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Robert Scott Thompson - At the Still Point of the Turning World hyp2547

2005. At last, the Hypnos label debut of one of the great names in ambient/electronic music, Robert Scott Thompson. At the Still Point of the Turning World is spacious and meditative, yet with a delicate musicality. Robert is Director of the Center for Audio Recording Arts (CARA) in the School of Music at Georgia State University in Atlanta. He also runs the Aucourant Records label, which has released selections of his work in a wide range of styles.

Track list (with MP3 sample clips):

Reviewed by Bill Binkelman for
"Robert Scott Thompson writes some of the most provocative ambient music currently available. By provocative, I mean it literally provokes a reaction. His latest release, At The Still Point Of The Turning World, is a wondrous fog-shrouded excursion into melancholy minimalism that can be both eerily calm and forebodingly beautiful. At times reminiscent of Harold Budd or Tim Story, yet never overtly derivative of either of them. On At The Still Point..., Thompson paints sonic landscapes in muted colors, using impressionistic strokes and techniques that demonstrate his mastery of subtlety, nuance, and neo-classical textures. It's hard to believe this artist is still relatively undiscovered. On the other hand, Thompson's recordings are almost always unusually sophisticated and intelligent; he does not record "mass market" ambient music. However, At The Still, most likely, his most accessible recording for novices, although it still challenges jaded listeners (such as yours truly) with unexpected twists and turns and moments of juxtaposition that can startle and amaze.

Opening with one of his most beautiful compositions, the neo-chamber "of mirrored air" (sounding like it would fit perfectly with György Ligeti's work in 2001), the CD aims for a midpoint between your mind (appealing to your intellect and aesthetic) and your soul (tugging at your heartstrings with honest and sincere emotional resonance)."of mirrored air" features whisper-thin strings and floating textures suffused with a gentle sadness, along with what sound like gently pealing reverbed guitar. Forlorn flute lines and synths flow serenely through the sad landscape of "casual connecting principle" buoyed by subtle panning electronic effects at the periphery and reverberating tones, like Doppler-shifted car horns far away in the distance. The song seems to breathe at times, inhaling and exhaling in a slow cadence. An echoed plucked string sample (pedal steel guitar? electric bass?) bounces through the soundfield amidst the other elements, adding both musicality and a sense of mild tension.

Even more haunting is "airports for shadows and dust," one of the tracks that combines Tim Story's chamber minimalism with Harold Budd's stark musical vision, but with Thompson's indelible stamp of electronic ambience (of the three musicians, Robert Scott Thompson is the most adventurous when it comes to electronic music). Solitary piano notes strike against a deep dark series of bassy yet melodic drones and washes, counterpointed by twinkling textures here and there. Thompson reveals his penchant for experimentalism on "water out of sunlight" an eleven-minute exercise in subtle dissonance, ethereal and mournful synth chorales (a little like Larry Kucharz here), scratching noise background elements, and arrhythmic sparkles of starry pinpricks in an inky black sky. Swells of dramatic lower register keyboards later in the piece impart a sense of awe and power, although done so softly that one is not lifted out of the main mood of the piece, which I would describe as reflective with a touch of sorrow. "when dreams collide" (Thompson's titles are always poetic and lyrical) reintroduces the soft flute lines of "casual connecting principle" this time mixed with drones and shadowy textures, crafting a floating sense of broad open vistas. This track evolves into classic spacemusic, evoking images of deserted planets' surfaces stretching out below you or distant star clusters and nebula as you traverse the backwaters of the cosmos. More experimentalism rears its head on the title track, as vibrating pulses and tones reverberate with a distinct metallic characteristic seeming to encircle echoed acoustic piano notes. Soft and subtle whirring textures come and go, as if teasing the piano's beauty with quick touches of electronic impulses. One of the more overtly electronica pieces is "tinted in temporal hue" which features Thompson assembling assorted pulsing and reverberating synth tones, melding them together, then breaking them apart, as if they were colored inks in a tank and he was experimenting with watching what patterns emerge as various colors are eye-dropped one at a time into the reservoir, setting them off against beautiful chorales and then taking the music into deep cavernous drones and whistling tones before lightening the mood near the end. Thompson closes the album with another Budd-like piece, "figured in the drift of stars," in which sustained and echoed piano notes float through a field of synth washes, bell-like tones, and a myriad of shimmering effects. It's easily the least melancholy song on the album, but is still colored with a palpable somberness.

Will this finally be the CD to get Robert Scott Thompson his well-deserved recognition and sales? If ambient music fans continue to turn their back on this artist's work, and especially if they don't check out At The Still Point Of The Turning World, they are missing out on truly breathtaking music. Unlike a lot of minimalism, I fell in love with this album immediately. The depth of emotion in the compositions, the complexity inherent in the blending of classical influences with ambient minimalism and subtle electronic experimentalism, the juxtaposition of beauty with sadness, all combine to form a stunning cohesive whole that surely should land on many a "Best of" list at year's end. I'm confident it will do so with me."
--Bill Binkelman,