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A levitating sound sculpture made of 300 wires – David Letellier’s Caten

Caten (2012) is the latest kinetic sound installation by David Letellier, Berlin-based sound artist, audio-visual performer and CAN regular. Site-specific to Chapelle du vieux St-Sauveur, a 12th century Gothic chapel in Caen (FR), Letellier sculpted a delicate veil of 300 thin wires, filling the historic site with a magical epiphany. Suspended from two ropes, each connected to slowly rotating arms at both ends, the ghostly structure comes alive, performing gentle, organic movements and a sacral real-time composition.

Compared to Tessel (2010) and Versus (2011), Letellier’s two previous installations, the technology behind Caten is rudimentary. “There’s no software. Just four industrial worm gear motors, that’s it,” Letellier tells CAN in an email. “Two of the motors are connected to relays that switch on and off from time to time in order to desynchronise them and produce different shapes.” The rest is left to gravity and the beauty of ‘catenary‘, a mathematical term for the curve formed by a rope – or wire – hanging freely between two ends. “In order to determine the length of the ropes and wires considering the dimensions of the church, I built a Grasshopper patch for Rhino based on the ‘catenary’ equation, that computes the shape depending on different parameters.” The subtle elegance of the result both contrasts and complements the millennial architecture, strangely mirroring its many arches.

Caten’s quadrophonic sound composition – equally site-specific – is “inspired by medieval solmisation prayers, especially the first verse of Ut Queant Laxis, also known as the Hymn to St John the Baptist.” According to Letellier (who also releases music under the moniker Kangding Ray) the hymn was used in the eleventh century to determine the names of the notes of the scale used in latin countries. “Each motor plays one of the first four notes of the scale (Ut, Re, Mi, Fa), creating a sequence of intervals that is constantly reconfigured.” More specifically: each time an arm makes a full turn, the motors (fitted with Piezo triggers) send a MIDI impulse. A MIDI converter devides the signal is into four MIDI notes to generate four harmonics of the same notes. The sound is then produced in real-time on a 1983-built Korg EX-800 analog polyphonic synthesizer and emitted through a system of 4 L-acoustic subs. “The low frequencies resonate beautifully in the space and emphazise the transcendental character of a place once dedicated to faith.”

Caten was produced with the support of Station Mir and opened on April 24th as part of Interstice Festival 2012 in Cean, France.

Read about the details behind Letellier’s Tessel, a collaboration with Lab[au], here.

Caten (project page) – David Letellier | Vimeo | See also: Kangding Ray on Raster-Noton