Robert Scott Thompson: Alphabet of the Trees
Au Courant Records

Alphabet of the Trees is a fine addition to what has grown over the years into a remarkable body of work by Atlanta, Georgia-based Robert Scott Thompson. In highly personalized manner, the composer has helped advance the form and style of electroacoustic music with recordings where it's often difficult to determine whether a given sound detail is acoustic or electronic in nature and whether it's been generated from a physical instrument or digitally simulated. Enhancing the appeal of Thompson's productions is that while they're thoroughly contemporary in conception they're also thoroughly accessible to any suitably receptive listener. Calling this modern-day musical alchemist a pioneer isn't unwarranted.

Certainly the opening setting, “Calling Across a Colored Sky,” is one of the album's most striking. While its softly undulating washes of placid ambient sound and delicate, reverb-tinted tinklings are in many ways quintessential Thompson, the inclusion of male, low-pitched voices lends the material an arresting character, especially when vocal elements don't regularly surface within his general sound design; ghostly ambiance also permeates the setting when it seems heavily sprinkled in dust and the voices exude a rather Gregorian chant-like quality.

Largely peaceful in tone, Thompson's productions often meander relaxedly and invite the listener to bask within their turbulence-free zones for eight to ten minutes at a time. Darker hues, however, sometimes seep into Alphabet of the Trees, such that subtle hints of electrical disturbances imbue “Days, Strangest of All” with a noticeably ominous character, and Ligeti-esque vocal textures brand the time-stilled title track as a deep space evocation. Dread-inducing too is the concluding “Nights, Darkest to Fall” in the way glassy micro-sounds flutter alongside a creeping undertow of piano figures and dissonant noises.

Yes, some pieces (e.g., “Resonant Clockwork”) reveal similarities between his material and Brian Eno's (the Eno of Apollo, say, not Here Come the Warm Jets), though Thompson's hardly the only producer whose work has been influenced by Eno in one way or another. Even so, recordings such as Alphabet of the Trees, which comes to us courtesy of Thompson's own Au Courant Records imprint, convincingly argue that he's carved out his own particular place within the electroacoustic firmament.

January 2018