Shadow Gazing (1994) — Robert Scott Thompson — Electroacoustic Music

...expressive music, and anyone who likes computer music will want to hear it...

The sounds Robert Scott Thompson creates for his computer music have a tactile feeling that is usually missing from digitally synthesized sound. (All pieces)…have something to say, something new for the ear. …the effect can be haunting, as if we are hearing ghostly echoes of something lost. This is expressive music, and anyone who likes computer music will want to hear it. Anybody who thinks they know computer music and doesn’t like it, should hear it.

~ American Record Guide

...a common thread of quality is present throughout...

Shadow Gazing takes the listener through seven distinct journeys in sound. Thompson’s work encompasses many aspects of composition from algorithmic strategies to acousmatic soundscapes. Overall, the most satisfying of the works are those which involve long, flowing sections of ebbing dynamics and densities such as the title track and RuST. Although this CD represents music composed between 1984 and 1994, a common thread of quality is present throughout.

~ Chris Meloche

...some of the most original and advanced computer music produced to date...

A 7-track, 72-minute suite of computer music composed by ambient musician extraordinaire Robert Scott Thompson. Shadow Gazing was recorded over an eight year period and involves some of the most original and advanced computer music produced to date. This release sounds warm, unlike many other computer-music releases which sound as though no human involvement was part of the project. Recommended for fans of ambient, electronica and computer music worldwide.

~ CD Spectrum 

...a composer with a masterful ear as well as a host of promising stylistic inclinations...

The explosion of musical sub-genres and categories in electronica and other current musical styles is fasci­nating as composers vie for a slice of the musical identity pie. Robert Scott Thompson’s recent work tends toward a synthesis of numerous musical currents such as ambient, pop, and world music styles. His work is listed under the Ambient Music, Computer Music, Alternative Classical, and New-Age/Electronica sec­tions of Aucourant Records’ online catalogue. Most of the music on Mr. Thompson’s Shadow Gazing was produced between 1988 and 1994 while he was in residence at the Computer Audio Research Labora­tory (CARL) and the Center for Mu­sic Experiment (CME) at the University of California San Diego. Additional work undertaken at the Danish Institute for Electroacoustic Music (DIEM) in Aarhus, Denmark, is also represented here as are the venerable toolboxes of cmusic, Csound, and Max. The early works offered on this 1994 collection pro­vide an insight into the composer’s technical and stylistic origins.

The opening piece, Metanoia, draws upon both intuitive and algorithmic sources for compositional organization. A myriad of acoustic materials, from traditional flutes and strings to a variety of percussion, is joined by directly synthesized timbres to provide the sonic elements for this colorful work. Careful temporal control of timbral evolution, coupled with a sensitive ear for balance between register, density, and choice of sound materials are some of Mr. Thompson’s principal guides at work in this piece. The slowly ebbing waves of color are interrupted from time to time by brittle splashes of rich, metallic outbursts. A foghorn-like climax of trumpeting and wailing forcefully leads the piece back to its instrumental beginnings, now immersed in a twittering of birds and vehicular rumblings.

Timeless Steps is a virtual chamber ensemble work in which synthetic piano, flute, strings, and percussion are transformed and ex­tended. Flurries of angular melodic lines are placed in relief next to con­siderably leaner solos and duos. A wreath of reverberation hovers over the entire work lending a coherent color and texture. The ‘‘stochastic formulae’’ employed to generate the musical gestures do not always cre­ate the most attractive combinations of pitch and timbre, but the com­poser’s careful control of global de­sign comes to the assistance of the less successful local events.

Two short companion pieces, In the Shade of Brilliant Trees and Snapshot, employ the same sound sources and similar techniques of computer music synthesis. Rapid flourishes of instrumental-like polyphony are gracefully shaped and focused by both dynamic and timbral means in the first piece while a plodding low string and flute framework anchors a voice and synthesized string duo in the second. Their singular preoccupations and similarity to several of the longer works on the disc lend them an etude-like air.

The title track, Shadow Gazing, returns the listener to Mr. Thompson’s ambient style of computer music composition. The continuously evolving ‘‘fusion of timbre and texture’’ of this extensive three-part work emulates in sound ‘‘the Native American concept of ‘shadow gazing’ wherein a practitioner watches the slow evolution of shadows cast in or­der to penetrate the nature of exis­tence and see into the future.’’ The opening section of long voice-like melodic fragments supported by a backdrop of cascading iterative gestures gives way to a rich texture of sustained crystalline tones and vibrant rushes of sound. Mr. Thompson is obviously in a favored clime here, his careful attention to details of timbral mixing and balance producing a shimmering, entrancing sonic environment.

RuST is a musique concrète combination of transformed acoustic materials, additive synthesis, filtered noise, ring modulation, and cross-synthesis. Garrulous interchanges of richly contrasting sound materials and granular-like textures are sewn together by a variety of drones and chants.

The second longest work on the disc, Soul Rejoinder, revisits some of the characteristics of Metanoia and Shadow Gazing in its combination of transformed acoustic instruments and voices with slowly evolving syn­thetic webs of sound. The vast soundscape of Soul Rejoinder is a powerful characteristic of Mr. Thompson’s more extended frescoes. A diverse palette of sounds co-exist without necessarily vying aggres­sively for particular attention, but rather inviting the listener to move and explore amid a grand and endless sonic space.

Although representative of early experiments and studies with computer composition, many of these works already indicate Robert Scott Thompson as a composer with a masterful ear for structural proportion as well as a host of promising stylistic inclinations and technical approaches to sonic design. Shadow Gazing is an excellent starting point to discover and place in context his current musical activities.

Reviewed by Laurie Radford
Computer Music Journal, Volume 26, Number 4, Winter 2002, pp.106-108 (Review)
Published by The MIT Press


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