Arts Desk

Area C, Mem1, Fast Forty @ Pyramid Atlantic: A Week in Review

Pyramid Atlantic Arts Center has had a busy week. With three shows curated by the Sonic Circuits crew in four days, the cozy Silver Spring gallery has given experimental music fans in the District plenty of opportunities to get their fill. Thursday's performances by Fast Forty, Area C, and Mem1 provided a pleasant bookend to the week, exemplifying how the ongoing Sonic Circuits series continues to highlight the breadth and diversity that the "experimental" umbrella encompasses.

Sunday's showcase kicked things off for the week, nipping at the heels of the free Flaming Lips show on the National Mall. Luckily, the Lips finished with just enough time for me to truck up to Silver Spring. My reward: sets by locals Corpus Callosum and Pilesar, alongside Philadelphia noise chanteuse U.S. Girls, and sample-happy Tzadik improv trio Brown Wing Overdrive. Compare that to the performance on Wednesday evening: Seminal NC folk weirdo Eugene Chadbourne delivered an intimate set of zany country tunes on an odd array of homemade instruments, including a five-string banjo and an electrified rake.

Thursday night's bill was especially exciting for me, given how endeared I've been to Providence's Erik Carlson and his Area C project over the last few years. His performance was equally as blissful and meditative as his recordings, so it was satisfying to see his music develop in real time. Encircled by a variety of effects pedals, samplers, and mystery machines, Carlson deftly navigated his guitar tones through glistening layers — a piecemeal composition of crescendo and restraint. More often than not, artists practicing a similar approach to Carlson's craft can send audiences straight to a snooze, but Area C has always proved remarkably engaging despite its gentility. His new CD, Charmed Birds vs. Sorcery, is out now on Students of Decay.

"Intense ambient" might sound like an oxymoron, but it does seem fitting for D.C.-based Keith Sinzinger's Fast Forty. Armed with a hanging rack of galvanized pipe, Sinzinger processed their reverberations through a circuit of delay pedals as he struck them with a rotating cast of mallets. A small ensemble of circuit-bent toys and triggered samples inserted an eerie playfulness to the mix: A woman's instructional countdown of "1, 2, 3" was immediately answered by a triplet of corresponding clangs.

L.A. duo MEM1 headlined the showcase — an exercise in coaxing a diverse sound palette from limited source material. The subject in this case was Laura Cetilia's cello, which was painstakingly manipulated by husband Mark Cetilia and his mix of laptop effects. Laura's minimal introduction was soon joined by a mutating chorus of electronic interpretations taken from her own instrument. From a crackling, static-laden background, to groaning mechanical pulse, Mark mixed Laura's plucks and scrapes — some more appealing than others — though the depth of their sound was certainly applause-worthy.

As Brandon Wu wrote yesterday, the Sonic Circuits crew will take part in the marathon of out-sounds that is the Avant Fairfax Festival this evening, with music starting at 6pm. And be sure to mark your calendar for the next SC-curated event at Pyramid Atlantic, scheduled for May 3rd. Check the Sonic Circuits site for more info.

*Photo courtesy of Cristina Bejarano

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