Walter Carpenter: 1982-2009
ON NOV. 23, WALTER CARPENTER, a powerful presence in both Baltimore’s avant-garde music and art communities, passed away. He was 27. The Maryland native was one of the co-founders of the now defunct Hollins Market performance space SCarey studios, one half of freeform ambient-noise project Hexspeak, the musician behind the aghost moniker, a model-builder at the Development Design Group, and a visual artist whose work has been seen at downtown gallery space Nudashank, Artscape, the Good View house, and Load of Fun, at the very least.
To most Baltimoreans, Carpenter’s most public presence wasn’t in a gallery at all. One block north of 1st Mariner Arena on Liberty Street, an otherwise bleak and barren stretch of closed storefronts, is a large mural, part of the city-sponsored Baltimore Mural Program. It’s simple and made with sly whimsy. On the wall are cartoon birds, a tottering jumble of what look like forest green pigeons, not so much looming over the street but suggesting a parallel city where birds clamor up and down the sidewalks like business-folk on their lunch breaks.
“Walter was very uncompromising in his work and very sincere about what he did,” says Jon Freedlander via e-mail, Carpenter’s partner in Hexpeak and SCarey Studios. “So if I had to pick one trait that struck me most influential about his body of work, it'd be its integrity. Everything he did was a really pure expression, and I don't think you can honestly say that about too many artists or musicians.”
According to Freedlander, Hexspeak came about in 2006. “We had a conversation about the interaction between repetition and spontaneity, or something along those lines,” Freedlander says. “After a couple more times randomly screwing around with gear around the house, we decided to embark on something of an 'official'-ish project and decided on the name Hexspeak (the runner up was 'eternal return'). The main idea was just to have an outlet where we could do basically whatever we felt like doing at the time. . . We basically just wanted to let whatever would arise without any kind of pressure or coercive intention.
“I think Walter's really been the only musician I've ever played with where we could both sit down to play, without having talked at all about what we were going to do, and have it come out in a way that we both were happy with."
Seth Adelsberger, the co-operator of Nudashank (along with CP contributor Alex Ebstein), met Carpenter at the inaugural show at Goodview, the gallery and performance space located in Carpenter's former Hampden home. “He was always genuine, curious, and willing to collaborate, always enthusiastic and interested," Adelsberger says. "He never acted jaded or elitist. He came to every opening and was always interested and supportive. Before [Nudashank] was completed, he helped me pour concrete to level uneven parts of the floor.”
Pouring concrete had been Carpenter's day job until Adelsberger helped him into a position at the Development Design Group building architectural models, tiny, painstakingly intricate renderings of building projects. “He picked it up more quickly than anyone I have met,” Adelsberger says. “I think he really preferred working with his hands and brain on the smaller scale of things. He could intuitively figure out how to put things together.
“Walter's work was pure somehow," Adelsberger continues. "He made stuff based mainly on his own interests, and because of that, the purity of that process, you couldn't help but find yourself liking it. He pushed your aesthetics that way.”
Almost to the day of his death, Carpenter had been updating his Flickr account with new work: warm, lively patters, hectic text-based art, psychedelic digital pieces that feel as if they're breathing or refracting as you stare at them. They feel, now, immensely hopeful, and eager to find footing in unknown places.
“[He was] always experimenting and finding new media to deliver his ideas,” Adelsberger says. “He could add a new depth (usually technological) to any project he was involved with. He was uniquely in tune with a specifically Baltimore vibe. I believe he was and will be part of the fabric of the city.”
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