Blake Carrington: Cathedral Scan
Dragon's Eye Recordings

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.

April 2011