AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Robert Scott Thompson – Of Natural Magic and the Breathing of Trees (2017; Aucourant Records)

One of the difficulties in reviewing electroacoustic music is describing what you hear in terms of the familiar. There is a disconnect between music that is largely generated without the help of traditional musical instruments and the usual technique of illustrating music in terms of what actual instruments are doing. Thus the challenge of Robert Scott Thompson‘s latest release, Of Natural Magic and the Breathing of Trees. The sounds therein are hauntingly similar to what one might hear in modern classical as well as the ambient music of Steve Roach or Klaus Schulze. But it is different enough to feel alien.

Unlike Thompson’s recent works, such as Palimpsest, this release focuses on different aspects of ambisonic spatialization – pieces specifically composed for multi-channel playback with speakers at particular locations relative to the listener. Nonetheless, the album is quite enjoyable even when it is coming out of only two speakers.

The 30-minute title track leads off, featuring ringing tones, decimated samples, and even Japanese-sounding plucked instrumentation. Broken piano chords punctuate falling debris. Flutes rise and fall accompanied by non-rhythmic scraping metallic percussion. There are no drones or sound walls per se, or build-ups to a crescendo. Instead, a combination of keyboard washes, electronics, and crackling elements come and go to create a haunting soundscape.

Magiae Naturalis is a quieter piece that focuses on incidental percussion, scraping, and slowly breaking glass. Background tones create a troubled atmosphere. Sattva begins with gently percussive electronics and overlapping drones. The track is rhythmic in nature, with tuned and found-object percussion.  But it also combines ominous chording with an Eastern feel. Every Something is an Echo of Nothing features bassy rumbling and sparse metallic hammering, while Metta ends the album with haphazard bells, deep and spacious partial drones, as well as metallic birdsong.

Even though the theme of the titles appears to be the natural world, Thompson has created something that could easily be viewed as post-industrial or otherworldly. The result is one of his best electroacoustic releases.

Read our previous reviews of Robert Scott Thompson’s music: