Frontier (1998) — Robert Scott Thompson — Ambient Music
I will make this a short review, and repeat myself: is there no end or bottom to Robert Scott Thompson’s creativity? Here is yet another one of his startling works, and one has no option but to yield to its power, once more.
— Great Attractor
Frontier is perhaps one of the top ten ambient albums of all time. A hallmark achievement in ‘sound engineering’ to say the very least. Thompson creates panoramas in sound that often astound, and challenge the listener’s imagination.
This CD creates an aquatic realm, and the habitat immersed beneath it. An alien world where things flit by, and odd undercurrents of uncertainty echo, and abide. A lonely, liquid realm, that slowly undulates, and flows in a succession of abstract sonic patterns, that seem to merge into differing levels of haunting reverberations. A place where vestiges of light slowly penetrate into the depths. ‘Submerged’ is perhaps the most alien-sounding of all the tracks here, and one of the best ever laid down in experimental music.
Frontier is a masterwork from a genius in ambient music! Great for fans of Jonn Serrie, Meg Bowles, Michael Stearns, and Dave Luxton.
Frontier is truly a benchmark album, by a ‘pioneering force’ in the genre of electronic music. The colors, nuances, and movement between the light, and darkness; is truly amazing! I am surprised by a lack of reviews on this superlative excursion into these uncharted, and experimental soundscapes. Robert Scott Thompson is in a rarefied class of electronic composers like: Giles Reaves, Michael Sterns, and Jonn Serrie. Words like thought-provoking, and astounding come immediately to mind when listening to this album. There’s a lot innovation on this one, truly an achievement! Be prepared to journey into the strange, and mysterious realms created by one of the masters, who so aptly provide ‘soundtracks’ to these other realities.
This is by far my favorite Thompson CD, and should be in any ambient collector’s library.
The landmark follow-up CD to The Silent Shore, a recording considered by many to be a “classic” in the modern ambient genre. Frontier quickly became a favorite of critics and connoisseurs alike, and further establishes Robert Scott Thompson as a leading figure in the ambient and electronic music scene. Limited supplies of this rare and hard to find CD are on hand at present and the disc is currently available in its original packaging as published by Oasis/Mirage in 1998.
Majestic, spellbinding, exquisite !!! Way beyond 5 Stars!!
— Aris Pierides
Absolutely wonderful…it takes the listener deeper into the realms of thought and imagination. I highly recommend getting this classic recording if you haven’t already.
— The Organization of Sound
Frontier is Robert Scott Thompson’s best and most accessible CD… the CD is totally and uniquely original!
— All Music Guide
Frontier is a tour de force. There are simply no words to describe it. The soundscapes that Robert Scott Thompson paints transport the listener into alien worlds of truly unimaginable beauty, the subtle hues and nuances of sound turning and whirling in an ever evolving, ethereal sequence of ascension and expansion that causes one’s heart and mind to equally expand and rise to unscalable heights. He takes the listener on an epic, otherworldly journey into worlds so exquisitely crafted and sculpted that one truly feels suspended in a temporal stasis, marooned on an alien planetary surface or submerged deep into the fathomless depths of the ocean. Magnificent sounds bubble up, glide and cascade into a realm of imagination and fantasy, shapeshifting, resonating and reverberating with a primal and at the same time sacral effervescence so gentle and yet so powerful culminating into a quiet fortitude. This is music of a grand scale, a hybrid combining space, ambient, and atmospheric music elements but so expertly seamed together that the end result is a composition so unique, so distinctly original as to evoke feelings of awe, wonder and grandeur. This is what I call visionary music, transcendental in scope and effect. For fans of ambient/electronic music, if you don’t have this it’s a tragedy, this is gold!! I think R.S.T has written the album of the decade, probably century and millennium too. Totally fit for the 21st or even 22nd century!
— Amazon UK
Robert Scott Thompson has the ability to take one through textures of soundscape into worlds of the imagination. Although there is almost a consistent mood of the melancholy sublime, the flow is complex, and touches both the dark and the light. There is a journey through space and time that is both familiar and mysterious. Sometimes the sounds are worldly, other times they are unworldly. This work is a masterpiece of atmospheric ambient.
I’ve been meaning to review this for quite some time but other ‘things’ always got in the way. Robert Scott Thompson’s music has of late come my way and I feel like my life has been enriched by it. I don’t say this too lightly either. This is what some people would call space music, an area I have never really dabbled in for whatever reasons, maybe because I’ve not heard too much that actually impressed me enough to want to pursue it. This is one of those albums / releases which whenever I’ve listened to it over the last month has put me in a quietly reflective mood.
The first piece is aptly described as “a majestic billowing cloud constantly folding in on itself” and in the process makes this listener very light headed. Lumina is my favourite piece on the album. Reminiscent of Eno (pour moi) circa Neroli, RST manages to convey a stillness to this piece via gongs and resonance. It has a certain Zen like quality about it, while simultaneously, events occur in the background. This is a mysterious album indeed and one that through repeated listening allows the listener to go beyond the normal parameters of imagination. I’ve mentioned before that RST pays homage to pioneers like Steve Roach and in this recording some of the soundscapes are reminiscent of Roach’s sonic exploration on “Dreamtime Return,” e.g. A Magma Of Interiors, vast expanses opening up before your eyes and ears while the soundscape resonates around you. Whisper Out Of Time is another piece which has similar effects on the listener. Both speak of mysterious places of power. Resonance is a tool that RST seems to use quite a bit of here, and the end result is music of a deep meditative state.
If music has the ability to be of a visual character, this certainly has it. This would be a great soundtrack with the right visuals. Must watch Baraka yet again with this playing in the background. RST also gives the pieces colours in their descriptions. Pieces are green or blue, or cool or circular in quality. Dark is a word he uses a lot of, though I don’t see this as dark ambient in any way. It’s far too interesting for that. This music takes you deep inside your own psyche, if you like that sort of thing and I do. Robert Rich successfully explored these avenues through his sleep concerts and it would be interesting to see how RST would treat such an exercise, would he go down that track.
Frontier is a great successor to The Silent Shore which saw RST explore the more ethereal and celestial avenues. This release has a darker edge to it but is still worthwhile listening. It’s difficult to keep up with the myriad of material that is out there, but my advice to the wise and the curious is don’t let these recordings pass you by. Beautiful and serene soundcapes.
— Hans Stoeve – Power Spot – Australia
If you’re one of those grumbling types, stop bemoaning the current state of Ambience, at least long enough to listen to Robert Scott Thompson’s newest. If there were an Ambient Content Review Board, Frontier would have been released with a big label reading, “100% Pure”.
With more than 72 minutes of sonic travel to destinations unknowable, this is a disc that truly has a vast and evolving sense of place… Thompson builds his world with analog and digital synths, acoustic compilers, digital signal processing, electric guitar and electric cello. The liner notes do admit to influence by Eno, Fripp and Roach, but this is Thompson’s take on classic ambience, resynthesized through his own able touch.
I’ve developed a special affinity for this disc, as I’ve been quite overworked lately, and Frontier has been a perfect, non-intrusive accompaniment, allowing me to concentrate on work, yet feel “at home” in its dreamily meandering environment. It’s pointless to try to describe such abstract sounds, but that’s never stopped me before… Tiny warblings give way to steamy gusts in Cloud Fragments, our point of departure, which soon expands into a more spacious realm. Lumina’s region is occupied by occasional chimes, deep drones and distant whisps of unknown origin. A faraway hum grows louder and synth strings weave shimmering veils which flutter and flow across the title track, a more-than-eight-minute-long exploration. Light and dark shift across each other’s path. Perhaps the title is just evocative to me, but A Magma of Interiors does seem somehow subterranean, with random clunks and clatters to add a bit of further mystery to the already dense haze, which quietly recedes. The radiant atmosphere which leads to Submerged flares then sputters intermittently, eventually flattening out into the distance, shimmering quietly. Fragile Light shines on a fuzzy keyboard tune of some sort as it wanders back and forth; airy sonic tendrils seems to swirl up and around it. A quiet, burbling segue leads into Visage Spectral, a darker zone, a not-quite-empty void. Once inside though, soft tones blossom in welcome, only to be overshadowed by a pulsating murkiness. Whisper Out of Time phases into existence in an electric haze. Slow vibraphonic effects and distantly passing electrons ooze here. The intriguingly titled Nine Chains to the Moon features layers of droning synths decorated with little tinkles, but only for a mere 3:33. Nirhoda is a nice exercise of dark, yet light, soundwaves; it’s a favorite segment of mine. The softly reverberating ripples of the beautiful Nightfall are, despite its pre-dark namesake, perhaps the warmest and brightest point on this journey. Our ending point, Bricolage is different in that some of the instrumentation is relatively identifiable… the bamboo-like drumming and slow, hollow bodied guitar notes are easy picks. A few other not-so-evident sound sources play around in this final track, the only with any percussion per se. Frontier is highly recommended; it’s ambient music the way it was meant to be. At low attention levels, it can color your surroundings with ethereal, alien glows and shadows…or when allowed, it can suck you through unreality’s vortex into a total, immersive listening environment. I’m hoisting Both Thumbs for this otherworldly excursion. To learn more about Professor Robert Scott Thompson, check his Aucourant website.
Robert Scott Thompson’s credentials go back a long way, and with a half dozen or more releases under his belt, his latest offering is heir to a gathering maturity and focus. Frontier is good. It’s ambient music as an adventure; a colour; a memory; a subtle process in which the listener becomes submerged within the ebb and flow of the composer’s fluidity. Over 12 tracks, Thompson leads us into deep-sea (as reinforced by the cover art), alien territory where tones shimmer like fish against the liquid sound of chord washes and atmospheric sensations, and all the while, a transparent disquiet grips like an undertow.
A surreal, other-worldly picture begins to emerge by track 2, “Lumina”, in which a nervous sense of the unknowable is garnered. “Frontier” follows, embellishing our sense of foreboding with submerged rumblings, and tense chords – a sense of motion inherent within them. It’s as though we’re just under the surface of water and we can hear nearby highway traffic passing, but it’s distorted and somewhat disorienting. With “A Magma of Interiors”, we literally feel as though we’ve journeyed down, away from the world above and into a place where the carnage of the sea, and its ability to re-appropriate the fallen objects of man, surrounds us. The clanking of metal within a vast, but hollow-sounding body of water, is oddly rhythmic and comforting. Like a giant, industrial wind chime, it provides the only link to the human that we can discern.
“Submerged” draws us further downward, yet interestingly, inward also. Our senses begin to adapt to a different world, one where a subtle beauty slowly emerges. This time, fear must be reckoned with and the majesty of our surrounds acknowledged. Likewise, “Fragile Light” invites us to fully see, to find harmony within an ocean of vulnerability. Things begin to takes shape; sounds combine in a loose semblance of narrative. Our world springs to life in a chaotic, yet beautiful, sonic motion. And just when things really start to sparkle, Thompson plunges us back into uncertainty. “Visage Spectral” carries us through caverns of primordial sensations. One responds with instinct alone. Sustained tones snake through our consciousness, and again disquiet surfaces. Yet there are more realms to traverse, over a further four tracks until we reach the relative safety of the closing composition, with its reassuring rhythms, and dramatic washes of sound – as if we were literally surfacing. The spartan, almost industrial percussion leads us to wonder if a return to our own reality is any less uncertain.
— Jasper – Ambience Publishing, Australia
If you like dark ambient music (not of the dance variety) then this CD is for you. In ‘Cloud Fragments’ a sound curtain conjures up images of an imaginary landscape which provides the backdrop, low in the mix, for an ethereal drifting atmosphere. The music is superbly descriptive and you can almost feel the heat shimmering from the speakers – very atmospheric stuff.
Lumina again makes use of subtle nuances in timbre with only the slightest hint of structure. ‘Fragile Light’ is also a rather dark ominous track with some wonderful textures in the background. Haunting other worldly deep synth drones are the order of the day. ‘Visage Spectral’ conjures up journeys into the subterranean and this it does superbly. Strange hypnotic timbres give the whole thing some structure where that is needed but overall the feel is of great depth, huge caverns and a rather eerie peace.
If you are into dark space music you should love this album. This CD is very relaxing though a bit eerie in places – should be great to listen to in the dark. Steve Roach fans should try it out.
— Ben Kettlewell, Alternate Music Press
Frontier, Robert Scott Thompson’s second release on the Mirage label, is a more heavily orchestrated and varied project than his previous disc, The Silent Shore. Ranging from thickly layered celestial spacescapes to bombastic rushes of synthetic sound, Frontier can be a bit overbearing at times, but can also be quite enjoyable.
Although the liner notes claim that Thompson “ventures into darker sound territories” on this release, much of the disc is actually lighter and more conventional than the submerged, experimental sounds of The Silent Shore. Despite its title, “Lumina” is actually among the darkest pieces, and also one of the most restrained, a pleasant diversion from “Cloud Fragments” and “Frontier,” the more intense tracks which bracket it.
Some of the pieces, like “Nightfall,” almost approach melodic new age, though sometimes smooth, sometimes bubbly drones are always present in some form or another. Others, like “Visage Spectral” with its disturbing atmospheres broken up by striking pounding sounds, are much less soothing. The final track, “Bricolage,” is built around a rhythmic loop that sets it apart from the rest of the album.
By utilizing more varied methods, themes and instrumentation, Thompson has created a work that is sometimes conventional and sometimes adventurous. Very active as far as ambience goes, Frontier is a work for repeated listening.
— Eric Prindle
Another excellent release from Robert Scott Thompson, this one continues where The Silent Shore left off: mesmerizing space music with very dark undertones lurking just slightly beneath the surface. Using both analog and digital instrumentation (synthesizers, guitars, cellos and other processed sounds), Thompson has managed to create an ambient masterpiece with this release. There seems to be a light versus darkness motif on this CD (at least to this listener), with the lighter tracks soothing the listener and setting him/her up for some eerily dark passages.
The music is mysterious while also inviting, and will definitely appeal to fans of Steve Roach, Robert Rich and the Hearts of Space radio broadcasts (to which he makes fairly regular appearances).
The sound of an alien swamp is what comes to mind as I listen to ‘Cloud Fragments’, certainly not fluffy cotton wool. Images of mist and strange slithering creatures abound. Vast clanging bells is the choice of beginning for ‘Lumina’. The atmosphere created is one of darkness and loss. We then move on to very deep synth rumblings though the bells keep making a reappearance. Certainly not a happy track. ‘Frontier’ is next and things get darker still. The level of bass on the drones during this album is positively subterranean. Played loud enough it would cause a tidal wave. If you are into the sort of ambient music found on the Fathom label you will love this. Played with the lights out it would be bound to give you the creeps. ‘A magma of Interiors’ is not quite as sonically intense as its predecessor but it is still fairly dark. Strange percussion effects punctuate the bleak soundstage as if some deformed blacksmith is hammering away at an underground anvil. If you did have the light out and you haven’t put it back on by now you are a much braver person than I. Faint cries of drowned souls can just be heard amongst the rather sparse backing in ‘Submerged’ but then we move into territories of sound that are so deep my speakers could hardly cope. The cries return and take us to ‘Fragile Light’ which as its title suggests is a delicate piece but no less dark. It’s a bit like walking a tightrope whilst blindfolded, wobbling as you move forward, constantly adjusting your balance as faint breezes try to blow you off into the abyss below. A swarm of insects and sonic booms can be heard on‘Visage Spectral’ all underpinned by cavernous synth pads, a faint unintelligible voice giving some colour. We then get what could almost be described as a melody, but only just. ‘Whisper Out of Time’ is a rather sparse affair but this sparseness is used to create mystery and longing. A similar feeling permeates ‘Nine Chains to the Moon’ though the sound is fuller. ‘Nirhoda’ is an ever shifting piece, at one moment almost light and then the next back into the dark. ‘Nightfall’ is another piece with a gentle melodic quality and sums up the images created by the title superbly. Finally we get ‘Bricolage’ which has the first discernible rhythm on the album. We are in similar territory to the Ma Ja Le album, also on the Mirage label I reviewed recently. In fact that album and this are probably my favourites on the label.
— David Law – Synth Music Direct
It does not seem that long ago that I reviewed Robert’s previous release ”The Silent Shore”, it’s ambient textures making an immediate impression. ‘Cloud Fragments’ opens the proceedings with a relaxing refrain, sounds that ebb and flow. Comparisons with Steve Roach are inevitable, but this guy pulls it off in some style. ‘Lumina’ displays a darker edge, deep resonances, and discordant chords that power through the music. The impending feeling of uneaseness is kept for ‘A Magma of Interiors’, just which horror soundtrack is Robert aiming for?! ‘Submerged’ enters the fray, again a disjointed series of synth voices sounds through, before some form of order begins to take shape, and a fairly smooth ending finishes the track. As it’s title suggests ‘Fragile Light’ contains a gentle cyclic theme, as the sleeve notes say,”A soothing, gentle atmosphere.” It has to be understood that the albums tracks segues into each other, for in it’s essence Frontier is a one continuous musical collage, each separate track working off the next. Compared with Roberts ”The Silent Shore” I feel that ”Frontier” is the more focused album. The traditional ambient elements are all here in abundance, any fans of Steve Roach’s drifting/floating pure electronic style, should be well rewarded upon listening to this disc. I look forward to hearing more from Robert in the future.
Firstly, listening to Robert Scott Thompson’s music has been a pleasing experience since the first time I heard his music on Hearts of Space. I’ve come into a bit of a snag when it comes into reviewing Ambient/ Spacemusic, because it seems like the best stuff is beyond words. But my job is to relate the same to the reader, the same enthusiasm that I have for a recording. I’m sure that I do the music no justice, but if I can motivate you enough to buy the recording or at least check it out, by what I’ve written then I’ve done my job to the best of my ability. I want to go over Thompson’s 1996 release, The Silent Shore, and then 1998’s Frontier. Two splendid recordings that easily make Thompson one of the most overlooked composers working in the Ambient genre today. I’ll start this with a quote from the liner notes of Thompson’s The Silent Shore. “From an aesthetic perspective I have been able to accept every sound as potential musical material. Contexts spring spontaneously, and the materials to fill them abound – even and most profoundly in silence.” I couldn’t put it better. His use of organized sound and silence is inspirational. The Silent Shore is a contemplative, dream space masterpiece.
There are quite a few artists that have inspired me to create; Robert Scott Thompson is one such artist. His music transcends time and space, the thing that Spacemusic and some forms of Ambient music are supposed to do. Anyone who reads my reviews will find that I like to use the word contemplative. Any music that is contemplative to me is at the very pinnacle of its art, from the perspective of listening to music. Contemplative music allows you to step into yourself, music that isn’t contemplative can be experienced, enjoyed, analyzed, and all of that. But contemplative allows you to step away from yourself, and know the world. I’ll talk a little about Frontier now, another record that is absolutely wonderful. This is the first recording of Robert Scott Thompson’s that I was exposed to. It was the fall of 1998, and that recording struck me. When the package came from Mirage I was ecstatic to see it mixed in there, having forgot about it for a while. I put this recording in and played it, sitting thoughtfully and listening as if I were spending time listening to an old friend. Frontier takes up where The Silent Shore left off, yet it takes the listener deeper into the realms of thought and imagination. These two records, for me, are wonderful, thoughtful, and provocative pieces of sound-art. I highly recommend getting these classic recordings if you haven’t already.
— The Organization of Sound
I have to agree that this album transcends the normal, or what one may expect from the ambient. Sometimes, and often quite rarely, music can take one to the beyond, where something quite intangible reaches the subconscious.
This CD required only a single playing to feel part of it. The mood could be described as sombre, or ‘dark ambient’, but the music flows into scintillating patterns of dark and light. The sounds are woven intricately into different perspectives of imagination, ending magnificently in a kind of dance one would find at any destined frontier.
— Rhys Buckingham
Frontier is Robert Scott Thompson’s best and most accessible CD. It is, however, not his most important. (Nor is it his personal favorite.) The album was his second release on Mirage. The heavy-handed — even condescending — liner notes state “any ambient music connoisseur will… (hear) in (Thompson’s) music the influence of the genre’s pioneers — Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, and Steve Roach.” While those gentlemen are absolutely pioneers, the statement implies a derivative sound. This album is not, by any stretch of the imagination, derivative. Rather, the CD is totally and uniquely original. Thompson has arranged this soundscape in an almost symphonic manner. The individual pieces are integral and integrated pieces of the whole. A gentle and deep drones recurs, providing the coda that ties the pieces to the theme. The frontier of which Thompson speaks is one of many different worlds. The beautiful artwork depicts a lunar horizon with a subaquatic foreground. The music itself visits inner frontiers of emotional and spiritual possibilities. Revisiting the inaccuracy of Grant MacKay’s liner notes, Fripp and Eno created pure background ambience. Roach, assuredly a pioneer and a visionary in his own right, visits such soundworlds in completely different vehicles. Any similarity between Thompson and Roach is most likely the result of a mutual and subtle influence of their predecessors or colleagues.
— All Music Guide