Forty days and forty nights

The idea for Forty Notes came from the research folders that volunteers create for each exhibition. Whilst updating the Fabrica archive , I was struck by the diverse range of subjects they could cover ie relating The Ptolemaic Scheme of the Universe and Navajo Cosmology to a sculpture. This echoed some distant thought of 70s conceptual art, the sort that takes away all aesthetics and fills the gallery with philosophical texts. Art as idea as idea.

Around this time, in the office we were all thinking about Janet Cardiff’s The Forty Part Motet. How could we market a piece that the experience of was invisible? How can one create some interest around an installation the form of which is intangible? “Well,” I thought “ideas are kinda abstract too.”

Ideas began forming. Laurence (communications and development manager) had suggested that for The Forty Part Motet it might be nice to do something over forty days. The time scheme of forty days is loaded with meanings. Periods of 40 days reoccur throughout the bible. It rained for forty days and forty nights to bring the great flood that Noah’s ark sailed on. Jesus wandered with out food or drink in the desert for forty days when being tempted by the devil. It symbolises a time of testing, spiritual cleansing and eventual redemption. This got me thinking “In what way could I use this significant number of days for my own trial and testing?” I decided to make a research blog, and for the forty days building up to the exhibition, I would post on it everyday.

Further inspiration came from The Forty Part Motet itself. It seemed such a clear idea. Take apart a complex choral piece of music and explore its structure, make it into a sculpture. It’s an art of appropriation, and appropriation brings with it all manner of past meanings. Despite the new context and new form, something from the past inevitably comes with a web of ideas from previous incarnations. I decided that Forty Notes would follow some of the strands of this web.

What really made this idea so exciting to me has been incorporating the notion of polyphony into the blog. Polyphony was a concept I’d never really heard of before. The idea came from music that was composed for many voices singing different parts. This idea has been translated to film, art and literature. Forty Notes looks at polyphony as a subject, but I also tried to create a polyphonic structure. Each note was intended to be a voice saying something different from the last voice. There are voices that reoccur with a new story, like a Janet Cardiff audio walk. The notes are fragments that somehow link to The Forty Part Motet, and somehow sit side by side with one another. I loved making juxtapositions: Christian Marclay next to the Book of Judith; Shortcuts next to Dostoevsky; Thomas Tallis and The Holy Trinity Church.

The process has been experimental. Laurence warned me that a daily blog was a serious undertaking. I was naive but if I had known how hard it could be, I probably wouldn’t have started. At times it drove me to distraction and came close to have having a detrimental effect on my social life.

All this being said, ultimately it has been extremely rewarding. It has forced me to commit to trying something I hadn’t been able to commit to before. I must admit I have been sceptical of the use of the Internet in the past. I would just use it for distraction. I realised that exciting new platforms of communication existed, I just did not know what I had to contribute.

Forty Notes has made realise the amazing ability the Internet has to communicate ideas, and through fragmented parts that add up to more than the whole. It flattens hierarchical structures of thinking to provide information that’s accessible to everyone. One of the key attributes of the polyphonic novel is open-endedness, and the Internet shares this quality. It is a web that provides new patterns of thought, where one thing leads to another and like life, it goes on and on and on…

Haroon Mirza


Today we are featuring a video interview (courtesy of Lisson Gallery) with emerging artist Haroon Mirza.

Watch videos of his individual works at Lisson Gallery

And here is some background information from Frieze Magazine

Frederick W. Robertson

“He was one of the greatest masters of elocution I ever knew.” (Charles Dickens)

Frederick William Robertson was formally the Minister of the Holy Trinity Church. He was well known for his gifts in public speaking and admired by many important people of his day.

Born in London in 1816, Robertson’s childhood was spent moving around Britain due to his Father’s Job as a captain in the Royal Artillery. It his is thought that his early aspirations were to follow his father and join the army. However, after failing in his first and second attempts to sign up, he began studying at Oxford University.

After studying, Robertson joined the clergy at Winchester and he was ordained in 1840. In 1841 he suffered a crisis of conscience and had to take a break. He left for Switzerland to recuperate. On returning, he took up a curacy in Cheltenham. Then a few years later he again experienced “the darkest doubts.”

He returned to Switzerland where again his faith was reaffirmed. Back in England he began the ministry that would be the making of him at Holy Trinity Church, Brighton.

The fashionable Holy Trinity Church had a thoughtful congregation holding varying levels of belief. This suited Robertson(‘s) questioning temperament and in his sermons he came into his own. The sermons were at times radical and unorthodox but thought to contain “a living source of impulse, a practical direction of thought, a key to many of the problems of theology, and above all a path to spiritual freedom.”

Robertson became a renowned preacher and people came from far and wide to hear him speak. He also gave lectures and participated in social reform related to shop workers, and the Working Men’s Institute.

Unfortunately his life was cut short in 1853, he died at the age of 37 after only six years in Brighton. It is rumored that his funeral procession was attended by three thousand people and is the biggest Brighton has ever known.

A book of Robertson’s Sermons was published posthumously. It is available here.

Resources Frederick W. Robertson Index

Turbine Hall, Bruce Nauman and Raw Materials

In the 1990s Tate Gallery, London began thinking about opening a new gallery to house their international contemporary art collection. The Tate gallery’s offspring, Tate Modern found its home in a disused power station at Bankside. Architecture firm Herzog & De Meuron were commissioned to re-design the grand industrial building to make it suitable for use as an art gallery. They left many original features intact including what became known as the Turbine Hall.

Since opening its doors in 2000, Tate Modern has commissioned renowned contemporary artists to make work to fill the vast space of the Turbine Hall. Famous artists that have produced work include Louise Bourgeois, Anish Kapoor, and Rachel Whiteread. The work produced is usually a monumental sculpture, which fills the void of the expansive hall. This is the common approach, except for one artist, Bruce Nauman, who used only sound.

Bruce Nauman has worked and exhibited prolifically since the 70s. His chosen mediums are diverse and include sculpture, video and print making. The work often uses text and/or images to examine the nature of life psychologically, spiritually, poetically or prosaically.

In his Turbine hall piece entitled Raw Materials, Nauman used 22 spoken texts taken from his existing video and film works to create an aural collage. The vocal tracks were played through separate speakers at different points along the along the turbine hall. At some points it was possible to hear serveral pieces blending into one another, as one was played louder than another. This changed the original meanings of each spoken text through the new juxtaposition. A humorous piece combined with a more psychologically disturbing piece to create new and interesting meaning.

Check out this digital adaptation of the installation from

El Sueño de la Razón Produce Monstruos

Following on from Saturday’s note on Janet Cardiff’s The Murder of Crows, Daniel Yáñez González-Irún explores the Goya etching that inspired the piece and its other re-interpretations.


“All those distortions, those bestial faces, those diabolic grimaces of his are impregnated with humanity”
–Charles Baudelaire on Los Caprichos, Ciofalo

Francisco Goya (1746-1828), El Sueño de la Razón Produce Monstruos (The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, 1797)
Plate 43 of series Los Caprichos

El Sueño de la Razón Produce Monstruos (The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, ca. 1797) belongs to Goya´s book of satirical images Los Caprichos. In this manuscript, the Spanish painter explores superstition, sensuality, greed, vice, violence and man´s weakness. The etching on display here, an allegory of reason and truth, shows Goya asleep at his desk with owls and other creatures hovering in the background as if emerging from the artist’s dreams; i.e. when reason sleeps, our wicked imagination produces monsters and insanity. The lynx is a symbol of secrecy, and the owl indicates wisdom but, in conjunction with the cat, can also refer to depression and sadness. Goya added to the etching the thought: “Imagination abandoned by reason generates improbable monsters; but added to it, it becomes mother to the arts and the fountain of every marvel.”
These etchings were produced during the Spanish Enlightenment (1790s), an era in which people and intellectuals began to question ecclesiastical authority, royal hierarchies, but always aiming at bringing some rationality and reason to our understanding of the world, the heavens and mankind. Soon after hearing he had been reported to the Spanish Inquisition (abolished for good in 1834), Goya withdrew the set from sale.

An “itchy” sketchy representation and brief notes of the subject matter by the author of these lines

The Dream of Reason Produces Monsters (design for the Caprices, plate 43)
Sepia pen and ink drawing

Yinka Shonibare, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters
(C-print mounted on aluminum)

Attollite portas. Deller – William Byrd

The Murder of Crows

This is a guest post from Daniel Yáñez González-Irún

Janet Cardiff’s installation The Murder of Crows (2008) consists of ninety-eight speakers, chairs, stands, and a gramophone horn. The artist explores the idea of creating sculptural and physical sounds whilst mirroring the illogical but interconnected affinities experienced in dreams. A central theme for the piece is Goya’s “Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters”. At the centre of The Crows there is one element that echoes Goya’s etching: a small desk with a megaphone speaker lying on its side. Cardiff’s voice comes out of the speaker occasionally, reciting accounts of shocking dreams. All that is combined with other recorded sounds such as machinery, Gregorian chants, military songs, and the caws and wing flaps of a murder of crows. The sounds and music in Cardiff’s installation act like the owls and bats surrounding the sleeping man in Goya’s etching: the artist’s voice, like Goya’s dreamer, cannot escape from her apocalyptic dreams.

Photo courtesy of

Youtube video courtesy of Buresmiller


Rashomon directed by the legendary Akira Kurosawa in 1950 is one of Japanese cinema’s finest exports.

Three men take shelter from a storm: a woodcutter, a priest and a commoner. The woodcutter and priest have just been to a hearing at the police station. A bandit Tajômaru was being tried for the rape of a wife and the murder of her husband. Both the priest and the woodcutter gave evidence. The priest had seen the couple earlier in the day walking through the forest. The woodcutter had found the body whilst at work.

The film is told through four different perspectives. First we hear Tajômaru’s tale. He is proud and arrogant, not afraid to take credit for the murder. He embellishes the truth to cement his reputation as a hardened criminal. The wife also testifies, her story contradicts the bandit’s. On the basis of these two accounts the crime seems irresolvable. Then the murdered husband gives the third testimony via a medium. He gives yet another contradictory account. The audience is left not knowing which is the honest account.

And yet there is more, it turns out the woodcutter had more involvement than merely uncovering the body. He was also a witness. His account threatens to be the true valid one. However as he finishes the commoner protests and cannot believe this account either. The woodcutter’s initial secrecy jeopardises the validity of his story.

Rashomon is a tale woven from several uncertain strands. Each account of the crime is unique and coloured by the owner’s personal prejudices and desire for self-preservation. The contradiction and open-endedness not only creates polyphony, it creates an unsolvable moral dilemma. One is left with the feeling of unending ethical solipsism, as one must hold personal truths and act selfishly in order to survive.


Polyphony in African Music

Across the vast continent of Africa there are many diverse uses of polyphonic song in different communities. The music may differ in the use of instruments or voice, number of musicians or singers, or in tonal or stylistic quality. However there are many similarities in the structure: vocals overlap, individual parts may be different in length and not begin and end simultaneously, each voice carrying a different text or syllables. The songs move in non-aligned cycles, once completed the part is repeated.

The above video shows the polyphonic singing of Aka Pygmies in Central Africa.

The video below shows more music and dance from Cameroon.

Stockhausen’s Spherical Concert Hall

“New halls for listening must be built to meet with demands of spatial music. My idea would be to have a spherical chamber, a platform, transparent to both light and sound, would be hung for the listeners. They could hear music coming from above, from below and from all directions.” (Karlheinz Stockhausen 1959)

In 1970 a World Fair was held in Osaka, Japan. Germany’s pavilion took the form of a spherical concert Hall. It was conceived by 20th Century composer and musical visionary Karlheinz Stockhausen. With the creation of new forms of music, Stockhausen had identified the need for a new kind of concert hall, one that could suitably convey the spatial qualities inherent in his compositions.

The ideas proposed were realised at Osaka. The spherical concert hall was constructed along the lines Stockhausen had suggested. The concert hall’s dome was lined with 50 loudspeakers in seven circles. There was a platform raised above the ground where the audience was positioned. The platform was just below the centre of the sphere, and underneath ran three of the circles of loudspeakers. Music could be heard from all around.

For the 180 days of the exhibition Stockhausen performed with a 19-piece ensemble. It was also used to play multi-track recordings of composers such as Bach and Beethoven.

The spherical concert hall is an incredible example of how music can be explored spatially. Janet Cardiff did this by re-working Spem in Alium, dividing it up to be played back in separate parts. This explored the structure of the composition. Stockhausen worked with a similar idea on much greater level. Cardiff’s The Forty Part Motet provides a method of listening back to a pre-recording in three dimensions. On the other hand, Stockhausen provided a way for the performance to occur within the same expanded spatial conditions. This created a new all-encompassing live experience of music.


Media Art Net- Karlheinz Stockhausen: Spherical Concert Hall Osaka

Ihatemusic1943- Stockhausen Spherical Concert Hall for the 1970s

Guardian, the- Obiturary

Google Books- Living Music by Simon Emerson