What is a stitch but a tiny loop? Erik Carlson, the Providence-based multi-instrumentalist responsible for Area C, sure does love his loops. There’s the title to his latest LP, Map Of Circular Thought, which refers to the ongoing exchange between remembered past and present. And there’s the music, constructed from layers of repeated guitar and organ phrases, sometimes arranged in comfortable harmony and other times a spinning mobile of recurrent dissonances. But there’s also the way he tugs together a couple of already connected musical eras, pulling them tighter with each pass through the fabric of his music.
Carlson makes liberal use of keyboard sounds that date from the 1970s, especially ones that showed up first on Cluster records. Like Cluster, he favors simple melodies spiked with brief clanging accents and sporadic bulbous throbs. And like Terry Riley, who used a reel-to-reel tape deck system to layer straightforward phrases into Escher-in-motion aural funnel clouds, he lets the convergence of loops create an unpredictable yet strongly felt underlying pulse. And his taste in elongated (and, of course, looped) guitar tones sounds like it was molded from extended exposure to Robert Fripp’s Frippertronics. If he were in a spoofing mood, Carlson could have put a JEM Imports sticker on his record sleeve. Carlson lives in the 2000s, though, so some of his gear is most likely of recent vintage. There’s a digital brightness to the music that reminds me of Keith Fullerton Whitman’s adventures with electronically looped guitar, which was itself derived from Riley’s process music.
But even though Carlson’s debts to his elders are beyond concealment, his music feels personal. A canny sequencer, he’s deployed his tunes so that they strongly suggest a narrative. The first couple pieces have a contemporary luster, perhaps mapping the present. Then come some murkier, yet more beat-oriented tracks — the first steps into reverie are often made quite consciously. As the record progresses, the newer sounds recede, supplanted by a dense swirl of antique ones that embrace the listener like a mental crevasse where accessible and intangible memories congregate. The further in you go, the further you want to go, until suddenly you turn around and there’s no light left behind you. Despite the titular suggestion of cartography, this is music to get lost in.