Sound Artist Melanie Manchot on Janet Cardiff

LEAP after the Great Ecstasy

Artist Melanie Manchot‘s new show, LEAP after The Great Ecstasy, featuring Bowers & Wilkins speakers, opens today at CARSLAW St* Lukes.

Here she talks about sound artist Janet Cardiff and the how the quality of her recordings have inspired her.

“The first time I experienced a Janet Cardiff audio walk was her piece The Missing Voice, Case Study B (1999), which had been commissioned by Artangel.

Picking up the walkman and set of headphones in the old Whitechapel Library (now part of the The Whitechapel Gallery) the work took you on a meandering walk through side streets and alleyways until you emerged at Liverpool Street Station.

The quality of her binaural, three-dimensional sound makes for an almost hallucinatory experience where recorded and real sounds merge as if the past and present momentarily collided in your ears. In her work, sound becomes visceral, emotive, immersive.

Guided by her seductive voice you follow her every instruction as if enacting a script, you the puppet her holding the strings. The best art allows you to temporarily see reality in a different register. Handing back her headphones after the 50 minute walk, the familiar streets around Brick Lane felt distinctly altered, cinematic and heightened.

I have encountered Janet Cardiff and Georges Bures Miller’s The Forty Part Motet a number of times now but the most moving installation was during Nuit Blanche 2009 where it was presented in the old Eglise Saint Séverin.

The piece is a reworking of Thomas Tallis’ “Spem in Alium” with every voice of the choir piece installed on a separate speaker arranged in the room. When you walk between the speakers you take the respective positions of the different voices and hear the music from their perspective, as if you could temporarily inhabit their aural space.

The Forty Part Motet transforms the music into sculpture giving the act of hearing a spatial dimension. Many filmmakers are highly attuned to the power of sound, beyond the common understanding that film music gives shape, tonality and drama to the action. David Lynch is a prime example of a film maker with extraordinary knowledge of sound, a mastery of subversive tonal structures that work on the viewer in subliminal ways.

Robert Altman’s film Nashville is astounding for its use of a-synchronous sound. If you watch the film on good headphones the density of aural elements in some sections will give you a whole new experience of the film – of its cinematography, its complex temporal structure and overlapping storylines.”         Melanie Manchot

  • LEAP after The Great Ecstasy is on at CARSLAW St* Lukes from 20 April – 1st June.                                                                                                                                                
  • The gallery is open Thursday – Saturday 12 – 6pm

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