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The Ethereal Electronic Music of Steve Roach, Vidna Obmana, and Kelly David

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At the forefront of the ambient genre you will find Steve Roach and Vidna Obmana. Employing ethnic and tribal sensibilities, their soundscapes have forged an entire sub-style within the genre of contemporary electronic music. While David Kelly is an exciting newcomer to this field.

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STEVE ROACH: Core (CD on Timeroom Editions)

This 2001 release offers 74 minutes of ambience with considerable substance.

Here, Roach produces music that strains at the boundaries of "ambience" with sedentary liveliness and sparkling electronics. Cascades of eerie sounds swim in a pool of sweeping textures and sighing windstorms.

There is often a rhythmic quality going on that is achieved with a palate of strange, gurgling electronics instead of the softly-distant tribal percussion that normally features so prominently in Roach's stylings. The tempos are quirky, intertwining with each other to create even stranger tempos. This use of alien rhythms adds a softly energetic quality to the music, one that pushes the weirdness far beyond the realm of beatless soundscapes, entering a genre more comparable to the Berlin School style of electronics (a mode that Roach has rarely employed). The result is an outstanding achievement, fusing beats into ambience without any loss of the music's hypnotic nature.

Fear not, die-hard Roach followers, for you will not be disappointed by any absence of Roach's other signature elements. There are passages of ethnic percussives, insectoid rattlings, and the integral use of kilometer-long notes. His talent for evolving riffs behind the audience's back is just as prevalent, and equally rewarding.

Although each track is much shorter than usual, the music flows without disruption into vaster, more substantial duration, leaving the listener dazed by the engaging progression.

This release was a modern classic a nanosecond after the CDs were shipped from the pressing factory.

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STEVE ROACH: Streams and Currents (CD on Projekt)

This 2002 CD features 74 minutes of ambience generated on the electric guitar.

Do not expect jangly chords or ripping riffs, however, for Roach has filtered this guitarwork through a series of sound processors, rendering the strings into languid soundscapes that undulate timelessly through the air. These delicate tonalities drift like somber dust motes on aerial currents, guided into elongated harmonies by Roach's masterful ability to derive structure from sounds that teeter on the brink of silence.

For all its passive qualities, this music possesses an undercurrent of vitality. These calming aural moods are dense with seemingly endless textures and soothing drones, but their softness is subtly alive with a subdued agitation accountable to their guitar origins. While "pure" electronics display an unearthly resonance, in Roach's expert hands the guitar proves itself to be just as capable of filling the air with ethereal sound.

Where others may be satisfied to compile passages of raw scrapings and dreamy strumming, Roach treats the output of his guitars like an assortment of airborne mists, guiding these sonic vapors into introspective currents whose elegant contortions smoothly traverse space and time to generate a timeless zone of infinite expanse.

For the CD's epic piece, "Spirit Moves", a mantra beat has been added to the haunting strains, delivering the composition from higher atmospherics into realms that exhibit more humanity and substance. This quasi-tribal percussive presence is utilized only for the beginning of this 28 minute track, allowing moodiness to resume control of the patient flow.

This music is perfect for dreaming with both eyes open.

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STEVE ROACH & VIDNA OBMANA: InnerZone (CD on Projekt)

This 73 minute release from 2002 marks the latest collaboration between Roach and Obmana.

Combining their ambient expertise, these renowned musicians produce a haunting journey into abstract zones of atmospheric soundscapes that are rich with rhythm and substance. The music guides the listener into dreamlike states while retaining consciousness, goading that awareness into contemplative reflection with elongated textures and liquid woodwinds and the soft patter of tribal percussives.

Electronic clouds collect overhead, summoned by the call of parched flutes. Gentle percussives that echo with a simultaneous acoustic and mechanistic overtone generate a spiritual march through marshlands of shimmering mists of sighing tonalities.

While generally atmospheric, this music has strong melodic content. The low-hanging haze of sedate tones creates an on-going hum, which in turn is enhanced by the overlapping textures of other instruments delineating alternate harmonies.

The fusion of Roach's arid ambience and Obmana's echoing caverneque sound creates an interface that merges these contrasting evocations into a realm of unprecedented properties: a subterranean region that possesses an infinite sky, a union of earth and heaven.

Most of the tracks on this release explore shorter structures of ambience, while the title track is a 26 minute example of how such strains and sonic allusions can be harnessed in long-form, unhurried by compression and allowed to unfold with more cosmic proportions.

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VIDNA OBMANA: Tremor (CD on Release Records)

This 73 minute CD is the first in a series of three releases planned by Vidna Obmana (aka Dirk Serries) inspired by Dante's "Inferno".

This music blends electronic ambience with various ethnic percussives, overtone flutes, fujaras, dreampipe, and choral voices. Injected also are guitar and Ebow harmonics. Despite the contradictory presence of old world instruments with modern electronics, this music flows with such a crystalline perfection that there is never a hint of clash between the instrumentation.

The wavering flutes and ethereal dreampipes generate a haunting atmosphere punctuated by softly pattering percussives that evoke distinctly primitive rapport. (That would be "primitive" as in living-in-caves, not "primitive" as in crude or awkward.) The illusion of squatting in an ancient cavern by flickering firelight is enhanced by the ghostly resonance of subtle electronics, tonalities that drift like animated smoke, connecting the other instruments with their intangible canvas.

With this release, such eeriness is entirely appropriate, conjuring dark tunnels leading into the bowels of the netherworld. This journey becomes saturated with anticipation, a forewarning of dire consequences lying ahead in the audience's path. And, not unlike real life, such precognitive hints are never-ending, for there are always further turns and surprises to encounter as the voyage continues.

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KELLY DAVID: Broken Voyage (CD on Rocky Mountain Records)

This 64 minute CD from 2002 is David's debut release.

David's style mixes languid ambience with distinctly intense electronics, elevating soothing soundscapes to a realm of gritty and ominous tuneage that vibrates with tension. Gurgling electronics are spliced with rasping mechanical overtures, leaving the sonic gestalt to drift amid embellishments that evoke a seafaring scenario. Harsh tones rise to punctuate the ambient flow, settling into chugging tonalities that are a fusion of laboring motors and distant tribal percussion. Other passages allow rhythmic strains to ooze from the horizon into a more immediate presence, sinuously blending these tempos with the breathing drones and sweeping electronic surf.

Immersed in David's synthetic repertoire, there seethes an oceanic sensibility that conveys itself via hints and timbres rather than the overt use of water sounds or creaking masts in the wind.

This tuneage exhibits a tendency to wander from the central theme of a piece, exploring more-than-variations with diversions that could well be considered wholly different compositions for their unique attributes. This unpredictable versatility imbues the music with more interesting developments than the average ambient composition, in which the unvarying temperament refuses to deviate or change. In David's music, this restless nature becomes a winning aspect, producing a feeling that anything can occur without warning. Despite these keen variations, though, he retains a solid sense of continuous flow that is never marred by the improbable outbreaks.

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