Robert Scott Thompson: Upon the Edge of Night
Aucourant Records

Upon the Edge of Night, the latest collection from prolific electroacoustic composer Robert Scott Thompson, came about in interesting manner. Rather than developing as a formally conceived stand-alone work, its eight compositions were culled from studio sessions for the albums Shadow Sense, The Active Side of Infinity, and Dragging the Sea With Dreams, all of which are slated for release in 2013 on various labels. Upon the Edge of Night is no less satisfying for being so, however, as it holds together as a cohesive work due to the individual pieces' allegiance to a common style—ambient moodscaping. The listener certainly gets his/her money's worth, too, as the release presents ninety-six minutes of material, in physical form essentially equivalent to two CDs of fifty-minute duration. Acoustic and electric pianos, synthesizers, percussion, and electronics are the primary resources Thompson mines in crafting his wintry soundscapes of free-floating drift.

The opening piece sets the tone for the recording as a whole. Though the soft tinkle of a piano appears throughout, “Strange Lines and Distances” is dominated by gauzy atmospheres and the celestial murmur of angelic voices, with the latter imbuing the piece with a rather New Age-like quality. “Glass is the Enemy of the Secret” does, in fact, exude a glassy character in the sharp-edged sonorities that accompany the setting's otherwise soft glimmer. There are brooding set-pieces (“Far Side of the Sky,” “Pale Fire”) and immersive, slow-motion meditations (“A Winter's Music”). At one end are pieces of extended duration (“Strange Lines and Distances” and “A Winter's Music” both exceed the sixteen-minute mark) that contrast with pieces of intense compression (“Shadow Sense,” the minute-long vignette “Listening Before Radar”).

If there's one piece that stands apart from the rest, it's “Buckna to Slemish”—though not unappealingly. The four-minute setting is the prettiest one of the bunch and the most melodic, too, and consequently the sweetly sentimental lullaby immediately jumps out at the listener the moment its radiant content appears. With its simulated flute and harp sounds leading the way, “Variation Reveals” is almost as memorable, even if its mood is significantly more melancholy by comparison. It might be tempting to be dismissive of Thompson's work, given the amount of material he releases, but doing so would underappreciate its consistently high quality. If anything, the listener should come away from Upon the Edge of Night impressed that he's able to produce recordings of such quality with such regularity.

January 2013