Heathen Harvest Review – Arcana by Robert Scott Thompson

13th May 2015

Whenever I’m in range of KFJC, the bizarre alt-radio station broadcasting out of Foothill College, California, it’s rare that I’ll find another musical outlet that can persuade me to listen to anything else. Yet, one evening as I lay down in a city park waiting for the sun to set, Robert Scott Thompson’s Arcana took my attention away from the airwaves. Arcana seemed a bit unfitting of the situation at first. The ineffable sounds were playing as I watched a street bustling with older couples headed to a play, office workers speeding through downtown streets, and litter piling up against concrete civic facilities. This form of ambient seemed at first too consequential for the shallow scenes of a modern downtown. Yet as I looked at the ancient oak trees of the park, branches arching in twilight-orange latticework overhead, the composition began lining up as if taming the space I perceived. A soft breeze pushing the organic structure overhead contained the same vitality as the energy held within Robert Scott Thompson’s work. Thus I stared upwards as I listened, enraptured in the thoroughly immersive evening.

Thompson is a California-born composer and musician, acclaimed internationally for his ambient and electroacoustic art. Mantric structures and evolving strings form much of his thorough discography. He brings in modern classical and musique concrete with off-key, suspenseful poundings to break his quietly assembled atmosphere. This newest release, Arcana, is an immersive look into the mystical realms of sound. By pulling together dark ambient, classical, and noise, Thompson is able to cast both light and shadow with the fluid constructions that he terms “classical ambient.”

Arcana is an album of vignettes, merging together and colliding like an enchanted libation. The layers begin with “Liminal Worlds,” an echo chamber of soft mallet tones, trickling water, singing metal, and sighed female voices. The gentle, mystical pacing is interrupted occasionally by ominous noise constructions. The drone of the song grows in size, taking on chimes and synth tones among an eclectic array of found sounds. The album starts out imaginative and gorgeous, opening up into spritely and almost toy-like instrument collages. As in many of Thompson’s works, subtle detail can be picked out throughout the record, ensuring that every listen will result in new discoveries in the whirl of sound.

The record descends through mind-altering corridors, with a constant hum of synthesizers and a chorus of creaking metal, eerie sound effects, and 80s-style delay. Thompson places breathing room between influxes of creepy broken keys, record fuzz, and rattling, otherwise indecipherable noises. Despite the discord that seethes out from the material, many of the pieces feel hypnotic. Layers of ambiance that rise and fall are sometimes accompanied by soft guitar-work that created a thick, lulling haze.

My favorite track from Arcana, “Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight,” begins with chimes and what sounds like the dissection of an old music box or the revival of some ancient machine. It’s a watchtower’s gentle precision with a heavy dose of magic. An extraordinary amount of perfectly captured sounds and mechanical parts are put together in enchanting and off-kilter ways. Screeching noises find homes among pleasant field recordings and strings, all wrapped up in a sort of methodical, clinking rhythm. The track would fit Jan Svankmajer’s stop-motion Neco z Alenky beautifully.

At the time of this write-up, Arcana has been nominated as best ambient album for the 2015 One World Music award. This CD, covered in blue hues reflective of the ambient calm and jagged interjections of the music itself, is not to be passed over by any fan of ambient or electroacoustic art. Robert Scott Thompson continues to be a pathfinder in composition, full of imagination, and with an ear for balancing melody with dissonance.

Source – http://heathenharvest.org/2015/05/13/robert-scott-thompson-arcana/