Tallis, Spem in alium
composed his extraordinary 40-voice motet
Spem in alium.
450 years later, the English vocal ensemble
honored this landmark by
Sir James MacMillan
to compose a new 40-voice motet, Vidi aquam,
reflecting upon it.
Their recording of these two pieces (and others by composers including William Byrd,
Alfonso Ferrabosco, et alia) was released by Harmonia Mundi in August 2020.
More about the project here: TALLIS 2020
Animated graphical scores (prior to 2020)
I'd known Spem in alium for many years and had considered making an animated
graphical score of it, but I didn't have any ideas about what I could add to it until
I started experimenting with Chromadepth 3D
(a type of 3D video that would work
on YouTube), and was looking at ways to visualize multiple layers of notes.
The 3D videos I made for Spem in alium were fairly 'pedagogical' in their design,
showing diatonic pitch lines, and either
single beat markers
(at the average onset positions of the notes) ...
... or multiple beat markers (showing the exact onset positions).
A year or two later, I wondered whether it would be possible to show the motion of
the individual voices more clearly, and experimented with using a thin line for each
voice, with the positions of each choir offset vertically a bit to keep them separate ...
Related to that, I also tried using
an underlay showing the chords the notes were in ...
Later, when I was documenting a note-coloring technique I call Harmonic Coloring,
I tried it out with Spem in alium ...
... and in 2016, when I got interested in Voronoi Tessellations, I tried them out with
Spem in alium—first, using the one line for each voice approach I'd used before ...
...then combining all the voices of a given pitch into a single line ...
ORA Singers — TALLIS 2020
When the ORA Singers asked me whether I'd like to make an animated graphical
score for Spem in alium based on their new recording, I'd just been experimenting
with having the note objects start out horizontally, then tilt when they were played,
to show the connection to the following note, so that's one of the first things I
tried, first with ellipses using the colors needed for Chromadepth 3D ...
... and then using a color scheme borrowed from the TALLIS 2020 album art ...
... and, since I'd been playing with circular displays, I also tried that (sorry, no video) ...
I also tried a variation of the tilting bars using Chromadepth 3D colors ...
Another couple of techniques I was working on at about this time were
(a) a way to distinguish chord and non-chord Tones, and
(b) a way to have note objects change shape to show the melodic connections.
I was curious to see how these would work with Spem in alium, so I gave them a
try; here's the chord/non-chord display ...
... and here's the changing-shape note display ...
Prior to this, the version I thought was the most visually appealing was the one
using the Voronoi tesselation, so I tried some new variations on that; this one,
with thin voices lines and an oval 'frame,'
seemed the most balanced of those ...
The ORA Singers expressed an interest in depicting the spatial, in the round ...
... aspect of the piece, so I experimented with that.
First, with a circular version of the tilting shapes ...
... and then a circular version of the stretching lines ...
In a circular display, the notes at the bottom of the circle move in the opposite
direction from those at the top. To eliminate that possible source of confusion,
I tried presenting
each of the 5-voice choirs in its own panel ...
(After the project was officially over, I realized that the right way to present eight
rectangular panels in a circle-like way was to put them around the edge of a 3x3 grid.
This also has the advantage that the aspect ratio of the individual panels is wider) ...
In the end, the ORA Singers selected two videos: a
version of a circular display ...
... and a version of the display with the extending lines ("vocal spaghetti") ...
My personal favorite was the "changing-shape" one. I decided that the staff
lines and feathered oval border didn't add much, so I made a version without them
(n.b. this display works with Chromadepth 3D) ...
—Stephen Malinowski, August, 2020