Robert Scott Thompson: Motets for Michelangelo

Michelangelo Antonioni, that is, of Blowup and L'aventurra, not the Michelangelo of David and the Sistine Chapel ceiling fame. Electronic composer Robert Scott Thompson brings his considerable artistry to an hour-long, eight-part electroacoustic suite that pays tribute to the Italian film auteur, renowned for films such as L'eclisse and La notte that teem with aimless characters suffering from ennui and despair. Accompanying info indicates that the recording is based on a field recording of wind in trees (most likely a reference to the park foliage which assumes such importance in the 1966 film Blowup) and is designed for “continuous playback at relatively low volume” but such notes could mislead the listener into thinking that Motets for Michelangelo is ambient music in the “wallpaper” sense. In fact, there's a considerable amount of activity in play at any given moment, whether it's a choir singing during “Three Faces” and “Maryon” (the title alluding to Maryon Park where key scenes in Blowup were filmed) or the ambient tones and field sounds of water, birds, crackle, and, yes, wind that figure so prominently. Making good on the sacred aspect of the “motet” form, the melodic material in “Ennui” is suffused by an almost hymnal melancholy. Gloom and mystery shadow the wavering tones and bell-like whistles that waft through “The Gaze of Michelangelo” while “Beyond the Clouds” (the final film Antonioni directed, with assistance from Wim Wenders, in 1995) plunges even deeper, courtesy of clangorous industrial sounds Thompson adds to the dense layers of winds and tones. Antonioni's films are so much about mood, and it's this that Thompson captures so deftly in the brooding and meandering character of the material. Much like the film's characters, ghost-like tones drift down reverberant pathways and linger for minutes at a time as if studying the landscape for clues that might help solve the mystery at hand.

July 2009