Album: Indesterren
Artist: Tom Eaton

indesterrenTom Eaton is on a creative roll these days. It’s only been about 8 months since I wrote about his excellent last recording, Abendromen, here on Music and Media Focus. I certainly didn’t expect another new album so soon. I know that for myself, as a recording artist, it is often a number of years between album releases. But considering the fact that I referred to Tom in the previous article as a “Jedi master of the recording studio,” it’s not that surprising. Actually, nothing about Tom surprises me anymore, as he is truly a man of many talents.


Tom Eaton is best known for his work as a co-producer and recording engineer working with Grammy winner and Windham Hill Records founder Will Ackerman, and together they are one of the most highly regarded production teams in the contemporary instrumental and new age music genres. What some people may not be aware of is that in addition to his work in the control room of Will’s iconic Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont, is that Tom is actually an extremely gifted multi-instrumentalist who appears on a great number of the albums that are produced there. Perhaps the term mega-multi-instrumentalist would be more appropriate. Among the spectrum of instruments Tom plays are piano, electronic keyboards, electric guitar, fretted and fretless bass, percussion, ominchord, accordion, and more, including intricate synthesizer programming. But when Tom went beyond his role as a studio musician to revealing himself as a full-fledged recording artist in his own right with Abendromen, the picture was complete. That is unless he has a few more things up his sleeve that we don’t know about yet. As I said, I wouldn’t be surprised.


According to Tom, this new album is the second in what he calls the Abendromen series. Thattom_synth word draws on Tom’s Dutch heritage and is a combination of the words for “evening” and “dreams.” Likewise, Indesterren draws from the same source and translates as: “into the stars.” Here, Tom shares a bit about the album: “Following the release of Abendromen in February of 2016, I found that there was more music in my head and hands waiting to see the light of day. Indesterren is a collection of songs inspired by the night, the constellations, and the people I think of when looking into the stars. I enlisted my sons to contribute percussion touches, and my friend Jeff Oster to grace one track with his incredible flugelhorn. While still mostly rotating around the piano, these songs reach a little deeper into my electronic and textural roots, trying to catch a small part of the sweep and space of the beauty that is overhead each night.” This project was recorded at Tom’s own studio, Universal Noise Storage, in Newburyport, Massachusetts. In regard to stepping into the spotlight with his own music, Tom shared: “I’m an engineer, sure, producer, sure… but I think I have more to say than that.” And I certainly can’t agree more.


As the album opens with a track entitled “Red Blazer,” Tom’s above-mentioned electronic and textural roots are evident, setting the scene with a spacious soundscape that allow his tastefully understated piano melodies to stand out like stars against the night sky. I particularly liked the way Tom’s piano notes are echoed by the same notes played on synths and accented by touches of dreamy ambient electric guitar. The song unfolds with new electronic elements continually being added to the mix, and by the end I knew that Tom had done it again… creating another celestial masterpiece on the level of Abendromen, one of my favorite albums of the year. The next track entitled “Vervagen,” has an elegant and graceful dancing-in-the clouds feeling, driven by a subtle drum track that becomes more pronounced as the song develops. I appreciate the way that Tom keeps the rhythm track relatively low in the mix so as to provide a gentle sense of forward motion without overpowering the delicate equilibrium of instrumental textures. The song’s spacious extended ending, complete with nature sounds, was an interesting touch.


Not to question Tom’s choice of titles, but a song called “Gravity,” might have just as well been entitled “Anti-gravity,” for the lighter than air feeling of weightlessness it conveys. As I listened to track 4, “Midnight Clouds and the Great Bear,” a thought occurred to me that while many piano-based albums use electronic accents sparingly, the ratio, in some ways, is reversed here. kawai_k5000s_07The synthesizer textures actually play a very major role in Tom’s compositions, with the piano adding minimalistic melodies that drift in and out of the ambient sound field. So while the piano does play an important role, it is not a piano-based album in the sense that many of them are, particularly the elegantly acoustic masterpieces that come out of Imaginary Road Studios from pianists such as Fiona Joy, Kathryn Kaye, Stanton Lanier, Lynn Yew Evers, and many more. As someone with an affinity for electronic music, I have a special appreciation for the instrumental balance in Tom’s arrangements.


In my recent interview with Tom, he talked about role of the piano and its relationship to the other instruments in his music: “In my music I think of the piano as the familiar sound… the sound that allows people to connect with a ‘known’ which I can then surround with unknown.  The piano is the gateway drug to ambient music… we know the sound and accept it willingly… and then I can build a textural world around it without losing that sense of familiarity.  On this record I pushed the edges a little more, as you noted on ‘Midnight Clouds…’ letting the electronics and guitars do most of the heavy lifting!”


A song called “Venus” grooves to a laid back electronic rhythm track, picking up steam as it evolves.  A stand out feature of this song is the addition of Jeff Oster’s dreamy flugelhorn into this downtempo chill piece, providing a bit of a departure from the preceding 5 songs. The interplay of the horn and piano is exquisite, exhibiting once again, Jeff’s versatility and ability to cast his magic spell in any context. I was intrigued by the title of a song called “The False Cross,” so I researched it a bit. What it tumblr_static_tumblr_static__640refers to is a group of stars in the southern sky that are often mistaken for the well-known constellation called the Southern Cross. The song evolves through a number of movements that are alternately ethereal and rhythmic, and in places reminded me a bit of the music of Patrick O’Hearn. Track 11, “Argo Navis” is a piano-less deep space synthesizer journey that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Jonn Serrie album. Not that Tom’s music sounds exactly like either of these above-mentioned artists, but listeners who enjoy them, will almost certainly resonate with the celestial journeys on Indesterren. The album draws to a close with “The Little Lion,” named for a galaxy 30 million light-years away, and which provides a peaceful and expansive conclusion to this otherworldly album.


That Tom Eaton could produce two recordings of this caliber in the same year is astounding. Every song is an exquisite example of sonic architecture, perfectly composed, arranged, and performed. I really can’t say enough about Tom’s ability as an arranger and sound designer, with the way he is able to weave his electronic textures and other instruments into such superb soundscapes – truly stellar in every way. I have no doubt that although Tom Eaton is currently most known for his extraordinary work as an engineer and producer of other people’s music, he will soon become known as one of the premier recording artists in the ambient music genre.



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