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Ron Thomas: Scenes From A Voyage To Arcturus

Dan McClenaghan By

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Ron Thomas: Scenes From A Voyage To Arcturus
Scottish writer David Lindsay published his A Voyage To Arcturus in 1920. It is said to have influenced everyone from C.S. Lewis in the writing of his Space Trilogy to J.R.R. Tolkien to Clive Barker. The story concerns a character Muskull and his fantastical journey across the planet Tormance that orbits the star Arcturus. And while the external landscapes encountered are surreal, so too are Muskill's inner landscapes, and the music.

"Lindsay's fantasy eludes analysis," pianist/composer Ron Thomas writes in the liner notes to his 2001 recording, Scenes From A Voyage To Arcturus, a soundtrack of sorts to that seminal science fiction tale. The music also eludes analysis, and category. Certainly the influence of Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928 -2007), the German classical composer and electronic music pioneer, surfaces. Thomas studied with Stockhausen in 1964 at the University of Pennsylvania. The tune like "Joiwind," seems a Stockhausen-ian like creation, a grand movement of planets or stars, or galaxies. "The Murder Of Spadeville And Tydomin" sounds like twenty-first classical music, opening with an electronic string section chasing a frantic piano around. "The Lusion Plain" features what seems a simulation of the sound of the crystalline leaves of otherworldly trees colliding gently with wafting Tormance-ian breeze.

In addition to Thomas on keyboards, the music includes the contributions of Richard Burton on keyboards and sound design, and Glenn Ferracone on sound designs, along with the work of trumpeter Bob Meashy and soprano saxophonist Bob Howell. The music is at times sweepingly orchestral; at times—"Panawe, The Husband of Joiwind"—it displays the workings of Thomas' 1965 "jazz epiphany" that he experienced in 1965, which lead to his incorporating jazz elements into his all-embracing ideas concerning music.

The architectures of these fourteen compositions seem shaped from the sonic clay of an alien world. Malleable entities, molded and layered and re-shaped like much music found in the electronic/ambient genres, but without any of the common sterility and stiffness often found in the genre. The music glows with oddly organic vibrations and foreign world experiences, like those collisions of the crystalline leaves on Tormance, while "The Music of Swaylord's Island" gushes, evoking visions of a running stream, of water obeying the law of gravity on a planet of a somewhat smaller—or larger—mass.

The set closes with the nine and a half minute "Arcturus." It is a haunting soundscape, featuring eerie trumpet and soprano saxophone sounds floating—like jellyfish in an azure sea—inside the translucent shapings of the deftly crafted keyboard orchestra, a majesty of the sounds swirling out of an foreign atmosphere.

Though an active musician since the mid 1960s, Scenes From A Voyage To Arcturus (Vector Disc, 2001), is Ron Thomas' CD debut recording under his own name (though Wings of the Morning (Vectordisc, 2008), was recorded and released on vinyl in 1978, before its later re-release on CD). The pianist was born in 1942. He was fifty-nine at the time he created this soundtrack to Lindsay's novel. Relatively late in life, perhaps, but Thomas is a man of deep learning and deeper curiosities, a relentless seeker of meaning, an absorber of seemingly disparate influences—Karlheinz Stockhausen, Miles Davis, John Cage, Igor Stravinsky, Bill Evans, Sergei Rachmananoff. He decided early on that the advancement of his artistry was incompatible with a quest for fame and money, so he went deep into his art. This mysterious, beautiful and enchantingly elusive work—in addition to a dozen subsequent albums—says he made the right decision.

Track Listing

Chrystalman's County; The Starkness Observatory And The Night Departure; Joiwind; Backhouse The Medium At Prolands, The Hempstead; The Apparition; Muspel; Gazing Over Towards Barey; The Music Of Swaylone's Island; The Murder Of Spadevil And Tydomin; The Lusion Plain; Tydomin; Panawe, The Husband of Joiwind; The Muspel Stream, Chrystalman's Food; Arcturus.'

Personnel

Ron Thomas: piano; Richard Burton: piano; Glenn Ferracone: keyboards; Bob Meashy: trumpet; Bob Howell: saxophone, soprano.

Album information

Title: Scenes From A Voyage To Arcturus | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Vectordisc Records

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