Octophonics

Stockhausen? Cage?? No, the first(?) composer to employ eight separate sound sources (octophonics) did it  somewhere around 1570!

In his 40 part motet Spem in alium Thomas Tallis divides the voices into eight choirs of five singers each (soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass); his writing – the passing of material from chorus to chorus –would seem to indicate either a horseshoe or circular spatial arrangement of forces.

There are problems: keeping such a large group of discrete voices together is difficult enough but, given their spatial disposition and the lively church or church-like acoustic in which Spem in alium is frequently performed, you have a recipe for – if not disaster – significant ensemble challenges.

Here, from the rose-coloured cathedral in Strasbourg, is one solution to the difficulty, though you’ll notice several occasions when an individual’s arm waving isn’t quite in sync with everyone else (try singing, throwing your arms around and following a complex score at the same time – you’ll feel a lot more sympathetic to their plight!)

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