NICK SCHOFIELD – GLASS GALLERY (Backward Music, 2021)

The latest release from the Canadian composer sees him using classic architecture and a vintage synthesizer to create a collection of immersive, ambient beauty.

The ambient and new age music that thrived in Japan in the ‘80s (lovingly compiled in Light in the Attic’s Grammy-winning collection Kankyo Ongaku) was, in part, a celebration of the country’s financial prosperity, with the with the music’s simple, clean lines representing the austere and meticulously designed architecture such prosperity was able to afford. While he may not be celebrating a national economic boom, the latest album from Canadian musician Nick Schofield is in the same thematic ballpark.

On Glass Gallery, the Montreal-based Schofield used as his inspiration Ottawa’s National Gallery of Canada, specifically its light and space. The instrumental compositions and performances here are grand, immersive, and full of open space and beauty. There’s also a refreshing simplicity to the execution: Schofield made the album using nothing but a vintage synthesizer, the Prophet 600. Created by the company Sequential Circuits in 1982, the Prophet 600 was one of the first commercially available synthesizers to equip MIDI technology and is one of the “younger siblings” of the Prophet-5, the first programmable polyphonic synthesizer. The Prophet 600 sounded positively revolutionary when it was unveiled nearly 40 years ago and fortunately, it still packs quite a sonic punch, able to convey a wide palette of moods and textures.

While Glass Gallery certainly has the feel of ambient music, the intricacies of the compositions hold more melodic possibilities than the genre suggests. Sure, the album may work wonderfully as part of a Spotify “Music to Study By” playlist or whatnot, but there are many striking moments of sheer beauty that are beautifully distracting. The single “Mirror Image,” inspired by composer Laurie Spiegel’s “Patchwork,” is carried along by a low-end pulse with intertwining segments reminiscent of Peter Gabriel’s Security-era Fairight CMI experiments. The entire album, in fact, does have a bit of a retro/nostalgia component in terms of the sonic framework, but it somehow always sounds fresh.

Many of the songs carry a specific pulse that give them buoyant movement – such as on the quietly urgent opening track, “Central Atrium” –  but often times things get a little less moored. Songs like “Molinarism” and “Snow Blue Square” contain a great deal of sweeping, sustained chords that suggest a slower pace. There’s also a bit of mysterious playfulness on songs like “Kissing Wall,” with its gently skipping beat and lightly percussive moments. At the risk of implementing an overly obvious comparison, one does get the impression, while listening to the ten gorgeous tracks on Glass Gallery, of walking through an indescribably beautiful structure: in this case, a nationally revered building housing countless works of art.

But despite the source of its inspiration (and the fact that it was created on a vintage musical instrument) Glass Gallery isn’t the sound of an ancient relic preserved in amber. Rather, Schofield brilliantly composed and performed music that is reverent to the past while using it as a means to move forward. Glass Gallery is both nostalgic and futuristic.  

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