SOUNDSCAPES: Erik Carlson’s latest CD amounts to a live recording of dueling Farfisa organs.
The warm, multi-layered drones of Area C are so lush and richly detailed, you could be forgiven for thinking they must be the work of multiple musicians. Yes, there are occasional guests and collaborators, but Area C is in essence Providence guitarist Erik Carlson, who conjures luminous music from an intricate system of loops, delays, and effects.
At P.A.’s Lounge in Somerville a week ago Monday, Carlson began his set with a simple, extended guitar line, which then began to loop and shift. Every gesture — no matter how small — added new layers of complexity, as he created a mesmerizing, enveloping drone. He was joined on stage by Eyes Like Saucers’ Jeffrey Knoch on organ and harmonium, and as the set progressed, the music grew louder and more intense, swirling keyboards mingling with extended, drifting guitar lines. Once Knoch’s harmonium — a free-standing old-time reed organ whose evocative accordion-like sound has been adopted recently by Sufjan Stevens and Aphex Twin, to name two — was deployed, the effect was overpowering. Several members of the audience showed their appreciation by lying down on P.A.’s less-than-pristine floor and closing their eyes in bliss.
Carlson is currently on tour with Eyes Like Saucers to promote the release of Area C’s new Haunt, which is just out on the Last Visible Dog label. It’s not a radical shift in style, but Haunt is grittier and more abrasive than Area C’s previous recordings. Last year’s Traffics + Discoveries was a quiet tour de force of shimmering soundscapes, the result of countless solitary hours sweating the tiniest details in a basement studio. The rawer Haunt is largely the product of live improvisation. After touring with each other last year, Carlson and Knoch decided to get together to improvise on a pair of Farfisas — an electronic organ with a distinctive, reverb-laden sound, made famous by early psych bands like Iron Butterfly and early Pink Floyd.
As Carlson recalls over the phone from Providence, “Having done a bunch of shows together, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we did a record with us just playing two Farfisas?’ We’d never done that live because I have enough gear that I bring with me as it is, so I didn’t want to tote an organ along, too. But that’s how it started. And, of course, I couldn’t resist picking up the guitar and playing a little bit, but it was very spontaneous and improvisational.”
The album captures the somnambulant pleasure of Area C’s live sets, particularly on the swirling, two-part “Circle Attractor,” which closes the disc. The six trance-like pieces were wrought from the dueling Farfisa sessions Carlson describes. Only once did he add an additional guitar after the fact — long, extended tones that ebb and flow almost imperceptibly below the surface. “Other than that, surprisingly, it’s almost all live improvisation. When I was mixing it, I was simply able to bring out some details.”