Robert Scott Thompson: Morning of the World
Aucourant Records

A listener coming to Robert Scott Thompson's music for the first time might be somewhat daunted by the size of his ever-growing discography, something that in itself doesn't surprise considering that his recorded output dates back to 1991. Where does one start, in other words, when there are as many as twenty-five albums from which to choose? One very viable solution presents itself in the form of his latest collection, Morning of the World, for the simple reason that the album's contents provide a conveniently representative portrait of the electroacoustic composer's various styles and preoccupations.

Among other things, the hour-long album includes ambient settings reminiscent of those infamous Harold Budd-Brian Eno collaborations as well as pieces that draw from other cultural traditions, such as gamelan and Chinese traditional music. The album's gamelan dimension surfaces within the opening “Morning of the World (Lattice Crossing),” where percussion flourishes and cross-patterns of vibes and piano lend the material a stately, martial-styled rhythmic character (the related “Morning of the World (Landscape Vista)” retains the vibes component, yet re-casts the material so that a more meditative quality is generated). The stop-start rhythmic drift of “Trace Left Behind” suggests some tangential connection to Chinese traditional music, as does the erhu-like instrument that appears as part of the arrangement.

Elsewhere, sound traces of the natural world, aquatic and otherwise, seep into the ambient-styled “Figured in the Drift of Stars (Bubble Mix)” to give its Budd-styled piano playing additional colour. The mood is often serene, but Morning of the World also includes moments that are vigorous, too. “Eidetic,” for instance, derives much of its heft from the beat pattern Thompson threads into its design. As pure a representation of Thompson's style as there could possibly be, “Morning of the World” returns to close the release with fourteen minutes of expertly modulated gamelan-ambient music.

Though Thompson's often described as a musical alchemist, Morning of the World suggests that a better term might be sound painter, given the luscious quality of the album's settings. There's a richness and vitality to Thompson's music that distances it from New Age, whatever surface similarities between them present themselves in a serenading piece such as “Descanso.” His music is also truly electroacoustic in the way myriad acoustic and synthetic sounds are woven into multi-hued wholes (no better example of which is the album's long-form title track). All such things help make Morning of the World, as already mentioned, an excellent starting point for anyone new to Thompson's world.

February 2015