Cathedral Scan translates the architectural plans of Gothic cathedrals into open-ended musical scores via custom software. Treating the plans as a kind of map, in the live performance Carrington navigates through them to create diverse rhythms, drones and textures. The album is edited from a live concert in a large church space, and combines the direct signal created in software with the immense natural reverberation of the performance space.
Thanks to Kamran Sadeghi, Yann Novak, and everyone in Syracuse.
Blake Carrington est un artiste américain, actuellement basé à Brooklyn, qui travaille autant dans le domaine des arts visuels que sonores. Quelque soit son champ d’application, ses productions sont généralement influencées par les différences culturelles, les paysages et l’architecture. Cathedral Scan entre parfaitement dans ce cadre puisque l’artiste transforme des plans de cathédrales en structures sonores qui varient en fonction d’une trajectoire définie à travers les colonnes et l’enceinte du bâtiment.
Le principe est décliné en dix pièces, dont neuf font directement référence à de célèbres cathédrales dont l’artiste a transcrit les plans via ses propres logiciels et patches. L’ensemble a fait l’objet d’un concert dans une église qui fut enregistré et dont l’auteur s’est également servi ici, profitant de la réverbération naturelle de ce genre de lieu. La musique de Blake Carrington est avant tout construite sur des variations à base de drones. Si à chaque fois que l’on parle de drone on a tendance à tenter un rapprochement avec Phill Niblock, on en est ici assez éloigné.
Les compositions de Carrington sont avant tout électroniques et le type de sonorités utilisées ici ne laisse aucun doute. On se rapproche à la rigueur d’un orgue grave et nasillard, mais l’artiste joue sur un large panel de tonalité, mêlant des drones oscillants, frétillant suivant des fréquences variables (Scan01 : Not Exeter, Scan 02 : Not Amiens-Notre Dame) et accords jetés en pâture, survolant l’ensemble en apportant un certain renouvellement.
Sur cette base, l’Américain explore diverses pistes, parmi lesquelles on notera tout particulièrement Scan 05 : Not St. Denis. Ici l’artiste ne considère pas le drone comme une fin en soit, mais simplement comme une sonorité, comme une note qu’il décline, créant de nouveaux accords. Il poursuit avec Scan 06 : Not Chartres donnant l’impression de sélectionner une portion de drone qu’il met en boucle. La répétition applique un rythme régulier sur lequel une mélodie franche, aux petits airs de cornemuse vient se poser.
Plus surprenant, son jeu de cassures et silences. L’intro de Scan 03 : Not Salisbury se voit par exemple régulièrement interrompue, comme si l’on perdait le signal, avant de reprendre et de s’emporter dans une tourbillon vibratoire. Et puis logiquement, ce sont les quelques pièces sur lesquelles les drones semblent être relégués au second plan qui étonnent. Des chuintements granuleux ponctuent le bourdonnement de Scan 04 : Not Lübeck_X, d’étranges crépitements réguliers, frétillants composent l’intégralité de Scan 07 : Not Magdeburg-Tournai tandis que des machines hoquètent sur Scan 08 : Not Bourges_X.
Une musique bien souvent puissante, affirmée, parfois mécanique (Scan 09 : Not York-Standing Waves) et au principe un peu répétitif, avec malheureusement 2-3 tentatives de renouvellement qui ne fonctionnent pas aussi bien. Intéressant sur le principe, différent sur la forme, il manque toutefois un petit quelque chose à ce disque, une construction d’ensemble. Les amateurs de drones et de curiosités expérimentales devraient toutefois y trouver leur compte.
In this project by Blake Carrington the architectural plans of the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral are subtly decoded and transmuted into open orchestral scores, full of different rhythms, drones and textures. The album – recorded live in those sacred spaces – makes use of custom software, treating maps of the environment as a source of data: the sounds themselves are therefore produced in real-time and enriched by the reverberations of those places in a continuous motion of auditory events, resulting from the iteration of the patches in Max/MSP/Jitter, modulated using midi controllers and preset sounds. The results are alluring organ-like harmonics and deep beats, which give rise to a complex auditory involvement, unraveled in modular scores, varying in speed and intensity, giving rise to different frequencies and resonances. Yet the contribution of technology produces a “complexification” of the sounds provided by the author, an operation made even more fascinating by the contribution of visual elements in performances, suggesting a precise matching between the structure of the architecture and the music.
It would be hard to deny that the appeal of Blake Carrington’s Cathedral Scan is as much to do with its conceptual elegance than pure aural pleasure. It springs from an ambitious sound design conceit whereby architectural plans of Gothic cathedrals generate images scanned via a Max/MSP/Jitter software patch that extrapolates the scan, mapping vision-to-sound, and thence to tempo and timbre; it renders a particular musical simulation of each structure, each scan/plan akin to a score. Live, the material is rendered into an audio-visual performance, the album capturing edits from several such event in large churches. The artist mixes the direct software-generated signal with the cavernous resonance of the performance space (clip below). Performances of the work are, by all accounts, attended by a certain air of non-religious religiosity (see, e.g. the following link); all that quasi-ceremonial jazz – the aspect of the performer as priest, combined with the scans of cathedrals, the nature of the venue, and the music’s trance-cum-hymnal. It’s no ecstatic church replicant, but there’s a recursive quality at work that – like prayer intoning or church organ overtures – induces an altered state of rapt contemplation. Carrington’s purpose in fiddling with these history-freighted icons would seem to be something to do with exploring the articulation of the reverential, the transcendent, in times of fractured metanarratives – when the sacred is no longer universally but individually (or communally?) constructed. On a more mundane note, the tones do in fact at times seem modeled, somewhat obviously, on a church organ mimetic, while at others we find the kind of arpeggiating concatenations familiar from minimalism a la Glass, or Riley; in fact, it must be said that these are not always the kind of tones or textures one would choose (note: speaking here as a sometime musician); however, this being a meta-musical affair, there’s a certain suspension of musico-critical disbelief in light of Cathedral Scan‘s greater synaesthetic achievement.
– Igloo Magazine
Sound artist Blake Carrington uses an inspired strategy for generating the ten pieces that comprise his Cathedral Scan recording. Rather than generating the individual parts from within ten actual cathedrals throughout the globe, Carrington instead uses a custom Max/MSP/Jitter patch, laptop, and MIDI controllers to translate black-and-white floor plans of Gothic cathedrals into sonic form, an approach that helps explain why nine of them are titled using the format “Scan (#): Not (cathedral)” (as in “Scan 01: Not Exeter,” for example). The recording isn’t entirely disconnected from a physical church setting, however, as Carrington edited the album from a live concert conducted within a large church, such that the software output could interact with the natural reverberations of the performance space itself. In the live performance, the plans function as navigational routes through which the Brooklyn-based composer moves to generate the agitated rhythms and shuddering melodic patterns that emerge during the fifty-three-minute work.
A 2009 MFA graduate of Syracuse University, the Indiana-born Carrington is quickly making a name for himself, with recent residencies in Helsinki, Florida, and Montreal (where he performed Cathedral Scan at the Elektra International Digital Arts Festival) now part of his CV. As the recording in question reveals, his work is dedicated in part to exploring the intersections between visual art, architecture, geography, and sound. All production and conceptual considerations aside, what recommends Cathedral Scan on purely listening grounds is that it’s an arresting experience distinguished by multiple variations in harmonics, rhythms, and dynamics. If one didn’t know better, one might think that a church organ, albeit one of particularly grainy or electronically modified character, was being played throughout in the service of material that in moments echoes the pulsations associated with classical minimalism. Moods and character change from one part to the next, with “Scan 06: Not Chartres” stately and declamatory, for instance, and “Scan 07: Not Magdeburg-Tournai” sounding, frankly, a bit like the amplified noise an insect might produce obsessively scratching itself or digging furiously into the ground. Those organ sounds appear throughout save during the brief closing piece “Scan 10: Horspielstreifen,” the title an Adorno term that translates as “hear-strip,” which refers to “the delicate buzz during a film of recorded silence whose purpose it is to subliminally confirm the presence of a reproduction underway, thereby establishing the minimum existence of some type of presence.”
The project is, in short, an imaginative and elegant rumination on the cathedral setting as experiential conduit, although in this case the nature of the experience is obviously considerably more novel than the kind traditionally associated with the locale. Cathedral Scan also offers the listener a newfound way to visit the setting, one that alters its scale by recasting it from an in-person, visual presentation that often invokes awe in the visitor to one that casts the site in its originating form as a sound-generating, two-dimensional drawing that provides for an entirely different mode of visitation.
Blake Carrington is a multimedia artist who works influenced by cultural geography, architecture and landscape. “Cathedral Scan” is edition of a live performance that took place in a large church where he used a direct signal created in software with the reverberation of this space. The synthetic sounds are like an organ made out of drones, electrical hum, and noise. On “Cathedral Scan” the classical music approach combines with avant electronics.
As Carrington explains it, his project Cathedral Scan—which will be performed live on Thursday, March 3, in the basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in New York City—”translates the architectural plans of Gothic cathedrals into open-ended musical scores via custom software. Treating the plans as a kind of map, in the live performance Carrington navigates through them to create diverse rhythms, drones and textures.”
Groups of scanners filling the sonic spectrum may act in synch, forming a single harmonically-dense rhythm, or they may scan the plans at different speeds, resulting in complex polyrhythms. Each plan is treated as a modular score, with a distinct rhythm and timbre of its own. Also, by varying the speed and intensity of each scanning group, drone-like sounds may emerge based on the “resonant frequency” of the black and white plan.
Coming out later this month, March 2011, is an album version, on which Carrington’s work is “edited from a live concert in a large church space, and combines the direct signal created in software with the immense natural reverberation of the performance space.”
The video embedded above consists only of the “direct signal”—that is, “without spatial acoustics”—recorded during a concert in Montréal back in October 2009.
Of course, it’s difficult not to wonder what this might sound like applied to radically other architectural styles and structural types, from, say, the Seagram Building or the Forth Bridge to troglodyte homes in Cappadocia. Further, it would be interesting to see this applied not just to plans or sections—not just to architectural representations—but to three-dimensional structures in real-time. Laser scans of old ruins turned from visual information to live sound, broadcast 24 hours a day on dedicated radio stations installed amidst the fallen walls of old temples, or acoustically rediscovering every frequency at which Mayan subwoofers once roared.
– BLDG Blog
Cornelia Parker is a name that springs to mind when considering the many levels of conceptual art. In a crowded field, Parker stands out because of the extent she goes to provide her works with meaning. Her recent exhibition Doubtful Sound underlined this; each of the pieces – from earplugs to burnt hymnals (rescued from churches struck by lightning), to the major piece Perpetual Canon – contained additional dimensions that increased one’s appreciation of the work beyond the immediate, surface, response. For example, the earplugs were not merely assembled from another material, which may have been enough for some artists, but were made of dust gathered from the Whispering Gallery of St. Paul’s Cathedral, which – if nothing else – shows Parker to be an artist able to balance some of her more profound pieces with a witty lightness of touch. The added levels of meaning in art is nothing new, of course – one could trace a line back from the squashed brass instruments used in Perpetual Canon to the lapis lazuli used by medieval artists to give the Virgin Mary a dazzling (and expensive) blue robe – but recently it has found a parallel in music, with a new wave of sound artists.
Often these artists would find their work confined to galleries, but the last twenty years or so have seen conceptual sound works gaining higher profile releases. Albums are recorded in specific locations, or with certain particular instruments to provide extra meaning (a recent example being Battery Townsley); like art found in galleries, however, it is vital that these records can exist outside of the extra conceptual levels. Imagine going round a modern art gallery and finding that none of the works are labelled or have explanations; they must stand on their own and the viewer must trust his or her own aesthetic appreciation. So it is with records that are backed by extra layers of conceptual thought; they must work without the listener having to wade through the sleevenotes to discover that where, how and why each certain track was recorded.
Blake Carrington’s Cathedral Scan comes loaded with extra meaning, as one might expect for a work created for an MFA Thesis. But, crucially, it is a work that one can appreciate – enjoy, even – without recourse to the project’s genesis. The pieces are based on architectural floor plans of gothic cathedrals, scanned in and treated as scores, and the album is an edited version of a performance at Syracuse University’s Hendricks chapel. Carrington provides further information on his website. However, the crux of the matter is that no matter how much thought and preparation has been put into the work, if the result is painful to listen to then the work is a failure. Thankfully this is not (quite) the case; the pieces sound like variations on Kid 606’s “Dandy”, all juddering ambience and static undercurrents that can exist on their own – it is when they are all grouped together that problems occur.
Perhaps due to the similarity of cathedral design, there is not a great deal of variety here, with only the occasional dash away from the steady, chattering electronic bed. These include the bass bursts of “Scan 2: Not Amiens-Notre Dame”, the helicopter throb of “Scan 8: Not Bourges-X”, the brief rising progressions of “Scan 3: Not Salisbury” and “Scan 6: Not Chartres”. But by the midway point, one is beginning to yearn for a little more colour in the sounds, for a different style of floor plan to be used. Utilising the architecture of Madreburg and Bourges Cathedrals for tracks/scans 7 and 8 respectively provide a little change of mood, with a clear contrast between the designs of these majestic buildings; but then the familiar tones return for the closing pieces, causing no end of frustration.
In the end, Carrington suffers from the same response that many other artists do – it is impossible to really appreciate the work without understanding the thought behind it. Away from the concept, Cathedral Scan is a pretty unremarkable work; the lack of variety across the ten pieces results in an album that sounds good in short bursts but is wearing across the full duration. The original performance was more than twice as long as these extracts; listeners could drift in and out of the chapel if they so desired, and they had the video screens to make the link between floorplan and music explicit. Without this, the repetition of the drones and tones in Cathedral Scan turn into so much white noise.
– The Silent Ballet