Robert Scott Thompson: Pale Blue Dot
Robert Scott Thompson's music has been reviewed in textura's pages many times over the years, with Pale Blue Dot by my count the eighteenth such recording to have received coverage. Yet without re-acquainting myself with all of those previous releases, I'm willing to wager that this latest one, his debut for Anodize, must be one of the best; at the very least, it shows that the electro-acoustic composer's music has reached a remarkable level of maturity and refinement. Recorded at the Resonance Observatory in Atlanta, Georgia in 2015, the seventy-eight-minute collection offers a superb summative portrait that for anyone coming to his music for the first time provides an excellent point of entry. (For the record, it bears worth mentioning that a few pieces earlier surfaced on Thompson's Aucourant Records set Summer Idyll, a collection of out-takes of material produced for releases on Relaxed Machinery, Dark Winter, and Aucourant as well as Anodize.)
A Professor of Music Composition at Georgia State University when not producing electro-acoustic works, Thompson devoted two years to the project's production and used analog and digital synthesizers, digital signal processing, and software synthesis to bring it to its final form. Exemplifying his maturity as a sequencer of sound, the album's eight pieces, ranging from six to sixteen minutes, unfold in a way that feels natural and organic; he's also developed an acute sensitivity to sonic density over the years, and that too is reflected in the album's arrangements. In some pieces (e.g., “Slow Rotation of Stars”), multiple layers are used to give the music depth and dimensionality; in others, such as “Lunar Idyll,” Thompson strips the material to its essence, confident that only a few elements are needed to serve his compositional needs and achieve the desired effect.
Previous textura reviews have drawn parallels between him and Eno, and it's almost impossible not to do so here as well. Like his better-known counterpart, Thompson's developed the ability to create ambient settings that obviously unfold in time yet still suggest stillness, plus there are moments on Pale Blue Dot where the generative-styled character of the material also invites the comparison. In such cases, the track in question could conceivably continue on for an hour rather than sixteen minutes. The crystalline title track, for instance, unspools at the most leisurely of paces, its meditative, nomadic flow of string plucks, piano chords, and synthetic washes seeming as if it could go on forever.The release presents different facets of Thompson's music-making. Cases in point, “Skyway” calls to mind those classic Harold Budd-Eno collaborations in the way minimal piano playing drifts through an ice-covered locale where frozen trees shiver in the breeze. “Latticework,” by comparison, catches one's ear in featuring a brighter array of sounds than we're used to hearing from the composer, the piece's metronomic patterns in this case suggestive of a whirring music box. The choice of “Apogee” as the title for the album's closing piece clearly wasn't accidental: its lilting, lullaby-like opening represents some of the loveliest music I've heard from the composer and does represent a certifiably high point on Pale Blue Dot.