Robert Scott Thompson: At the Still Point of the Turning World

To a near-perfect degree, Robert Scott Thompson's At the Still Point of the Turning World achieves that sometimes-stated ambient goal of being music that can be as much listened to as ignored. Call it "mirage music" whose atmospheric sounds—sometimes brooding, sometimes serene—blend seamlessly into one's immediate environment. But though that could be construed as a criticism, it's also in a strange way a compliment. It's the kind of recording that, even after being heard, say, ten times, leaves only the barest of memory traces (even when listened to at maximum volume, it might be added).

Admittedly, that impression changes somewhat once headphones are donned as the material then asserts itself more prominently. No instrumentation details are included but pianos, silken synth tones, guitars, and voices (whether the latter are natural or simulated isn't clarified) drift throughout. Distant string tones in “Of Mirrored Air” introduce the collection, after which flute-like synth tones emerge in “Causal Connecting Principle.” Tinkling chimes and celestial voices heighten the incandescent shimmer of “Water Out of Sunlight.” Shuddering flute tones and dark synth textures heighten the aura of mystery that pervades “When Dreams Collide” and “Tinted in Temporal Hue.” “Figured in the Drift of Stars,” by contrast, brings the album to a peaceful and delicate close with minimal piano patterns and glimmering synth tones. Here and in the other eleven pieces, Thompson's slow-motion music achieves a paradoxical state of stillness and movement.

The seventy-minute At the Still Point of the Turning World serves as a comprehensive introduction to Thompson's work (the prolific composer is Director of the Center for Audio Recording Arts in the School of Music at Georgia State University in Atlanta). One looks forward to the recorded outcome of a collaboration between Thompson and Erdem Helvacioglu that's projected to appear later this year.

March 2008