that much excitement of seeing the work as much as I thought it would be? I might have put too much expectation on it, or have been waited too long.

Maybe because I was listening to Bruckner’s symphony in York Minster right before the visit to York Art Gallery, and the grandeur symphonic soundscape impaired the affection of “Spem in Alium.” The exhibition – When All is Quiet: Kaiser Chiefs in Conversation with York Art Gallery – was a bit of “letdown” to me. Similar to most of the exhibitions that have an influx of sound, the sound form different works pervade the entire building, intertwined with each other. The room that 40 Part Motet was installed is too small. The sound is immediately absorbed by the walls, leaving no space for resonance. What would it sound like if it’s installed in the minster?