Janet Cardiff was born in Brussels, Ontario and studied at Queen's University (BFA) and the University of Alberta (MVA). She works in collaboration with her partner George Bures Miller, born 1960, Berlin, Germany. Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller currently live and work in Berlin.Canadian artist Janet Cardiff is best known for her numerous audio works and films, often created in collaboration with her partner George Bures Miller.
Thomas Tallis, one of the most influential English composers of sixteenth century, wrote Spem in Alium nunquam habui, a choral work for eight choirs of five voices, to mark the fortieth birthday of Queen Elizabeth I in 1575. This piece of music deals with transcendence and humility, both important issues to a Catholic composer during a time when the Catholic faith was suppressed by the Sovereignty.
Using this piece of secular music as a starting point and working with four male voices (bass, baritone, alto and tenor) and child sopranos, Cardiff has replaced each voice with an audio speaker. The speakers are set at an average head height and spaced in such a way that viewers can listen to different voices and experience different combinations and harmonies as they progress through the work.
A few moments before the music begins the choir's preparations can be heard along with fragments of conversations and the choir leader's encouraging comments to the performers. All of this builds up to the sublime moment when the first solitary and plaintive voice is heard.
In her Forty Part Motet she placed 40 speakers in 8 groups, each speaker playing a recording of one voice singing Thomas Tallis' Spem in alium, enabling the audience to walk through the space and "sample" individual voices of the polyphonic vocal music. This work now part of the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.