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Composer Creates Layered Experience

By Megan Vetsch
The Record, May 1, 2008

You may have seen him around campus – the crazy composer with a guitar in one hand and Wii remote in the other. Besides staging rather obscure, albeit interesting, live shows at Br. Willie’s this year with his ensemble “The Cagetones,” senior Charlie McCarron has been up to some pretty serious stuff in the past year and a half: writing, recording and mixing his latest project, “The Mystery of Grey Matters.”

Upon my initial listen, I felt a little bogged down. Three separate CDs were placed in front of me. At a full 48 minutes each, I had a lot of listening to do. However, I eventually realized that McCarron’s project was something special: an experiment in the ultimate listening experience.

The three-CD endeavor is a “poly-album,” a term McCarron coined via his personal web site. It is a layered listening experience, in which tracks on two albums can be played either separately or together according to specifications by the artist. McCarron chose to create two disks entitled “L” and “R,” which are meant to be listened to in that order, though they are each impressively mastered albums in their own respects.

Although a listener could create this multi-layered soundscape with two boomboxes and sets of speakers, McCarron already thought ahead and mastered the tracks into one easy-access disk, which is succinctly titled “L+R.”

Although my ears were initially thrown for a loop, the project soon blew my mind. Not only did McCarron fuse the sounds of two CDs together, which is no easy feat, but he also brought in a myriad of other peculiar antics to up the stakes in his project and to keep the listener engaged. I can’t exactly pinpoint how he came up with many of the sounds and effects, but I do know that they help him tell a wonderful story of self-exploration, love, anxiety and transformation.

Glancing at the liner notes, I noticed that he had a lot of help from friends and family; even enlisting the talents of the All College Choir and the CSB/SJU Orchestra to give the final tracks a lush and haunting vibe.

McCarron jumps between styles so brilliantly, it’s as though he’s orchestrating a giant mix tape of twisting emotions. In one moment, I feel as though I’m listening to the ambient and ethereal tones of Sigur Ros. In the next, McCarron’s multi-layered vocals and acoustic guitars channel indie folkers Iron & Wine or Sun Kil Moon. He jumps genres effortlessly, creating a seamless playlist with enough variety to please almost anyone.

And just when I think all is safe, I begin to hear voices. Literally. Young children strike up a conversation that is so charming and intelligent, I am taken aback by their profoundness and professionalism.

The main child is McCarron’s protagonist, Gregory “Grey” Matters. Throughout the three-disk set, I was able to listen to Grey grow up and literally evolve into a young man. With each track, I became more and more attached to his emotions, his quest for love and his turmoil over his own powers and mental health issues. Other characters, such as Grey’s mother, the family doctor and his love interest Daisy, enter the story to give depth to his struggles. Ultimately, McCarron’s saga unfolds with honesty, brevity and compassion.
Although I could wax poetic about the technical complexity and execution of this album, in one listen anyone could pick up on McCarron’s innate creativity and talent. This is one of the best concept pieces I’ve heard in a long time.

Pick up a copy at McCarron’s senior music exhibition at 8 p.m. Friday at the Stephen B. Humphrey Auditorium. The event will include a performance by The Cagetones. You can also visit his web site at www.CharlieMcCarron.com to see just why Grey should matter to you.

This is the opinion of Megan Vetsch, a CSB junior.