Robert Scott Thompson: Play is the Supreme Bricoleur of Frail Transient Constructions
Anyone intending to seriously grapple with Robert Scott Thompson's latest collection of electro-acoustic works (acousmatic music, if you prefer) should first give his/her attention to the word bricoleur. A term used in multiple disciplines, a bricoleur is a jack-of-all trades, someone who uses a variety of tools, even sometimes unorthodox ones, to devise solutions to creative problems of one kind or another. Given his unusual instrument constructions, Harry Partch might be seen as a bricoleur, while the television character MacGyver also could be seen as one, given his propensity for devising solutions to problems using the found objects at hand.
That Thompson sees himself as a bricoleur, too, is borne out by the playful and explorative approach he brings to the recording's five settings. And, sure enough, the liner notes reveal that they are, in fact, exercises in bricolage in how they bring together disparate elements so as to conjure an aural fantasia that's pitched somewhere betwixt the magical and the scientific—Thompson is thus as much alchemist as bricoleur, to not put too fine a point on it. Interestingly, no account of sound sources is provided except for credits given to Yochanan Sebastian Winston and Stuart Gerber, who provided Thompson with bass flute and percussion sounds, respectively, to work with. If Thompson were to have included a comprehensive account of the sound sources he used to construct the material, one guesses that the list would have been long, given the rich sound world presented. Perhaps he chose not to include such detail so as not to distract the listener away from concentrating on the sound in its pure form rather than become sidetracked by technical minutiae.Vaporous, ghostly masses of strings and choirs drift through the five settings, with contrast emerging in the bell strikes and crystalline drones that occasionally resound and in the metallic textures that give a rawer, industrial edge to the otherwise softly swirling vistas. The significance of the guests' contributions to the recording shouldn't go underacknowledged, either, as Winston's mysterioso flute playing is one of the key reasons why an ethereal setting such as “Deformative Activities of the Imagination” has the impact it does, and Gerber's percussive sounds likewise bolster the recording's already rich timbral range (presumably he's the one responsible for the rustling textures clattering through “Engraved in Freehand”). In general, Thompson's settings are adventurous and constantly mutating, more moodscapes than formal compositions, and the album's fifty-six minutes flow by with a dream-like quality that enhances their immersive character.