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Solace. BILL THOMPSON
(self release 2012)

Review by Caity Kerr

Bill Thompson’s work is wide-ranging and largely experimental. He should be described as a statement artist, which means that he’s capable of appropriating an idiom or genre, or elements from within one, and making a very unique statement of his own within those resources. As a committed Cageian he works with all sorts of material, instrumental, electronic, environmental, found, lost, unwanted, often investigating intermedia-based process-driven projects in the live environment, improvising or composing as required rather than on principle. His work manifests versatility and flexibility. After so much project and deadline-based work which he does regularly and which makes it difficult to get along and see or hear, it’s good to have a studio album to catch up with.

Solace is sectional and as such is formally transparent. The opening is ambient in flavour, an electronically generated pad (according to the artist the equipment did most of the work) layered with field recordings of environmental sound. This crossfades slowly into an 11 minute passage, typical, to my ears, of his solo live work – a powerful mesmerising electronic timbre, modulating slowly, made of clearly defined partials, though again shifting around the spectrum, well equalised, polyrhythmic.

Without quoting directly from our correspondence on the work, it was pointed out that the opening section was overtly ‘musical’ in a characteristically ambient way, and that there’s a very personal but private narrative embedded in the work. The structural use of long sections of silence was commented upon as being unusual in his work.

The middle section is a straightforward field recording of someone walking through something crunchy, most likely the artist unless some poor bystander was collared and coerced into carring a recording device through a scrapyard. You never know.

There follows a period of relative stasis – a simple low amplitude electronic timbre, like a good fm synthesised waveform. Two minutes or so of silence leads next to a more hostile transitional passage, then further on a crescendo, another massive pulsating section but with substantial dollops of grit and noise in the signal and a nod to the pulse of early techno synth pads.

What I think works in this piece is the contrast and the clear division between the field recordings and the electronic music. You don’t get bored as you can look forward to the next contrasting section – there’s not too much of one thing or the other – it’s very well balanced. I think this is a fruitful area of investigation for artists who want to make field recordings more interesting. Finally the concept of a personal narrative acts as the perfect container for such a remarkable project.

SOLACE was first performed in 2012 for the AMODA Performance
Series in Austin, Texas. It was subsequently reworked and mastered
at the Firehouse Studios in London and Studio 4 in Norwich, UK.

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[Bill Thompson]

Bill Thompson website