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Ambient: Byron Metcalf, Robert Rich, Steve Roach

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BYRON METCALF: The Shaman’s Heart (CD on Dr. Bam’s Music)

This release from 2004 features 73 minutes of soothing tribal ambience.

Joining Metcalf on several tracks is ambient pioneer (and frequent collaborator) Steve Roach. While Roach provides background electronics, Metcalf plays an assortment of primitive percussives: buffalo drums, bear and peyote rattles, udu and clay pots, and a variety of shamanic devices like seed pods, beads, shells, pottery and stone.

Pittering beats, often declaring as softly as timid rustlings, are laced with placid rattlings. The resultant tempos are relaxed, calming and intentionally therapeutic. Periodically, more demonstrative impacts occur, but hardly strong enough to violate the trance.

Standing waves of gentle percussion waft and undulate, unhurried and stoic as they evoke dark evenings under clear skies. Rhythms of enduring serenity flow with seamless quality, suppressing the material world and generating a mood of transcendental focus. At various points, the steady meter gradually rises, gathering more power with deeper impacts that amplify the soundscape without turning intrusive. Roach’s ambient synthesizers and droning didgeridoo lends an ethereal edge to the compositions.

Environmental recordings enhance this milieu: remote bird calls and tender leaves twitching in a smooth breeze.

Despite these primitive elements, a sense of modern awe permeates this tuneage, establishing a vibrant connectivity between ancestral specters and the human spirit. Past and future converge with the listener as the point of contact, transforming now into a vantage that offers immense numinous vigor.

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ROBERT RICH: Echo of Small Things (CD on Soundscape Productions)

This CD from 2005 features 61 minutes of stately ambience. The music by Rich is inspired by a series of photographs by David Agasi.

Ethereal atmospherics become the medium for deeper tonalities and sweetly tingling textures. Phosphorescent instances sparkle throughout this music, like glimpses of a more tranquil dimension where everything radiates optimistic effervescence. These tiny epiphanies grow larger with each passing pulsation, filling the mind with burgeoning potential.

Elongated steel guitar notes slide and waft on the bubbling breeze. Fields of spectral flutes generate a hazy distance. Ponderous tones descend like heavy clouds, losing their grim demeanor by the time they surround the audience. Rainfall and sedate tubular bells engage in a sonic tryst.

Remaining gentle, this tuneage achieves an intensity of purity that releases the contemplative floodgates of the listener, opening the path to all kinds of opportunities.

Rich has a way of imbuing his minimal soundscapes with an organic quality that generates more than a subtle pipeline right into the listener’s soul. This tuneage flows like fragile air, but carries distinct sonic scents that convey vibrant emotion. Combined with Agasi’s pictures, the subtle atmospherics adopt distinct terminology.

This release is available in two editions: a deluxe signed-and-numbered version limited to 129 copies, and one where the pictures are printed in a conventional insert booklet.

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STEVE ROACH: Places Beyond: The Lost Pieces 4 (CD on Timeroom Editions)

This release offers 72 minutes of rare and unreleased ambient tracks from 1997 to 2001.

An incomplete version of “Distant Signals” was released in 1999 on an artist sampler CD from Groove Unlimited in the Netherlands. The remarkably minimal piece appears here in its complete form.

“Trancefusion” originally appeared on the “Body Electric” video and a limited edition compilation CD from Sequences Magazine during 2000. Here, the ambience is livened with gurgling fractal grooves pulsating as through a liquid medium.

“Serpent’s Birth” is an unreleased track by Roach and Vir Unis that did not make it onto their “Blood Machine” CD in 2000. A chugging tempo remains lurks throughout this cavernous composition, rising to prominence, then submerging again into the soothing ambience.

“Resolution Point” originally appeared on the “Convergent Evolution” compilation CD from Greenhouse Records in 1999. A breathing tranquillity evolves remote harmonics until the mood becomes universal.

“Calm before the Storm” was recorded live in the studio with vidnaObmana prior to their performance at the 2000 E-Live Festival in the Netherlands. It offers a sedate dose of Roach’s flowing tonalities seasoned with Obmana’s ethereal influence.

“Slow Rapture” was originally found on “The Ambient Eclipse” compilation CD from Mirage Records in 1997. Hints of distant machinery punctuate this dreamy selection.

“Contained...Sustained” is a melding of two unreleased compositions, sourced from 1998 and 2000. Crystalline and vaporous, this piece is quite translucent.

“Light of Day” is another unreleased track from 2001. Here, a tenuous presence approaches from faraway, heralding its advance like a faintly luminous beacon sliding through serene waters of synthetic sound.

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