Today I jumped on the subway and about half an hour later, I was in Europe.
Or so it seemed. I visited the Cloisters – a museum in Fort Tryon Park in Washington Heights that’s built from European architecture dating between the 12th and 15th centuries. The building and its gardens – which are part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art – are also crammed with paintings, tapestries and sculptures from medieval Europe.
While I was interested in visiting the building and its grounds, Ryan and I headed there more to visit a sound installation in one of its grandest rooms. ‘The Forty Part Motet’ by Janet Cardiff features 40 speakers on stands that line the Fuentidueña Chapel.
For 14 minutes, it plays a piece by Tudor composer Thomas Tallis but each speaker plays a different voice in the choir. It means that when you stand in the center of the room, it sounds like a full choir, but when you walk close and put your ear to one speaker, you can hear one part louder than the others.
It seemed so simple and so powerful that I couldn’t believe it hadn’t been done before. I loved the idea that you could listen to the same piece of music again and again and yet have a different experience every time, depending on where you positioned yourself.
Another bonus was hearing the chatter between the different parts as microphones had stayed switched on during the recording. It meant that we could hear tenors coughing and soprano schoolboys gossiping about school in these lovely northern English accents.
The only big problem was the crowds. Ugh to tourist Saturdays.
After listening, we wandered around the seemingly never-ending rooms.
While I could appreciate the artistry of the sculptures and other art work, I didn’t really like them. Most had a religious theme so it just felt so repetitive. Instead, I preferred the building itself – but my favorite part was the gardens.
One was in a courtyard where we admired columns, flowers, bees and a water fountain – and grabbed a spot of sun. Then we made our way to a herb garden filled with plants that were used as medieval remedies or seasoning.
And it was the perfect day to be outside admiring it.