Arcana (2014) — Robert Scott Thompson — Ambient Music
Massive, ethereal, mysterious, impactful and unusual soundscapes, yet oh so familiar, for those of us who have known RST for some time. Once again we are thrown into aural landscapes where the abstract clashes, most creatively, with the more, shall we say, orthodox chords most of us know, creating a never ending ballet of beauty and drama, found in few other composers I know of.
— Ulf Claesson
Robert Scott Thompson is among the most productive and versatile artists recording on the scene, no wonder he is often described as a musical alchemist working within ambient, minimal meditative, electroacoustic, contemporary and avant-garde genres. With “Arcana” Robert Scott Thompson revisits acclaimed “golden age of ambient” period, when his masterworks such as “The Silent Shore” or “Frontier” were released. Since then more than 16 years passed, but of course “Arcana” is wrapped by his distinctive signature sound design developed over his extensive recording career. For this purpose Relaxed Machinery gang seem to be an appropriate place for publishing this album. Released in the middle of April 2014, the album is packaged in eye-catching digipak with stunningly ambiguous cover and inside images taken from a painting by Victoria Bearden and design by rM companion Steve Brand. Mastering by Nev Walker. And on the top of that “Arcana” comes as a glass-mastered CD. Wow, that’s a full package, definitely a collector’s dream!!!
The opening piece, “Liminal Worlds”, unfolds with helically reverberating sounds, strongly mesmerizing, punctiliously amalgamated with wistful washes, heavenly choir-like drones and assorted gently tinkling subtleties. Hauntingly nuanced throughout, this is a grand master introduction of Robert Scott Thompson’s infinite virtuosity!!! Shorter “Imagination Is Memory” continues on highly distinctive path with gorgeously cascading texture, masterfully melting warmly soothing passages of velvety strings and gentle washes with suddenly piercing crescendos. Organic cacophony announces nearly 10-minute “Night Has A Thousand Eyes”, which swiftly blossoms into blissfully expansive panoramas, utterly gracious and balmy guarded above by flickering rumbles. Rattling rustle fragments sneak in as well and are as much tranquil. Dive deeply into this nocturnal paradise with your headphones on, because this composition reveals all the magic of Robert Scott Thompson’s soulful sound-sculpting. An Ambient Hall of Fame listening experience awaits!!! And unforgettable “Cloud Fragments” are reawaken once more… “Arcana”, the title track and the longest one, clocking to nearly 12 minutes, keeps on soothingly embracing paths taken by its predecessor. Gracefully floating and quietly undulating through spaciously symphonious sceneries. And even if fragilely swirling embellishments evolve in the last third into few sharper outbursts, the overall feel is still strongly harmonious and melodiously captivating. On “Unwoven” humming wind surrounds some sparse piano notes merged with minimal, but transcendentally cacophonous patterns. “Epoché” quickly returns to more euphonious terrains with ebbing serenities unveiling truly enchanting nostalgic reminiscences. Vague apparitional gradations emerge irregularly in the distance and add peculiarly mysterious touch to this outstanding composition. Bravo!!! “Last Hours Of Ancient Sunlight” attracts immediately with larger dose of abrasively ear-tickling percussive sounds intermingled with other ominously tense fragments and vigorously counterpointed with dramatically traversing cinematic layers. Additional credit for stunning percussion performance goes to Robert Scott Thompson’s colleague Stuart Gerber, who is Professor of Percussion at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Wow, this is a truly colorful sonic escapade, strangely disturbing throughout, but at the same time uniquely gorgeous!!! Yes, this contrasting layering might be easily applied as one of the Robert’s most trademarking earmarks, wealthily exhibited also on “Arcana”. “In Situ” returns to more sublime terrains, although strongly encircling, and again meticulously enhanced by well-hidden, but immense reverberations, quickly unfolding and appearing in massive tides. “Waning In The Glow Of Unknowns” is fronted by expressive, exotically scented string-like sounds arising from tranquil sadness reflected in the water of lush swampland. A very nice, soothingly deliberate conclusion.
Audible insignias of Robert Scott Thompson are all over this highly polished album, so immerse deeply into “Arcana” and let his highly distinguishing sound-sculpting reveal all its magic on you. Certainly one of the highlights of 2014 and an exuberantly glowing addition to the growing roster of Relaxed Machinery artists. And by the way, if you prefer digital version of “Arcana”, then you can count on extra 45-minutes long version featuring 3 exclusive bonus tracks (including nearly 30-minute ambientscape “Zero Point Field”), recorded during the making of this album. “Arcana” is an all-inclusive aural and visual delight supplied by one of the undisputed creative geniuses of the genre!!!
— Richard Gürtler
There is no “art” in “ambient” – the two don’t commingle. For Robert Scott Thompson, a third-generation California native, he’s questioning this idea. And just as “art” and “ambient” bookend identical letters, so Thompson’s music environments conclude with comparable genre descriptors. “Electronica, ambient, computer and electroacoustic” his Bandcamp header writes elaborately. I’m not a fan of pretension in diluting genres until they become nebulous entities. But with the widescreen vistas of Thompson’s music to date, including the very Steve Roach-esque “Upon The Edge Of Night”, the additional “contemporary art music” becomes less Emperor’s new clothes language. It represents the sound palette only as well as categorisations can.
“Arcana”, Thompson’s latest LP, is ambient music seen through a hazy, watery lens, as if the subject matter is always distilling itself down into something pleasant. This applies to the amount of drift in the soundscapes too. Take “Last Hours Of Ancient Sunlight”, where a lolloping back-and-forth rhythm interplays over chimes, found sounds and tipsy synthesiser melodies. Sound design is a primary focus, with the koto-ish guitar chords of satisfying closer “Waning In The Glow Of Unknowns” beckoning thought this could soundtrack Tai Chi classes. However, Thompson’s grasp and insertion of eerieness occasionally rocks the boat, like a tortured soul with a bleeding heart. You can feel a coursing emotiveness in the work, yet with a shortening schematic for the tracks in comparison to earlier LPs on his own label Aucourant, sharper honed ideas.
These condensed soundworlds, like anything given chance to come to the surface, displace discords (as on the opener “Liminal Worlds”). This is done through a reductionism of the elements in the shorter tracks. In the context of your everyday errands, it is less meditation, more incidental music mixed with active listening. In this nature, Thompson can be placed on a pedestal as an innovator in the widely diluted ambient field in 2014. Having had releases on Aucourant further back than 2002, “Arcana” marks Thompson looking to the past to fork out the future, making a case for art and ambient as parallel lines on the same path.
— Mick Buckingham
Electro-acoustic composer Robert Scott Thompson has built up an impressive discography over the years, which might make it difficult for someone coming to his music for the first time to know where to begin. As it turns out, his latest collection, Arcana, would seem to be as good a point of entry as any for a couple of reasons (even if Thompson himself cites The Silent Shore, Frontier, and At the Still Point of the Turning World as Arcana’s kin): its breadth, for one, given that its nine pieces cover many of the stylistic bases touched upon in his previous recordings; and quite simply its quality, as the material is at the same high level in terms of compositional writing and sound design as his best work.
Issued on John Koch-Northrup’s Relaxed Machinery imprint (which Koch-Northrup co-runs with Steve Brand and Geoff Small) rather than Thompson’s own Aucourant Records label, Arcana is, according to its creator, an example of “classical ambient,” a style of long standing that emphasizes languor, nuance, and subtlety over epic, beat-driven structures in its arrangements of synthesized and acoustic—prepared piano among them—elements. But while percussion might play a lesser role on the seventy-minute set, it’s not wholly absent as Stuart Gerber is credited with contributing percussion samples and performances to the album.
Regardless of the ambient character of the material, Arcana’s tracks, each one a distinct world from the others, overflow at every moment with detail and incident. The seeming pluck of a string instrument (though it may well be a keyboard) drifts across the oceanic expanses of the shimmering title track, for example, whereas cowbells tinkle o’ertop a base of synth washes and cavernous rumbles within “Night Has a Thousand Eyes.” During “Liminal Worlds,” wordless choral voices intone amidst sparse Rhodes patterns and echo-laden synthetic flourishes, while an Asian character seeps into the material during “Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight,” arguably the album’s most sonically rich soundscape.
Many a setting is peaceful, but there are some, such as “Imagination is Memory,” that suggest geological force of towering strength and magnitude, and the piano-heavy exploration “Unwoven” is similarly unafraid to wade into dissonant waters. In Thompson’s ponderous scene-paintings, icy sheets of sound stretch themselves across immense, flat surfaces. Don’t be thrown off by the ambient label associated with his music: listening to these mist-cloaked electronic landscapes proves to be a compelling and rewarding experience.
I was not as familiar with Thompson’s output, but this sprawling magic carpet of an ambient album on the Relaxed Machinery label won me over at hello. Arcana is a combination of various kinds of ambient, from the experimental, like the opener, “Liminal”, to the more traditionally ambient, like “Waning in the Glow of Unknowns”. Arcana is one of those mysterious-sounding ambient albums; the artist has thrown all kinds of interesting sounds into the mix, such as the rattling percussive sounds on “Night Has a Thousand Eyes” and “Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight”. There’s even a sort of zithery piece, “Waning in the Glow of Unknowns”, like the traditional music of a species from another planet. The album’s kind of combination of the pad mastery of a Thom Brennan with some of the nocturnal, experimental percussive sounds of Alio Die or Roach’s Mystic Chords and Sacred Spaces; in other words, a perfect combination of pure ambient and experimental sound art. The 30-minute “Zero Point Field” is a wonderful example of space drone, a gloriously overwhelming but still subtle blanket of echoey sound. It passed the meditation test — what higher praise can one offer? As immersive as can be, I would basically recommend this to any ambient fan, spanning the whole spectrum from lighter symphonic to pure dark ambient; there’s something for everyone here.
— Make Your Own Taste
As always, the sound design is awe-inspiring. Robert in no novice and it shows. This is precisely what sets his works apart from the myriads of other musicians and amateurs. And “Arcana” is no exception to that. Starting from the tasteful artwork design, made once more by Victoria Bearden. “The cover is a detail from a painting by Victoria Bearden. Inside the CD package you can see the entire painting. The image is of a female goddess – very enigmatic and deep piece of art.”
Even though, one can find many RST’s traits here, “Arcana” is special in many ways. We’re dealing here with a unique deep ambient music. Vaguely melodic in some tracks, totally otherworldly in others. Like I’ve just said: deep is the word.
As I mentioned in a previous article about RST music (here), this sort of music, call it “ambient”, call it whatever you fancy, demands an active role from the listener. You must get involved in the listening experience, otherwise, you’ll miss out on most of it. That’s why I refuse to call it “ambient” in the traditional way. This just can’t be “furniture music”. If you only leave it there, it will certainly pass you by inadvertently, but I repeat, this would be a major mistake, as you would be overlooking –I mean, overhearing- the essence and depth of it all.
We are not in front of a shallow effort. On the contrary, one must be fully attentive. It’s the listeners who must decide whether or not they feel like taking that effort of immersing into these sound worlds RST proposes.
Oh, and by the way, I’ve avoided using the term “dark ambient” on purpose. We cannot merely include RST in the same group of other myriads of ambient musicians who claim to have made a dark ambient album simply because it’s devoid of any recognizable structure or melody. Sometimes, ladies and gentlemen, that is just not enough for an album to be profound, cohesive and take you places. RST knows his trade for sure. And he knows how to handle these things.
— Synth Caresses
Robert Scott Thompson is a Californian musician who likes the progressive ambient style with a zest of electroacoustic elements. Like several of his colleagues who fertilized the American west coast of an esoteric music, he is a very prolific artist with nearly 40 CD, albums and cassettes since the first stammerings of this movement at the turning of the 90’s. And since his 1991, Deeper in the Dreamtime, Robert Scott Thompson has gathered ceaselessly an increasing legion of fans. And his last album, “Arcana”, has all that is necessary to maintain these fans in its trail with an intensely meditative music where the twilights are silently seduced by celestial harmonies. Here is a chronicle of a fascinating album filled of unsuspected feelings.
And that begins with “Liminal Worlds” and its long black breath which lifts up some very meditative somber acoustic chords. Chords which in fact sound more like subtle percussions. This breath multiplies a lineage of which the sibylline tones float in a sonic sky where the twilights are under the charms of a soft ethereal voice which makes undulate its meditative harmonies in a concert of carillons and spiritual drones. The moods are tinted of black, even if holes of radiance are drawing translucent lines where the serenity crosses the enigmatic. We go from black to white with the short “Imagination is Memory” which keeps in background the very celestial approach of “Liminal Worlds”.”Night Has a Thousand Eyes” is clearly darker. The black winds shove some acoustic carillons whose ringings of dead wood tones resound as lost harmonies. This electroacoustic approach irradiates a meditative music with rather tenebrous visions, whatever some experts of the genre say. In fact, all the skeleton of the “Arcana” ambiences are on the same diapason and are especially fed of the same breezes which lift in their winds some variable harmonies. The title-track is the most melodious of the genre with its scattered notes which tinkle over a heavy mist from which the melancholic drizzle ooze the dews of the lands which lived dramas. “Unwoven” offers very dark breezes with notes of piano scattered into an abyss with lost horizons. “Epoché” remains the most serene of the tracks of “Arcana” while “Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight” makes float its shadows with slow hypnotic oscillations. If the first attempt leaves you sceptical, the following ones reveal treasures of harmonies suspended from ambiences fed of black silk. There is a touch of madness which hides in there. Darker and more meditative, “In Situ” adopts the passive vibes of “Epoché” while that “Waning in the Glow of Unknowns” is at the rather romantic and melodious sonic image, if we can say, of “Arcana”, the title-track. “Arcana” comes with 3 bonus tracks which are available in digital size. Dark and very penetrating “Zero Point Field” invades us with around 30 minutes of ambient music where the peace of mind is painted of black. The moods resuscitate those very morphic of “Liminal Worlds” without its electroacoustic elements and plunge us literally into the very immersive universe of Steve Roach. Very short, “Our Shadow Sense” inhales the senses of its title with a short intrusion into the world of organic tones of which the strange ambiences continue on the very fascinating “Porcelain Sky” which reminds me a little, except for its delicate harmonious and ethereal envelope, Shane Morris’ reptilian dreams universe alienated by the black pensive atmospheres of Memory Geist.
To be completely honest, I had heard the name of Robert Scott Thompson in the circles of ambient music for a while. But as in each of the names proposed in this genre, my ears made faces. Thus, this is on the tip of my eardrums that I approached this “Arcana”. And without saying that I was totally seduced, I quite enjoyed this first contact. The highest quality of Robert Scott Thompson is this ease that he has to give life and to color his abstracted ambiences with the nuances of its paradoxes. This is at least what I felt when listening to “Arcana”. The black and the silence breathe of colors and tones which are at the diapason of our imagination. And it is so beautiful to see the emptiness getting furniture between our ears.
— Sylvain Lupari – Guts of Darkness
Now those of you, who listen to One World Music, will know that I am a big fan of the ambient music genre and a track from Arcana by Robert Scott Thompson will feature in the next edition, but for now my focus dear constant reader and listener is his album Arcana, which starts with a haunting composition called Liminal Worlds.
A wonderful track to open with, it creates a mystical ambient backdrop, a desolate landscape that even the great Brian Eno would be proud of, Liminal Worlds is everything you would want from the start of an ambient based album.
With a rushing start we move with rapidity into the piece called Imagination is Memory, now that is an interesting concept in itself, but Robert Scott Thompson creates here the perfect musical vehicle for you to traverse this parallel universe. This track really pulls you in deeply and the depth with which this it has been constructed certainly shows its intent and leads us gently on towards track three called Night Has a Thousand Eyes.
Not to be mistaken for the pop song from the 60’s, this is one amazing composition, with a static like sound at the start, Thompson creates another dark area of the musical mind with this piece. Synths almost carry us around each dark corner and through the musicians great skill he carefully takes us on a tour of the twilight hours, the music is both ethereal and very evocative.
We move to the album title track called Arcana and our first venture into the long form style. Here is a piece dear constant reader and listener that will seemingly take you on a musical journey, without you ever having to leave your seat. A gentle start with soft synths lulls us along this corridor of the inner worlds, but the construction of this track is quite clever, it’s like walking through a haunted house and expecting something to jump out at you at any point. Thompson carefully manoeuvres us around this dimension with a deftness of musical genius with the title track and the atmosphere that he has created within this piece is a mist filled oasis of ambient brilliance.
Now time to change course slightly with the piece Unwoven. This track starts with a wonderfully free untangling of sight and sound, it is as if one is being literally pulled apart atom by atom and then being placed into a world of mist and shadows. The structure of this composition is excellent; the artist in the first few moments creates the setting, takes you there and leaves you to sample his offering. Unwoven is dark, but it has a real element of nothingness about it that is quite liberating in a strange kind of way.
Epoche has arrived and with it dear constant reader and listener we have a track that is outstanding, it reminds me of the great Isao Tomita and a composition called The Engulfed Cathedral. However this is mellower in its overall structure, but has such a level of calmness about it and I could play it for an eternity. Epoche shows a different aspect of the artist skill and professionalism with its smooth and peaceful positivity.
Sometimes there is just something special about a title and with the track Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight I think we have found it. The narrative within this track is purposeful, even while the composition is almost nervous in its initial opening, but that deliberate altered state from Thompson adding chimes and sounds along the way, just creates something totally different for you to immerse yourselves in dear constant listener.
One feels again like a journey is being taken here, perhaps to the very halls of a mid-world, where time just doesn’t seem to work anymore in the same way as it does through the doorway to this dimension, the gentle but steady construction of the track is like time winding it’s self-down for one last moment and then? This is quite a brilliant creation from the musician, one that I am certainly going to feature on another show.
As we move well into the second half of the album, we are treated to the piece In Situ. This once more is a mood filled track that drops us into the darker realms again, but instead of the synths creating an even deeper and darker twilight zone of musical mystery, the composition floats and hovers like an expectant storm cloud drifting towards its intended target.
So far I must say that I have completely enjoyed Arcana, long did I look for a musician to create something of deep meaning, an album that has feeling emotion and space to allow the imagination to work freely, like Eno created with Music for Airports, with Arcana Robert Scott Thompson must be proud of his creative process, as he must be with the piece entitled Waning in the Glow of the Unknown.
A short track that has an element of classical ambience about it, the piece chimes its way with a carefully played up-tempo style and one can indeed feel once more, the last old smile of a way and a place and time where the world has simply moved on. Through the music, which at times seems to have haunting memories of the past laced within it, we can almost watch the last remnants of life disappear before our very eyes, much like the Cheshire cat in Alice’s adventures in Wonderland.
Well for those of you who adore long form compositions, you’re going to be in hog heaven with Zero Point Field, a track that lasts for just a few seconds under a half hour long, so settle back and drift away. Signals from the field are heard and a sense of something being tracked is felt, at times this track reminds me of the music of Philip Wilkerson, another master of the long form ambient genre.
The music now creates a vast empty wasteland of nothingness, but below the surface dark shapes can be seen moving on an almost desolate landscape bathed by this constant scanning musical drone. There is also a great vacuum created here deliberately by the artist, allowing you the constant listener to disappear into this wasteland of zero time at your pleasure, perhaps a place of sanctuary to escape to in music, a meditation to the void perhaps?
The track Our Shadow Sense is the shortest piece on the album and gives us a couple of minutes or so to reflect upon the darker side of our own psyche! The composition however is just what is needed for our shadow sides, a lovingly constructed composition; easily the most chilled track off the release and a calm approach to his craft and synths is seen here by the artist.
So sadly we move to the last track off the album, the last track and its back to long form we go, a composition at over twelve minutes starts with a dash of drama, with an almost crime movie cinematic moment of sudden crescendo. However Porcelain Sky has more to it than you might expect from the start, as it settles into a delightful slice of ambient majesty, using various synth sounds and pads, the whiteness of the vista above our heads is depicted so well, that one could easily choose a location and gaze with wonderment at the range of pure white hovering above us. Robert Scott Thompson is without doubt one of the best ambient music artists alive today.
Arcana is easily one of the best ambient music albums I have heard since the turn of the century, his careful crafting of his music, his skilful arrangements and thoughtful compositions are exactly the fresh injection in the musical arm this genre needed. Brian Eno fans (Include me there) I don’t just suggest you look into this man’s work, which in my opinion is the best since Eno created his Ambient 4 On Land album, I URGE you to make sure that you get a copy of Arcana to place proudly alongside of it, I guarantee you will never regret it.
— Steve Sheppard, One World Music
Robert Scott es un músico al que le gusta profundizar en el ambient y en la experimentación, este trabajo no puede ser de otra forma y el compositor vuelve a crear un disco de música profunda, música ambiental en la que nos vuelve a sumergir con sus texturas, con sus sonidos de piano en esos ambientes que nos ayudan a olvidarnos de lo que nos está rodeando.
Doce cortes son los que forman este trabajo donde la música ambient, los drones nos sumergen en la profundidad a la que el artista nos suele llevar con sus composiciones y es que estamos ante uno de los grandes compositores de música ambient clásica.
Robert Scott es un compositor que no nos defrauda con su música, sus composiciones ambientales hacen pleno honor a la palabra, nos sumergen, nos atrapan, pero por momentos, también tienen esa capacidad de pasar inadvertidas, y eso es lo que se le pide a este tipo de música y este “Arcana” es un trabajo que no nos va a defraudar.
— Roberto Vales – A Ultima Fronteira Radio
Robert Scott is a musician who likes to delve into ambient and experimentation, this work could not be otherwise and the composer once again creates an album of deep music, ambient music in which he immerses us again with his textures , with its piano sounds in those environments that help us forget what is around us. Twelve cuts are what make up this work where the ambient music, the drones immerse us in the depth to which the artist usually takes us with his compositions and we are facing one of the great composers of classical ambient music. RST is a composer who does not disappoint us with his music, his ambient compositions fully honor the word, immerse us, catch us, but at times, they also have that ability to go unnoticed, and that is what is asked of him. this type of music and this “Arcana” is a work that will not disappoint us.
Massive, ethereal, mysterious, impactful and unusual soundscapes, yet oh, so familiar, for those of us who have known RST for some time. Once again we are thrown into aural landscapes where the abstract clash, most creatively, with the more, shall we say, orthodox chords most of us know, creating a never-ending ballet of beauty and drama, found in few other composers I know of. As a long time admirer of RST:s work I never cease to be amazed at how varied these abstract soundscapes can be. As an example, a lot of so-called “ambient music” seem stuck in a dry spell these days (one exception being Max Corbacho), but the kind of music RST revels in still seem very vital and lush. Largely, to me at least, due to Mr RST himself.
Get this record. Now.
— Ulf Claesson
Robert Scott Thompson releases here an album that is both full of enigmatic ambient space and elegantly understated melodic forms. The drone textures are intricate and multi-layered, employed in masterfully intangible motion, elements of familiarity and peculiarity within constantly rising into focus and dispersing once more. The melodies at their best are truly sublime: sometimes simple patterns that hang within the ambience, sometimes auditory lattice-works that balance the drone forms, then unexpectedly developing into climactic flushes of emotion that really touch something important inside. The tracks ebb and flow between uncomplicated hovering atmospheres and uncluttered tuneful motifs with a pleasant balance that keeps the attention hooked from start to finish.
Arcana is one of those precious few albums that truly deserves to be referred to as deeply immersive. The complex layers of involvement of this album will both send you into wistful abstraction and draw the mind into attentive examination of constantly evolving detail. Promotional material explains that “the Hartmann Neuron is strongly featured on this recording, as is the prepared piano, acoustic percussion of various types and also extended percussion techniques.” Guest percussionist Stuart Gerber is credited with percussion samples and performances, most evident on Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight where his studio performance is further enhanced by Robert’s own treatments and modifications. Presented with a professionalism and musical sensibility rarely experienced, Arcana unfurls climactic moments of aching beauty with delightful subtlety. That said, this is not an overly emotional creation: often minimal in structure and form, Arcana at times reveals barely-lit voids that suggest nuances as much as describe them.
TRACK BY TRACK
The album opener Liminal Worlds is a lazy, gravity-free piece of meandering charm that spirals in the shadows of beguiling possibilities. Near-percussive, ascending phrases repeatedly climb up from a lush, textural bed lured by ethereal voices that move back and forth between the electro/organic divide. The listener is invited in, to cross the sensory threshold…
IMAGINATION IS MEMORY
A searing swirl of layered tone sweeps us into Imagination is Memory. The sombre low-light obscurity that opened Arcana gathers here whilst similar ponderous phrases shift slightly in their upward motion – a little more buoyant, warm and restful. The notes seem comprised of multiple voices: effected piano, struck strings, oriental metallic bowls – it’s hard to tell where the ears are working and where the imagination takes over. At just over three minutes, this piece quickly passes…
NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES
The air of mystery that wafted through the first two tracks thickens at the introduction of this track as shaken particles fall across discordant piano and cow-bell tinkles. As the great ambient drone bed of this composition wells up a huge sense of depth falls open, yet instead of tumbling in, sonic light beams seem to keep the listener afloat. These gentle, inviting synth strains of heavenly elegance are cast into the air creating a delightful interplay of melancholy beauty and uplifting luminance that seems apt to last forever.
The title track – the longest track at eleven minutes forty eight seconds – retains the radiant beauty of its predecessor. The darkness that surrounds everything is by now a familiar friend perfectly suited to perception of the nuances of gossamer tone that float and drift in shifting flux. Now the strongly-effected melodic patterns seem deep within the mix; piano-like/guitar-like embellished with chimes, peculiar disturbances and snaking air movements. An echoing rhythm sets in as the track progresses propelling the piece onward with an easy, nodding motion that finally fades once more into the expanse.
Whirling winds drop the listening temperature as a weave of harsh metal fibres and atonal threads push through dangling chimes into a night-time emptiness that carries a sense of disquiet and anticipation. Still the sonorous note patterns of previous tracks remain – muted strikings, woody at times, then more like large, thick metal bowls – barely melodic, wandering.
The title is an ancient Greek term describing the theoretical moment where judgment regarding the existence of the external world is suspended. It suggests the act of refraining from any conclusion for or against anything including that of judging whether anything exists or can exist. Robert Scott Thompson chooses this concept as a doorway to a build up of warmth and tranquillity: airy synth breaths and weightless strains floating freely in graceful simplicity.
LAST HOURS OF ANCIENT SUNLIGHT
This is perhaps the most overtly beautiful track on the whole album. Opening with light finger-cymbal, gamelan bell, splashing bowl tones the mood is quite exotic and mystical – swaying rhythmically. But then at about the one-minute fifteen-second mark there is a delightfully climactic release followed immediately by a welling harmonious build toward further such moments. Lustrous, aglow amid the enveloping darkness, this meditative nocturne hypnotically teases the senses conjuring colours and faint fluorescence into meandering spirals that finally fall away into obscurity.
Less percussive than its predecessor, In Situ is a vapourous wafting of fine layers that ponderously heave in slow-motion undulations of pitch and intensity. Very much retaining the uneasy mix of introspective serenity and enshrouding gloom, this track seems to loop and cycle in endless reverie.
WANING IN THE GLOW OF UNKNOWNS
The set finale looks back to the melodic approach taken in Arcana and The Last Hours of Sunlight: uplifting, dulcet phrases dreamily wandering through a heady ambient fog. Again the sonic sources are hard to identify, calling to mind struck or plucked notes with Eastern timbre often prominent. The eventual final fade to silence is one of pleasing consonance – aptly titled.
Arcana is delivered in an elegant, tactile two-panel digipack. The front and back covers show details of a painting by Victoria Bearden that is revealed in full within. Brush marks, paint scrapes and sharp expressive movements curve and roll across the surface in almost metallic shades of grey and blue. A classical white border frames the front panel wherein sits the title; on the rear the white ground becomes a central panel holding track titles each with running time alongside. Here too are credits and label logos. When opened out, the inner cover reveals a powerful painting of a female figure that spans the whole spread: brightly lit, yet surrounded by darkness into which the face turns, this enigmatic character physically embodies the album’s themes.
California’s Robert Scott Thompson delivers his latest release through the Relaxed Machinery label. Taking around two years to complete, the music explores the composer’s interests in quantum physics and recent discoveries that are shaping our views regarding the nature of reality: infinite parallel universes, the power of thought, dreams and memory. Infusing his ambient arrangements with a wealth of electro-acoustic instrumentation; software synthesis/signal processing and hardware synthesizers form the backbone of Arcana. Robert explains, “I collect sounds and use them in a variety of ways, from placing them in samplers for compositional use to using analysis based techniques for modification and extrapolation.” The nine tracks of the CD release are complimented by “several exclusive bonus tracks” found only on the digital release including the immersive 24-minute ambient track “Zero Point Field”. These bonus tracks were recorded during the making of the album. You can explore the music for yourself at Robert’s Bandcamp page or via the Relaxed Machinery website both of which provide images, audio and additional information.
— J. Jury