November 2007

Qui ?

When one first hears that John Oswald is creating a sound installation that contains a Motet, a cognitive disonance automatically occurs. The memory juxtaposition of first, Oswald’s notoriety stemming from his work in his autodidactic medium of Plunderphonics, and then parallel to this, the memory of Janet Cardiff’s highly recognized work “40 Part Motet” completed in 2001, could lead one very quickly to an assumption that Oswald’s piece is either a trope or a spurious act of Plunder. Perhaps it is a cultural phenomenon in our country that we create as a collective, giving each other courage and materials, through an open dialogue and a necessary community connection, derived from the landscape and the experience of winter. The white blanket, the lack of fresh food , did this lead us to share and encourage each other’s creative spirits and plant seeds in each others minds? When one pursues this question in this case, the answer is affirming and surprising. A lineage can be traced in the artistic process of John Oswald that makes the choice of Josquin des Prez’ Motet a natural choice within the story of his artistic practice and it points to the time and place where Oswald’s work intersected with Cardiff’s; in the beautiful creative sanctuary this country provides for artists to develop from the mountainous landscape of Banff to the world forum and humanity’s historical galleries. —Anne Bourne

What follows is, as Oswald recalls:

A Selective Lineage of Multi-Speaker Sound Installations

—mid 70’s: John Cage collaborator David Tudor visited Toronto to present his environmental work Rainforest, which involved spatially distributing objects which had been made into loudspeakers. Marvin Green assists in the creation of the Toronto version of the work.

—1976 Marvin Green and John Oswald began working on their project Pitch: sound distributed in perfectly dark environments.

—ca.1982 Marvin Green was contracted by artist Mick Tebb to make sound for a sculptural simulation of New Orleans’ Bourbon Street he was commissioned to make for the West Edmonton Mall. Life-size mannequins of musicians were fabricated with loudspeakers installed in their instruments; for example in the bell of the trombone, or behind the tympanum of the banjo. Although in the final piece there was no separation achieved between individual tracks, a multi-track recording of Dixieland Jazz, was projected through each individual instrument and its respective installed loudspeaker. (Some of the musicians are purported to look like Marvin Green).

—ca.1984 John Oswald described Marvin’s scheme to Christopher Butterfield and he suggests that an ideal piece of music to spatialize in this fashion would be Thomas Tallis’ 16th century composition Spem in Alium, a 40-part vocal motet, with an individual loudspeaker for each of the voices.

—1991 Oswald was in residence at the Banff Centre creating a soundtrack for a Belgium TV production, assisted by sound engineer and Banff Centre audio intern Phil Strong. Strong wass concurrently assisting other artists, as well as pursuing and demonstrating a personal research project consisting of a 24-speaker installation in which each speaker reproduces a track from the Centre’s 24-track tape deck. Observing the multi-speaker array Oswald recalled Butterfield’s suggestion that the perfect musical source for a spatially-distributed multi-track recording was the Tallis Motet. While at Banff Oswald and Cardiff never met. Neither Strong nor Cardiff remember specifically discussing the multi-speaker installation.

—2001 Oswald (with Strong) creates an elaborate installation to compliment a series of multi-screen videos in a collaboration with Bruce Mau Design. The project is titled Stress. Cardiff creates her Forty Part Motet, distributing the Tallis composition through 40 loudspeakers in a circle.

—2006 Oswald is creating a sound environment he is creating for the Royal Ontario Museum’s new architextural expansion. He desides to revisit the theme of spatially distributed acoustic individuals in an evolving circadian sound cycle. As the number of voices fits with the number of loudspeakers planned by the architects, he chooses as his point of departure a 15th century 24 part motet by Josquin des Prez, to be transliterated into 24 languages.

—2007: Avril Lavigne records the chorus to her new single Girlfriend in eight languages. In addition to English,she sings in French, Portuguese, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Mandarin. all the incidents mentioned involve Canadians.

* Also interesting from the historical perspective of Plunder, is the discussion that Thomase Tallis’ composition sounds so similar to another 40-part motet from the same time, Ecce Beatem Lucem by Alessandro Striggio, that, with scant evidence, it is assumed by most people that the more famous Spem in Alium is a knock-off of the Striggio work. It is also possible that the reverse is the case. In either case the Tallis version is a more dramatic work, and if it was written in imitation, it is a case of the work being better by the borrower.

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