Matt Stokes’s practice stems from a long-term inquiry into subcultures and phenomena that provide a sense of collectivity, shaping and influencing people’s lives and identities. His works are made by immersing himself in settings through which collaborations with informal communities arise, resulting in context-specific films, installations and events.

Photographer: Colin Davison

Cantata Profana

Photographer: Christian Lesemann

Cantata Profana is a unique six-channel video and audio installation that extended Stokes’ interest into how music subcultures shape life-styles and beliefs, questioning how common perceptions from both within and outside of associated communities may be reconsidered.   The research and methodologies placed emphasis on collaboration and experimentation in pursuit of creating a highly original choral composition for the voices of Extreme Metal vocalists.

A short film about Cantata Profana including interviews with Stokes and David Metcalfe (Director, Forma) can be viewed online at: http://vimeo.com/61612152

The work specifically explores, and challenges, traditional choral modes via the conflicting vocal techniques used in Extreme Metal music. Cantata Profana primarily focuses on one subgenre developed from Heavy Metal during the mid 1980s: Grindcore. Characterised by growled or high-pitched vocals accompanied by amplified, heavily distorted, down-tuned guitars, and rapid drum ‘blast’ beats Grindcore contests music traditions and popular tastes, deliberately exercising itself as a form of anti-music.

In collaboration with a number of Grindcore vocalists and experts (see further information for more details) Stokes choral composition arranges multiple voices, without instrumentation, to question conventional cultural parameters concerning the value of certain vocal qualities and to investigate the (predominantly unchartered) diverse emotions relayed by Extreme Metal vocalists when producing sounds.

Requiring continual discussion, fluidity, assessment and experimentation, the work developed over three stages:  

Stage One

Photographer: Christian Lesemann

Along with the composer Orlando Gough, Stokes created a long-list of vocalists, drawn up through extensive research of band websites, Extreme Metal festivals, UK ‘gigs’, niche Metal record labels and promoters. The long-list introduced Gough to the palette of sounds, textures and techniques used in Grindcore. Six vocalists were then chosen to provide depth to the composition and to offer scope for the proposed multi-channel video and audio installations.

Stage Two

Photographer: Christian Lesemann

Prior to rehearsing with the vocalists, Gough and Stokes developed ideas for the outline composition and lyrics, using Bela Bartok’s Cantata Profana as an initial point of reference. This outline was later discarded, so that vocalists could ‘workshop’ ideas at the recording studios in a less restricted manner. Over four days, participants took part in a number of sessions led by Gough (e.g. to identify the spectrum of each vocalist) and bursts of experimentation recorded by Tim Kerr (a member of a seminal 80s American Punk Hardcore band). A rough composition, which applied methods associated with traditional choral music, was then refined, reworked and rehearsed, weaving in lyrics written by one vocalist.

Stage 3

The final composition was performed in single, continuous takes recorded on six High Definition video cameras. These were framed to provide an intimate portrait of each vocalist; their expressions, emotions and body language.

Photographer: Colin Davison

Exhibited as an immersive installation, Cantata Profana not only produces an effect akin to live performance (based on the live ‘model’ used during the filming, six screens – one per vocalist – are positioned in a semicircle, while speakers relay the respective vocalist’s audio), but also reframes the cultural boundaries, values and preconceptions commonly associated with Extreme Metal. For example, in demonstrating the physicality and emotional diversity involved in Grindcore vocals, Stokes proposes a reconsideration of vocal performance that could both bridge and confront Classical music culture. Resisting easy definition, his work offers an alternative, transcendental viewing experience.

Cantata Profana was first presented in 2010 as the central work in a solo exhibition at the Kunsthalle Fridericianum (Kassel, Germany). It subsequently generated solo exhibitions at De Hallen (Haarlem, Netherlands), CAAC: Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo (Seville, Spain), and BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art (Gateshead) where it was chosen to coincide and contend with the Turner Prize 2011. Cantata Profana further resulted in Stokes being shortlisted for the prestigious Jarman Award 2012.   In 2012 Stokes presented Cantata Profana as part of the ‘Gallery as Community’ symposium held at the Whitechapel Art Gallery (London). This framed Cantata Profana within wider critical debates about working with and defining community within the context of art practice and institutional activity.   Cantata Profana was funded by Kunsthalle Fridericianum (Kassel, Germany), De Hallen (Haarlem, Netherlands) and Arts Council England, with production assistance from Forma (London).

Photographer: Christian Lesemann

Current Work

At the time of writing, discussions are taking place with Gertrude Contemporary Art (Melbourne, Australia) and Forma (London) about further exhibitions of Cantata Profana.

Stokes is currently developing new projects and commissions for solo exhibitions with Matt’s Gallery (London), Sensoria Festival and Site Gallery (Sheffield) and Kielder Art & Architecture programme (Northumberland).

Further Information

Collaborators in Cantata Profana included:

  • Orlando Gough (Composer and Music Director, UK)
  • Tim Kerr (Musician and Music Advisor, USA)
  • Anders Bakke (Vocalist in She Said Destroy, Norway)
  • Chris Butterworth (Vocalist in Kastrated, UK)
  • ‘Dente’ (Vocalist in Rompeprop, Netherlands)
  • Alex Hughes (Vocalist in Hatred Surge, USA)
  • Alex Jockel (Vocalist in Krupskaya, UK) and
  • ‘Der Kurt’ (Voclaist in Paroxysm, Germany).

Matt’s work can be viewed online at:

A short film about Cantata Profana including interviews with Stokes and David Metcalfe (Director, Forma) can be viewed online at:

Exhibition Web Links

Other Web References

Sample Web Reviews