Small, unexpected sounds are the guiding force in composer Robert Scott Thompson’s Pale Blue Dot. Or, rather, they are the texturing force, the element that takes Thompson’s contemporary compositions and nudges them to a place that gives them the power to be more challenging. In this, the listener is put in a spot where the question becomes, are those elements distracting or are they transformative? Answering that question requires deep listening, an exercise that Pale Blue Dot rewards. Thompson finds balance in adding these elements. The album opens with “Perigree,” where a frenetic tangle of electronic fireflies flit and spin over slow chords and airy vocal pads. It’s an interesting blend where the elements seems to be both fighting for the space and sharing it. Thompson melts that down into a calmer stretch focused on warm chime tones and flotation-device pads. A similar steam of thought emerges on “Skyway”: the piano at the forefront plays within an atmosphere of windy pads, tones that jiggle across the scene, and a nicely subtle almost-static crackle that appears and fades, just there enough to make you notice it. So your focus is constantly being pulled from the piano, but you’re also aware that it’s all one thing that you’re hearing. The title track is a slow moving, hypnotic churn of sounds that feels like Thompson is standing like a conductor before his array of sources, thoughtfully pointing to each in turn, triggering them to have their say and then moving to the next one but always coming back. A slightly dark, dreamy wash courses behind it. It’s a glacial symphony, beautifully immersive throughout its 16-minute run. “Latticework” is kind of the cool outsider kid of the bunch, a somewhat retro hit of star-bright sequencers. Go deeply into this one to enjoy the rich interplay of Thompson’s lines. There are a few times when the abundance of small touches and the challenge of, for example, jangled versus smooth, can be a little confounding for me. On a recent listen, as “Slow Rotation of Stars” played in the background, I became convinced that I must have had some other sound source open, and that it was something along with Thompson’s track. Not the case, and perhaps that is part of the composer’s intention. It was when I gave it a more focused listen that I was able to sort out its cluster of sounds. It’s busy, and works it way into a sort of mechanical chugging against high, shining piano notes, and has grown on me with repeat listens.
Pale Blue Dot is another deep and thoughtful release from this talented composer. It makes you think, it makes you listen closely, and it makes you hit “repeat.”
Available at Bandcamp.