16-channel sound, dimensions variable. (16 outdoor speakers, custom built multi-channel pre-amp, recordings).
Miserere Mei is currently the largest multi-channel outdoor sound artwork in Aotearoa New Zealand. Located in a stand of tall Kahikatea at Brick Bay Sculpture Trail, Miserere Mei inhabits areas of silence and absence in our ecological soundscape. Sung voices form an ephemeral monument for the bygone song of the forest, and in particular the historic polyphonic chorus of the birds.
From sixteen speakers scattered discreetly among the trees, singers from the esteemed Baroque Voices choir are heard singing Gregorio Allegri’s 17th Century choral setting of Psalm 51: Miserere Mei, Deus (have mercy upon me, O God). This new arrangement treats each of the twenty psalm verses as a chorus of birds, gently soaring and dancing between the branches: echoing movement with sound. From the listeners’ perspective on the track perimeter, each singer’s melody is heard as an individual part of the larger harmonic chorus.
Psalm 51, usually sung in the lead up to Easter, is an acknowledgement of fault and wrong doing, and a pleading for forgiveness; an apt text for this occasion.
v.4 Quoniam iniquitatem meam ego cognosco: et peccatum meum contra me est semper. (For I acknowledge my faults: and my sin is ever before me.)
While retreating into nature offers a tranquil contrast to the manmade hums and drones of todays towns and cities, the hush and calm of the forest also marks an absence of life. Great efforts are being made to preserve the remaining birdlife and encourage ecological diversity. However, large gaps remain in New Zealand’s ecological soundscape. Certain species can now be discerned by their silence.
Miserere Mei will never replace or repair what is lost, but instead momentarily marks and remembers an earlier time, illuminating (through sound) an aspect of forest life that we can no longer hear. In this outdoor chapel, a lost soundscape is recalled through a new performance of historic sacred music.
My thanks to Baroque Voices, directed by Pepe Becker and Noel Meek for their talent and dedicated hard work on this project. This project was made possible with funding from the Brick Bay Sculpture Trust.