As a word, palimpsest is conventionally used to refer to an old document, parchment, or tablet on which original script has been erased and replaced with new writing; a sense of history is thus implied as well as the presence of ghost layers beyond the existing surface. And while the term is oft spoken of in terms of written material, it also could be applied to a painting, with x-ray technology revealing traces of an earlier image covered over by the artist, or a musical work whose content retains physical evidence of the composer’s earlier work.
Naturally, it’s the latter scenario that applies in the case of Robert Scott Thompson’s Palimpsest, a sixty-eight-minute-long recording that revisits material the electro-acoustic composer previously incorporated into a number of projects and has now reworked for this new production. Though separately indexed and titled, the recording’s tracks are designed to be experience as a complete, multi-hued tapestry that flows without pause.
This is Thompson in ambient tinting mode, presenting material that drifts languorously and tickles the ear with hand percussion rustlings, ghostly vocal exhalations, and electro-acoustic treatments of abstract yet evocative character. Even in the absence of their aural presentation, titles such as “Rock Garden” and “Resonant Drift” clearly convey the meditative sensibility at work and the general tone of the musical material.
Time slows as the musical alchemist’s aromatic palimpsests fill the air with wisps of melody and echoes, their tendrils as delicate as the silken threads of a spider web. Two-minute settings rub shoulders with others six times as long, yet, while subtle details do differentiate the tracks from one another (consider, for example, the muffled smears of a horn instrument surfacing alongside glistening swirl in “Chanson” versus the mallet patterns catapulting through “Epilog Linea”) the differences in duration aren’t all that critical when, as mentioned, the recording largely unfolds as a continuous, multi-scenic whole.
The exception to that rule comes near the recording’s end when the tenth piece, “Brain and Ego (Cheap Imitation),” parts company with what precedes it by jump-starting the recording with an energized rhythmic current and a dynamic sound design that sounds like Thompson’s take on Milesian voodoo-jazz. Such an abrupt shift in tone and character creates the impression that it’s the first nine pieces that, formally speaking, constitute Palimpsest and that the final pieces (the other is “Every Something is an Echo of Nothing,” a meditative setting more in line with the album as a whole) have been added as bonus material.
(N.B. – This is an astute review as the recording formally ends with Epilog Linea and the described last two tracks, Brain and Ego and Every Something is an Echo of Nothing, are indeed “bonus” tracks that accompany the download version of the project.)