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The Anthropological Soundscapes of Steve Roach

Steve Roach, whose name has long been synonymous with the American ambient electronic movement, is also a musician (or sonic sculptor) with a considerably prolific output. Clearly, this man's creativity has no "off" switch.

These following releases exemplify Roach's continued involvement with anthropological research into the many tribal cultures that mankind has displayed, today and yesterday.

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STEVE ROACH: Early Man (double CD on Projekt)

This time Roach applies his ambient soundscapes to the topic of prehistoric anthropology for a grand total of 144 minutes

Gurgling sounds rise from the depths of time, transporting the listener to an ancient era. The atmospheric tones swirl to reveal a landscape untouched by civilization. As the sonic dawn edges into hearing, a group of hominids creep from their cave dwelling to stare at the new day. Today one of these ancestors "Begins Looking Skyward". Soon they will commence "Walking Upright". Tomorrow they will start "Hunting and Gathering". Evolution is about to take gigantic steps forward...and Roach's music will convey you through these stages.

Delicately muted tribal percussives flavor these dreamy tonalities, evoking not only the virgin environment but also man's hesitant development. The melodies are expanded, drawn into long compositions that hang over the listener like a humid fog. These mists sparkle with soft riffs that establish a sashaying rhythm.

Moody yet invigorating, this music is a timeless testament to strength born of the necessity to continue to move forward.

Assisting Roach on fractal groove for one track is Vir Unis.

The second disc features a decomposed take of the basic themes, enhanced by new elements.

A limited edition of the first disc in this set is available from Timeroom Editions. This 74 minute CD comes in a package constructed of slate. For real—the CD comes nestled between a pair of quarried slabs of slate!

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STEVE ROACH & JORGE REYES: Vine ~ Bark & Spore (CD on Timeroom Editions)

This ambient collaboration between Roach and Reyes proves that "the music is the medicine".

Utilizing passive electronic textures (like whispering tonal hints) and distant ethnic percussives (which never take an overt presence) and vocal chants (resounding with a cavernous air) and ethereal woodwinds, Roach and Reyes generate atmospheric tapestries of sound that float like a hazy mist over a morning-lit clearing deep in some forest valley.

The tracks begin soft, meticulously passing into haunting auralscapes before other aspects arrive to generate a relaxed melodic sense to the aerial caldron of sighing harmonics. Although no domineering rhythm surfaces, the music is far from atonal, possessing seductive qualities amidst the tonal flow.

There is a distinct tidal mood to this music, creating an aural beach with low waves that creep unnoticed over the higher ground, immersing the land in currents of emotional ambiguity.

With the soft hint of tribal influences skittering through the music, these soundscapes conjure the mood of dark caves, ancient woods, and sorcerer's temples. The use of stirred water sounds adds an eerie touch to the pieces, evoking holistic pools where bathe the mystics before commencing their spells.

Swirling with shadowy hidden secrets, these 72 minutes of music afford some particularly moody ambience.

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THUPTEN PEMA LAMA & STEVE ROACH: Prayers to the Protector (CD on Celestial Harmonies Records)

Thupten Pema Lama is a venerable representative of the Dip Tse Chok Ling Monastery in India. In 1996 Thupten visited Roach at his Timeroom studios on the outskirts of Arizona. During this visit, Roach recorded Thupten intoning Buddhist prayers, and they discussed the possibility of employing these recitations in tandem with Roach's ambient music to bring the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism into the 21st Century.

This CD features the end-result of that collaboration: 54 minutes of atmospheric soundscapes accompanied by Thupten's reverent chants. You may have heard the chants of Buddhist monks before, but certainly never as they are presented on this recording.

Roach's electronics are especially delicate here, carefully crafted to enhance Thupten's chanting. These atmospheric tones are hardly alone in this task, being accompanied by softly trembling timpani's and non-rhythmic tempos. Melodies ooze forth with inspirational cadence, wrapping themselves lovingly around Thupten's sacred vocal droning. Several passages are deeply immersed in a more-than-ambient tension that rings with astral drama.

Meanwhile Thupten's voice is rich with devotion and unfathomable mystery. These qualities phase perfectly with Roach's soundscapes, creating a wonderful union of religious tradition and contemporary electronics.

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STEVE ROACH & BYRON METCALF: The Serpent's Lair (double CD on Projekt)

This collaboration began with Roach assisting Metcalf (Ph.D.) in a formal research study to examine the effects of sound used as a shamanic strategy for healing and personal growth. These studies expanded to become this double CD.

Utilizing the sacred incarnation of the snake as viewed by many shamanic cultures (particularly in the Upper Amazon), Roach and Metcalf produce music that is moody and cosmic, ambient and tribal.

Roach's electronic stylings are in high form here, weaving and drifting like a shimmering cloudbank above a rainforest alive with Metcalf's shamanic percussives. These sinuous rhythms are complex and lush, resounding with beyond-ethereal qualities. The percussives contribute to the overall sound with as much presence as Roach's versatile synthetic and acoustic ambience.

The music is dense and haunting, capturing shamanic sensibilities and merging them with modern electronics to comfortably induce altered states of consciousness. While the percussives generate cyclic urgings, the astral electronics breathe and swoop, carrying the tribal ceremonies into the sky and beyond.

Some tracks involve vocal effects, lending a cavernesque aspect to the music which becomes heightened by the echoing withdrawal of the percussives.

Among the guest musicians on this 141 minute release are: Jorge Reyes, Vidna Obmana, and Vir Unis.


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