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Area C - Charmed Birds Against Sorcery

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Artist: Area C

Album: Charmed Birds Against Sorcery

Label: Students of Decay

Review date: Apr. 21, 2009


Area C - "fact, fancy, legend" (Charmed Birds Against Sorcery)


Brian Eno and John Cage, two of the 20th century’s most influential musical thinkers, have much in common, including this: their ideas are often more exciting than the music they produce. Make no mistake, their ideas were radical enough to reshape everyone’s thinking about sound, and you can’t really grasp the past half-century’s headlong dive into noise, extreme sonics (the hushed and the howling), abstract electronics and ethereal pop without first understanding, or at least being on speaking terms, with them.

Cage’s real genius was conceptual. He made listeners wholly rethink how and what they listened to, pushing personality aside in favor of pure sound, but he also makes you want to re-listen to anything but him – or create some sounds of your own. As for Eno, well, his most famous work is Music for Airports, music that is as much for listening as it is for ignoring.

These ideas are ones that expanded the modern ear, but put into too strict practice, they produce dry, somewhat boring music. Fortunately, Erik Carlson, a.k.a. Area C, has come to his own understanding of these two giants, then left them behind. He lets in the outside world’s noise – often in the form of radio-transmission snatches looped, locked and stuttered into intricate mantras – and he has found a way to make peripheral gestures and soft-tread electronic textures into pleasure-synapse firing triggers that aren’t there to highlight the space you’re in so much as provide a rich new layer of (yes, John Cage, here’s that word) meaning.

Carlson is not afraid of a few concepts, or in showing a little personality. Past releases have seen him zone in on a few instrumental textures, or soundscape a NASA exhibit on the missions to the Moon. For Charmed Birds, he’s taken a bit of both approaches to create a record that is his most broad-minded concept-wise, but also the most wide-ranging musically.

Taking in the Roman rhetorician Aelian and the the poetry of Robert Creeley, he synthesizes a lot of ideas, throwing up allusions to science, folklore, magic and philosophy along the way. Sonically, he’s just as omnivorous: extended guitar techniques become unique source material for manipulation, four-on-the-floor rhythms become meditative tools, drum machines get re-commissioned as minimalist morse-code transmitters, backwards-panned guitar and organ patterns move in and out of phase to create disjointed rhythms, modal melodic explorations unspool over taut rhythmic grids.

If it sounds like a lot to hold together, it is. Charmed Birds suffers from some sprawl, and the music can be so slippery that it occasionally slides out of notice. Such features might reflect Carlson’s background in sound art, design, architecture, meaning he has a tendency not to make compositions but structures, each element seemingly carefully calibrated and placed in space, the whole more important than the narrative. There’s lots of movement as well, the same elements constantly changing their relationship to each other, and detailed use of the stereo spectrum helps Carlson create a convincing illusion of background, foreground and middle ground. Carlson atomizes and engineers his sounds so they feel barely held together, as if gravity were about to release its hold completely, every piece balanced magically between formation and dissolution.

Carlson, as his amorphous pseudonym suggests, is interested, above all, in exploring and creating undefined spaces. Be it charting an an ethereal Providence, RI, reclaiming vacant lots or in his work as an architect, Carlson seeks those spaces that fire the imagination. And so, please, don’t say conceptual, but intellectual and poetic, and definitely not ambient, but rather psychic listening environment, head music for exploring inner as well as outer space.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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