Ghost Words

Robert Scott Thompson is a composer who, like Phillip Werren, had until recently flown entirely under my radar. Only by ordering a CD from Aucourant of music by Erdem Helvacioğlu did I become aware of Thompson. So now, just in case that, as with Werren, Thompson has flown under other people’s radar, Asymmetry Music Magazine offers a couple of reviews of Robert Thompson’s music, starting with Ghost Words. Probably we will do the same for Werren’s music, too, some day.

Ghost Words is a four movement suite–Orgone, Shadow of Water on Sky, Sanctum, and Ghost Words After Tree Fall–that plays seamlessly, though the movements are easily distinguishable, and would be even without tracks. Orgone is made up of various short electronic phrases, including some moderately processed voices, over accompanying drones. Shadow of Water on Sky, on the other hand, is made up solely of long, interweaving lines. Sanctum opens with some fairly quiet clangs, but so different are they from the slow weaving of Shadow, that the opening to Sanctum is quite startling. Otherwise, Sanctum combines the long lines (but less weaving) of Shadow with the phrases over drone idea of Orgone to create its own sound world. While it also has voices among its more defined, metallic noises, it differs from Orgone in having longer “melodic” lines.

Ghost Words After Trees Fall opens as Sanctum did, with a clang, but a much larger, louder, more complex clang. Indeed, everything here, including the quiet things, is more direct and distinct than anything in the other movements. Everything is more forceful and overt.

Thompson’s sounds will be familiar to anyone who has heard any amount of electroacoustic music, but his way of using those sounds is his and no one else’s. I don’t think anyone would mistake his music for that of anyone else. I’m not sure how to put that impression into words, but certainly part of Thompson’s quality for me is his transparency and simplicity. There are rarely more than two or three different things going on at once, and each thing as clear and distinct as anything in Webern, say, or Satie. Clean and pure.

I found everything to be quite engaging.


[The clip is from the opening minutes of Ghost Words After Tree Fall.]

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