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Steve Roach: Past and Present

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Steve Roach is constantly evolving the genre of contemporary electronic music with his adventurous excursions into ambience. His latest batch of releases (for this man is as prolific as he is dedicated) explores EM in a variety of different approaches in space and time.

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STEVE ROACH: Life Sequence (CD on Timeroom Editions)

This release from 2003 offers 74 minutes of highly energetic electronic music.

Joining Roach on two tracks is West Coast synthesist Paul Ellis (whose solo music is reviewed here). While another track is a near-thirty minute opus version of a twelve-minute track that was featured on the 1991 compilation CD "A Door in the Air: The Echoes Living Room Concerts".

The music on this release is significantly less dreamy and more dynamic than the average beatless Roach compositions. In fact, most of the tracks possess a surprise profusion of rapid tempos blending with fluid electronics to produce enticing and invigorating sonic experiences. While conventional percussives are subtly utilized in some places, the "beats" are generally defined by cycling synthetic sounds harnessed into percussive applications, goading the tuneage into livelier territory.

Meanwhile, Roach's multi-layered electronics explore sequenced realms that strive to open the sky and bathe the listener in luxurious radiance. Keyboards are prominently employed to generate the riffs that stretch themselves across the sonic panorama. Textures ricochet among themselves, producing lush patterns of quivering caliber. Displaying assiduous elaborations, the music defies its own languid flow with relentless evolution.

This departure from Roach's often-minimal ambience is superbly accomplished, proving once again that the man's creative talents are as boundless as the universe he quantifies with his soundscapes.

Contrasting the increased energy expressed in this music, the overall effect remains one of pleasant mesmerization. The pieces do not grate or exhaust, but rather immerse the audience in sumptuous environs of gaseous substance that evoke expansion and growth.

The cover art for this release is by Richard Baily, whose surreal digital visuals have graced numerous Roach releases for many years. Check out Baily's impressive on-line gallery here.

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STEVE ROACH: Texture Maps (CD on Timeroom Editions)

This CD from 2003 features 73 minutes of pleasant ambience.

This release is also Roach's "The Lost Pieces, Volume 3", representing auxiliary soundscapes that enhance and expound on a few of Roach's past masterpieces.

"Gray and Purple" was recorded in 1987, the same week as material for "Dreamtime Return", but serves as an early hint of "The Magnificent Void" to come. This track is 22 minutes long, fully affording the minimal drift to adopt a tranquil disposition of quite expansive quality.

Recorded in 1993, "Artifact Ghost" is a basic atmosphere from the "Artifacts" and "Well of Souls" recordings, and has been used as walk-in music prior to many Roach concerts. Its sparse tonalities produce an affable reduction of physiological functions, generating a pleasant trance state.

There are three tracks from 2001 that function as primal templates for the zones explored by Roach on his ambitious "Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces" box set. These soundscapes temper Roach's signature minimalism with a spiritual flavor, resulting in heightened (or deepened, depending on your perspective) insights.

"Bottomless 2" was featured on a Hypnos compilation, and is inherently similar to "The Magnificent Void". In this alternate version from 1999, the sonic textures propel the listener into an abyss of psychological proportion wherein self becomes synonymous with immaterial existence, inducing a serenity of momentous scale.

While the last pair of pieces are further auxiliary recordings from 2003 and constitute Roach's fascination for the themes he examined on his "Mystic Chords and Sacred Spaces" box set. Again, their amorphous qualities explore realms that dwell beneath the obvious, manifesting as sonic visualizations of softly roiling nebulae inside the mind.

The cover art for this release is another surreal digital piece by Richard Baily.

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STEVE ROACH: Space and Time (CD on Projekt)

This compilation from 2003 features 74 minutes of material sourced from 20 tracks spanning two decades of Roach's prestigious output.

Roach has explored numerous "styles" of ambient electronic music during that period, and all of them are portrayed on this release...from his minimalist atmospherics to his tribal percussive music to his arid guitar compositions. While not arranged in chronological order, the pieces are collated into a pleasant flow of peaks and lulls that suits the material nicely.

The minimal pieces are extremely soothing, inspiring deep introspection and meditation. The tracks that feature tribal percussion are superb examples of a fusion between modern and ancestral moods. While his guitar stylings are comprised of long sustain pastiches that remarkably evoke the American dustbowl.

This release is an excellent opportunity to examine Roach's career in a single sitting. You can expect that "sitting" to deliver you to cerebral depths for a dose of psychic revitalization.

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STEVE ROACH & VIDNA OBMANA: Spirit Dome (CD on Projekt)

This collaborative release from 2003 features 73 minutes of ambient electronic soundscapes. This music was performed live in a hotel room prior to ProjektFest in Philadelphia in May of 2002.

Ephemeral textures emerge from a watery foundation to hang in stately form in the listener's mind, turning and unfurling with eloquent disposition. Sighing tonalities gradually part to reveal haunting atmospherics peppered with shakers and sedately pattering percussives of a remote nature. Flutish strains embellish this nether realm with their feathery presence, hinting at shamanistic rituals from antediluvian epochs. Synthetic surfs wash over these delicate structures, drenching the air with a spectral shimmering. A sense of impending consequence tingles in the tenuous flux as the textures grow denser and more dramatic. The spirits are gathering.

Amid these cloud-like formations of sound, subtle sounds rise that are different from the artists' signature styles: whistles and bloops of a decidedly mechanistic quality, enhancing the eerie drift with their harsh mien, fusing modern sensibilities with this otherwise ancient mood. The result is spooky but unthreatening, inspiring faith in the ethereal forces that surround our daily lives.

The introduction to the flow of grinding insectoid noises achieves a holistic unification of man and nature. The air becomes aflutter with ascendant activity, carrying the mood to lofty heights where an impression of limitless perspective is easily accessible. An elegant grandeur overwhelms the ambient demeanor, thrilling the soul with the promise of colossal revelations. Rhythms of infinite scope, deftly executed with placid restraint, enter the dome to announce the expedience of this timeless wisdom. Dark and light forces combine, fulfilling an epic unity that is the spirits' ultimate message. Having revealed their intuitions of totality, the specters recede from detection.

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STEVE ROACH: Fever Dreams (CD on Projekt)

This CD from 2004 offers 73 minutes of softly rhythmic ambience.

Joining Roach on this release are: Patrick O'Hearn on bass and guitar textures, Will Merkle on bass, and Byron Metcalf on frame drum and percussion.

Some of Roach's finest moments employ tenuous percussive threads, usually of a remote tribal disposition. This music falls squarely into that cherished category. The introduction of basslines provides an evolutionary bump for the tuneage, transporting Roach's atmospheric soundscapes into a realm that seethes with undercurrents of earthy quality.

The sedative nature of this music is tinged with dreamlike tones, inverting the sonic drift from expansive conditions to inner space. The tunes ooze among the cerebral folds, enhancing the brain's synaptic connections with synthetic bonds. Ethereal tonalities become akin to moody ruminations, goading turgid thoughts into a serene pool that is stirred only by intriguing embellishments of electronic creation. Stress fades, swallowed by the cloud-like sonic formations. Tension is replaced by curiosity.

The gentle patter of almost subliminal percussion blends with the flux of delicate synthetic textures that reverberate with psychic elation. Fervent but tranquil, these rhythms stimulate the listener more than the melody, existing as a subtle counterpoint to the drifting currents of ambient pulsations. The electronics sigh and undulate high overhead, while the immediate environs swarm with ghostly harmonics designed to lull and relax. decorative rule

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