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Steve Roach: Live, Hyper, New Directions, and Ambience

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Ambient pioneer Steve Roach has a long career of producing electronic music of remarkably delicate quality, whether he is playing dreamy soundscapes or engaging doses of contemporary EM. His latest batch of release continues to expand his capable reputation

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STEVE ROACH: Storm Surge (Live at NEARfest) (CD on NEARfest Records)

This release from 2006 offers 46 unedited minutes of Roach's live performance at NEARfest at the Zoellner Arts Center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, on July 9, 2005.

Roach's skills at producing an intensely lush live performance are well-known, and this recording perpetuates his capabilities with astounding scope.

Ethereal textures coalesce like gathering stormclouds, but the rainfall from these thunderheads is sparkling and vivacious, each droplet of sound infecting the audience with a dreamy clarity certain to expand consciousness. Fragile effects mix with synthetic rhythms to achieve a vibrant environment of thrilling depth. The tonalities waft with luxurious expansion, while soothing embellishments swell with pulsating resonance.

Rhythms come and go, punctuating the heavenly tapestry with remote propulsion, never overt but still contagious in their subtle and complex motivation. The presence of liquid sounds only serves to give the tempos an earthy quality.

Let us not forget the periodic presence of didjeridoo, whose soulful breathing injects an arid heritage to the seething mass of modern tuneage. This instrument's contributions are integral in establishing a pensive moodiness for the concert's dark finale.

While steeped in a celestial demeanor, this music exhibits a certain terrestrial quality, grounding the audience while lifting them to dizzying altitudes. The overall tone is a dreamy one, although these ambient voyages exude a stern power that often commands more than it sedates.

Blending classic compositions with new pieces, Roach seamlessly conjures a lavish soundscape of breathtaking mien.

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STEVE ROACH: Proof Positive (CD on Timeroom Editions)

This release from 2006 offers 74 minutes of very lively electronic music.

Here, Roach explores the realm of analog electronics. The music exudes a lively mien as tones pulse and collide with buzzing counterparts. Utilizing a surging structure, Roach achieves a melodic flow that glistens with engaging luster as the aspects slide along an uphill incline, accreting additional elements in the process. Pierced by shriller augmentation, the ascending stream possesses a synthetic charm with its chirping notes and swiftly looped cycles.

The first track delivers a relentless dose of these surging electronics for 22 minutes, varying and evolving the central theme with a relaxed urgency. There are points where the lead elements seems to give in to fatigue, allowing background aspects to momentarily dominate the tune, but eventually, revitalized by their dormancy, these buzzing elements return, resurging in slightly mutated form.

Then there are a pair of short pieces which display a playful disposition as they pound and pulse. In the first, the electronics present a cheerier character that pursues a quasi-rhythmic structure devoid of any actual impacts. In the second, the general tone is deeper, denser, but not darker. A sense of jubilation is still keynote.

Then comes an 11 minute track that explores a distinctly relentless velocity. The pulsations and fuzzy notes come rapidly, streaming along with cheery fashion. The pace is almost exhausting. An undercurrent of desperation is designed to flavor this adrenaline rush.

Finally, there is an epic track (33 minutes long) that applies this frantic onrushing delivery to a heavenly emulsion of chittering and dervish rotations. Notes are compressed, then ejected into a fluid solvent that propels everything in a steady current of bewitching properties. The piece refuses to give in to debilitation, maintaining a deliberate momentum that actually exudes energy rather than expending it. And (believe it or not) the piece actually achieves a greater enthusiasm for its climax.

This release is remarkably unlike anything Roach has ever done. The style and choice of sounds are uncharacteristic for him, but his mastery of this fresh direction is stunningly rewarding.

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STEVE ROACH: Kairos (the Meeting of Time and Destiny) (DVD & CD on Timeroom Visions)

This release from 2006 offers a 75 minute DVD and a 73 minute CD.

Stormclouds and haunting (almost ominous) textures usher the audience into Roach's music. Sounds shudder with celestial vibrations, evoking a realm of immense promise, as the harmonics coalesce into formations of desperate substantiality. Then tribal rhythms erupt, tinged with a strange undercurrent of cybernetic whirlings, plunging the tuneage into a zone of portentous sonics. Tonalities reminiscent of vast expanses of clouds rise to coexist, their depths ringing with eerie pulsations. Suddenly, the music adopts a sparse, ethereal quality, as if contemplating the birth of time and space. Indeed, what follows shimmers with organic covenant, a passage seasoned with bubbling diodes and fluid streams that feed the listener's imagination. From this liquid zone emerges a territory dominated by slurred machines and marching beats muffled by electrified gelatin. An outburst of high velocity chords marks the genesis of consciousness in this viscous soundscape. Pulsations crowd each other as they strive to merge into new sonic lifeforms. Choppy notes slide on a sparkling surface possessing little friction. The frantic pace pauses for a stretch of pensive tones blending with sawing atmospherics, but the tuneage eventually plunges headlong into a finale of grand scope, replete with infinite vistas and eternally sustained resonances that bend and flex to signal the advent of evolution. Shivery sounds swim into the mix to mark new beginnings, and the flow collapses into a sedate outro of signature ambience.

Truly a milestone recording by Roach, exhibiting some stunning hyperactive melodies interspliced with enthralling ambience.

The DVD features a plethora of material, among them an impressive 75 minute video of visual effects inspired by several covers to past Roach CDs. It starts off with desert photography and progresses into evolutionary CGI art that excellently suits the music. Included are passages that resemble sea life, geometrics, liquid flowy visuals, and ice crystals resembling crumpled light. The music on the DVD corresponds to the CD tracks. Even the menu for the disc is entrancing.

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STEVE ROACH: Immersion Two (CD on Projekt)

This release from 2006 offers 73 minutes of pure ambience.

Representing the extreme opposite of the above CDs, this release offers a solid dose of ambience in its purest form. Tonalities unfurl with unflinching lassitude, unmarked by discernible variance. An atmosphere of constancy is achieved, moody and soothing, yet actually slowly mutating as it slides along a harmonic beam. Auxiliary textures surface with immense subtlety, merging with each other to form thicker resonance.

Soft, almost hesitant noises appear, sparks illuminating the sparse environment with tender gurgling and synthetic rattling.

The soundscape is breathing, but the cycles of contraction and expansion are so distended as to become inconspicuous changes in the even flow of ethereal substance. As the piece continues, however, these pulsations become more apparent as the music flexes with luxuriant demeanor.

Darker elements begin to show up, as if the sighing soundscape has entered a region of higher density that produces deeper echoes of the somber oscillation.

Obviously, this recording is intended to provide the listener with a calming backdrop that promises to be unintrusive yet subtly engaging, affecting the subconscious by gently stroking the periphery of concentration.

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