The other Side of Sound- Janet Cardiff

ARTS-08-F1/ARTPRIZE COLOUR Ottawa-03/07/01- Janet Cardiff has won the National Gallery's $50,000 Millennium Art Prize for her installation of 40 speakers throughout the Rideau Street Convent Chapel. Photo by WAYNE CUDDINGTON, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN

Janet Cardiff belongs to Ontario Canada and has studied from prestigious institutes such as Queens University and University of Alberta. A rather rare phenomenon in arts, Cardiff does not work alone but in collaboration with her husband, George Miller. Cardiff also does not indulge in contemporary art, rather she creates sounds aimed to awe and entice her audience.

An audio walk is created by manipulating sound and sound installations. The importance of audio in how we perceive the world around us cannot be underestimated. By using scattered and altered sounds to distort the three dimensional perspective of audience, Cardiff has been creating audio walks which have a remarkable impact on the audience’s perception of reality.

The first walk Cardiff created was two decades ago in 1991. The Forest Walk from Banff-Centre, Canada, although inconsistent with technical details contained a lot of raw energy and art and laid the groundwork for Cardiff’s future works.


Cardiff’s most popular venture is Forty Part Motet in which the artist arranges 40 speakers in a series of 8 different groups and every speaker plays recordings of Thomas Tallis’ Spem in Alium. This arrangement is not at Museum of Modern Art in New York City. This acoustic experience allows the people who attend it to listen to the distorted sound reality as they walk though continuous space. An immersive effect is created through the converging sounds.  The artist’s most appreciated work is enjoyed in an oval formation and is spread over fourteen minutes containing a 3 minute spoken interlude.


An extension of Cardiff’s art, getting immensely popular is her video walks. She created her first video walk in 1999, “In Real Time” and it would take place in Carnegie Museum’s library. The auditory spectator would put on a pair on headphones attached to a small video camera. For the next eighteen minutes the participant would be asked to look at the screen and focus on the audio. This work drew its kick from the discrepancies between the actual realities of the library in contrast with what’s visible on the screen.


Janet Cardiff has created some great works in collaboration with her husband. The Dark Pool was the first in this series of works. A dimly lit room was planted with multimedia installations, ancient artefacts and objects which would be filled with sounds of lost stories, conversations as the visitors moved amongst them. Their recent collaborative works include the Paradise Institute, with a crime scene is played out in reality as well as on the big screen.


I think Cardiff is as much of an artist as anyone can be. Instead of doing the art everyone does, she created something new altogether that challenges how we see and perceive the world. Her ability to stir emotions and moods with sound manipulation is creative as well as powerful. I also really like that instead of just viewing or listening, her creations give the audience a chance to immerse in them creating an unforgettable experience.

Janet Cardiff also gives Audio a different meaning than what it has become today. Instead of being a tool singularly to media, audio has its place in arts and in the very basis of how we perceive the world. By focus on sound manipulation, Cardiff has given future artist a lot of room to experiment and impress.