AMN Reviews: Robert Scott Thompson – Phonotopological (2018; Acousmatique)

Electroacoustic composer and synthesist Robert Scott Thompson is back with an acousmatic recording. Phonotopological consists of 125 musical “elements” distributed across the album’s 13 tracks, without repetition. The elements are sound recordings, each processed to the point of rendering their respective sources indecipherable.

Despite this rather detailed compositional technique, the resulting soundscapes, while alien, would not be out of place amongst electronic / ambient music or musique concrète. Thompson layers several of these patterns together at any time. They vary from sounding vaguely synth-like to discretized, sequenced samples. Some resemble water or waves, others a storm of insects, and yet others electrical interference, bells, or microtonal percussive units. Indeed, it as if Thompson has invented a unique form of programmatic synthesizer with its own distinct palette.

In terms of feel, there are moments of brightness mixed in with ominous substrates. Rapid oscillations combine with features moving in geological time frames. Throughout all of this, the only constant is change – while the theme is consistent, Phonotopological‘s constituent parts are in a neverending, non-repeating search. Without being unduly jarring, the rattling, buzzing, and droning continuously offers up surprises. Highly recommended.

AMN Reviews: 4 Airports – 4 Airports (2018; Bandcamp)

4 Airports is the debut of guitarist Craig Chin and synthesist Nathan Yeager, with both contributing samples and loops. Despite the clear nod to Eno in the name of the group and this album, 4 Airports explores different points on soundscape spectrum than Music For Airports. While Eno focused on piano and voice, Chin and Yeager create weird ambiance with a combination of gentle guitar themes, sequenced patterns, whooshing electronics, and layered synth work. The result is heavier and more abstract than most ambient music, but more pleasant and soothing than the dark ambient / nightmare works that are usually the focus of these reviews. In fact, the closest comparison that comes to mind is mid-70’s Tangerine Dream and retro space music.

Despite some familiar sounds and textures, 4 Airports is not derivative. They combine well-known tropes with fresh sounds, textures, and melodies. The result is surprisingly compelling and makes for a remarkably pleasant listen. In particular, the album’s high moments often involve a sequenced theme over which Chin provides a slow guitar solo and Yeager fills the background with waves of sound, as well as the odd foreground weirdness.

Clocking in at just over 40 minutes, 4 Airports consists of five mid-length tracks. Most of these pieces are from live performances. There are a handful of more recent recordings on the group’s Bandcamp page, so this hopefully means that more albums are in the pipeline. While we published our Best of 2018 a few days ago, we will have to go back and retroactively add this release.  Great stuff.

The 2018 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll Results

Source: NPR. The top recordings are good, but beyond those is where these lists shine.

Below are the results of NPR Music’s 6th Annual Jazz Critics Poll (my 13th annual, going back to its beginnings in the Village Voice). Wayne Shorter’s Emanon was voted Album of the Year, and Cecile McLorin Salvant’s The Window Best Vocal. Shorter and Salvant have won these categories previously (thrice in Salvant’s case), and Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album marks the second victory in Rara Avis (a catch-all term for reissues, vault discoveries, and the like) for John Coltrane. David Virelles’s Igbó Alákorin (The Singer’s Grove): Vol. I & II won Best Latin Jazz and Justin Brown’s Nyeusi was Best Debut.

Delving into Brian Eno’s Ambient Work with Four New Reissues 

Source: The Stranger.

Four of Brian Eno’s influential albums were reissued on vinyl at the tail end of last year, following up an additional four that came out in 2017. Those reissues comprised Eno’s “rock” albums from the 1970s, while this more recent batch collects four of his so-called “ambient” works: 1975’s Discreet Music, 1978’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports, 1978’s Music for Films, and 1982’s Ambient 4: On Land.

Roulette Turns 40 

Source: The New York Times

But the old bohemian, culturally rich downtown Manhattan spirit still has a few embers burning through the city. And at least one of these, Roulette, is actually more powerful now than at the time of its birth in 1978.

Forty years after opening, Roulette is now nestled inside a YWCA complex at the corner of Third and Atlantic avenues in another downtown: Brooklyn’s. Instead of the 74 seats its co-founder — and current director — Jim Staley provided when he first organized concerts in his Tribeca loft, Roulette now has a theater that can accommodate 400. It’s not only the widest ranging music presenter in the city, but also the most comfortable and welcoming.