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Area C - The Planetarium Project

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Artist: Area C

Album: The Planetarium Project

Label: Sedimental

Review date: Jan. 6, 2010

Proving that the planetarium isn’t limited to Pink Floyd, Erik Carlson (known on the spines of his releases as Area C) played a series of performances in Providence’s Cormack Planetarium. Using custom-made visual inspiration designed by Carlson for projection via the planetarium’s classic Zeiss projector, Area C collaborated with a series of abettors on the improvisational recordings that would become The Planetarium Project. This two-disc album culls four performances from the series and presents over two hours of music played under the (artificial) stars.

The Planetarium Project is a collaboration with Mudboy, Black Forest/Black Sea, and Eyes Like Saucers, but the disc also pairs Carlson with the very phenomena the Cormack Planetarium explores, through the use of sampled sounds from outer space. It’s the sound of the collaborators that tends to steer the music, however, with Eyes Like Saucers’ harmonium creating a distinctly different atmosphere than the strings of Black Forest/Black Sea. The domed environs of the planetarium offer a nice reverb, with the squeaks and squiggles of “The Basin of the Heavens” resonating like fluorescent rain in a dark cave.

The variety on the disc isn’t relegated only across tracks. Each cut runs close to thirty minutes, which makes for plenty of exploration. Lush ambient beauty abounds, with glitchy delay and smooth drones, but The Planetarium Project also gravitates toward more rhythmic patterns, hinting at but never fully birthing a full-fledged post-rock sound.

The results can be pretty cosmic, painting vibrant pictures in bright hues like the stunning photography of telescopes in deep space. Spooky darkness surrounds, with scattered blips flickering like the stars in the night sky, crackles emulating scientific instruments more than the phenomena they’re designed to observe. The instances when brooding melody or steady rhythm come to the fore tend to scuttle the moment, but, to be fair, the proceedings, even at their weakest, would have a decidedly different effect in a darkened planetarium.

These tracks survive out of context, for sure, but there’s a magic that was likely present in their performance, that even a darkened living room and holiday lights can’t replicate.

By Adam Strohm

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