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Ambient Electronics by Steve Roach & Associates

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Electronic pioneer Steve Roach is known for his prolific output, and the following array of new releases is a prime example of that--and of the scope of his creative range.

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STEVE ROACH: A Deeper Silence (CD on Timeroom Editions)

This release from 2008 features 74 minutes of extreme ambience.

Indulging in excessive minimalism, this music is offered as one long track that the liner notes recommend listening to on low looped playback to generate an infinite sonic environment of relaxation.

Ethereal tonalities emerge from a silent darkness and drift through the murky climate with no attempts to generate illumination. The tones luxuriate in extended waves that defy perception, establishing a steadfast drone of barely discernible definition. Gradually, far too delicately to be clearly noticed, the density of the soundscape increases into a rarefied atmosphere of sighing pulsations which in themselves are still too drawn out to detect movement.

In truth, the music features an assortment of changes, but these evolutionary transformations occur over such prolonged periods that their development remains too subtle for detection. Effectively, this is the nucleus of this release?s charm: the music resolutely passive nature. The harmonics rise from near silence and achieve a whispery softness that one must strain to recognize.

This composition is designed to provide the listener with an intentionally unobtrusive background flow whose entire effect happens within the brain. These ephemeral tones smooth all psychic waves with their own languid resonance, instilling a sense of calm and expansive serenity.

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STEVE ROACH: Landmass (CD on Timeroom Editions)

This release from 2008 offers 68 minutes of electronic music recorded live in the studios of WXPN for simultaneous broadcast on the Star?s End program on May 20, 2007.

Here, Roach?s signature ambience is presented with more substance. The tonalities expand to a healthy scale, moving beyond a mimicry of windblown air currents. Additional electronics coax the harmonics into a melodic definition, while more strident tones approximate a relaxed sense of rhythms throughout the performance with their twinkling pulsations.

Versatile sound sourcing bestows the music with novel edges. Are those bells hiding in the wandering effects? Do the ends of several sounds rise with a truncated vitality, lending the notes a hint of buoyancy?

In one passage, the presence of tastefully plodding beats injects a soothing animation to the slowly churning vaporous music. This lively disposition becomes mirrored by the electronics as textures swell and fade with pronounced enthusiasm and those twinkling pulsations exhibit a stately jubilation.

At another point, sprightly tempos occur, driving the melodies into a pacific fervor that is tempered by the airborne harmonics.

While the gist of the compositions is luxurious and peaceful, a sense of escalating tension is generated as the flow carries the audience on a journey across landscapes of ancient majesty, ultimately lifting everyone on an ascension to stratospheric altitudes where the grandeur is obvious despite its subtlety.

While mainly ambient, this music is seasoned with enough instances of electronic enervation to make it satisfying to those who prefer their soundscapes to deliver something more than ethereal essence.

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STEVE ROACH: Empetus (double CD on Projekt)

Roach?s Empetus album was originally released in 1986. This CD reissue from 2008 offers that 45 minute release and includes a 72 minute bonus disc, The Early Years which features previously unreleased rare material.

On Empetus, Roach plays analog and digital synthesizers, sequencers and digital drums. He is assisted by Weslie Brown (whose voice can be found on two tracks) and Michael Stearns (who contributes beam to three pieces).

Before Roach attained his lustrous ambient reputation, his early music pursued conventional electronic paths, although his personal style did tend to flavor what was considered ?conventional? with his own liquid sound.

You?ll find less tonal atmospherics here, more strident keyboard structures compounding into rolling melodics. Not that ambient foundations were utterly absent, they put in periodic appearances, bridging the more nimble-fingered passages with celestial interludes--but the sonic emphasis is on sprightly electronic riffs that cycle into lavishly hypnotic tunes. Drones creep through the mix, expressing more definition than would be found in later compositions.

A sense of urgency dominates this music, communicating a constant locomotion of delightfully crystalline chords. The songs are decidedly bouncy with artfully impulsive melodies which are spiced with sinuous drones that sweep through the mix like glistening honey. Some passages achieve a boisterous vigor that often threatens to exhaust the listener.

E-perc contributes strong rhythms, injecting additional propulsion to the upwardly mobile songs. There are no tribal allusions in these tempos; the beats are wholly modern and strictly dynamic.

The use of choral voices lends a distinctly Philip Glass air to some of the tracks, matching the rapid-fire style employed with the keyboards loops.

The Early Years features two tracks.

?Harminia Mundi? was recorded around 1982-83. On this 47 minute epic, Roach is joined by Thomas Ronkin. The music is completely analog and pre-MIDI.

This longform piece starts with immediate zest and builds from there, maintaining a constant level of engaging tuneage and undulating structure. Attractive riffs are established and coaxed to expand with auxiliary elements entering the flow. New riffs sneakily appear, seeping into the mix like liquid intrusions--often barely discernible until they conquer the melody?s prior course. A hyperactive demeanor is accomplished as the deft chords compound into frenzied structures. Each stage leads to levels of higher ascension, culminating in a stratospheric pinnacle of breathless glory. Before that magnificent peak is reached, percussion lends an agile oomph to the tune?s increasing density.

?Release? was recorded in 1982 right after Roach?s debut album. He is the only performer on this 26 minute piece.

While the pace is less frenetic in this piece, the overall intention is quite similar to the other track. Appealing riffs slide into perfect definition, bolstered by a peppy determination and pursuing a shimmering goal that hangs on high. Here, though, majestic tones blend with delicate keys to produce a lusher sonic experience. The melodies engage in diversions that are gregarious and quite unexpected, all of them equally mesmerizing. E-perc can be numbered among those diversions; the tempos indulge in a slushy passage that is fascinating. The finale flourishes as the central theme is treated to a fragile downward spiral.

The music on both discs offers vibrant nostalgia for longtime fans and surprisingly peppy roots for those who are familiar only with Roach?s extremely soothing material.

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This release from 2008 features 73 minutes of extreme ambience in a shamanistic vein.

Metcalf plays frame drums, earth drum, udu, clay pot, seed pods, and harmonic-overtone voice. Seelig plays bansuri flute, dilruba, and harmonic-overtone voice. Roach contributes drones, zones and atmospheres.

Moody textures generate a reverent mien of the type that stretch a moment into an eternity, but that stasis is embellished with haunting airs that rise from the murky pool of sound like antediluvian spirits who have come to impart cosmic wisdom through their august presence. Exotic strings flavor the accumulating mists with a taste of melancholic human aspirations, which periodically becomes subdued by the tonal divinity of an expansive void that remains a constant foundation throughout the composition.

Vaporous flutes wander through the seething tonalities, conjuring wistful emotions to the surface of the listener?s mind. The psychic heart aches from their softly passionate refrain.

When the primitive percussives make their appearance, their beats are languid and studied, designed to ground any straying focus and goad it into a primal state of consciousness. These tempos never quite achieve a tribal mode, remaining pensive and churning thoughts into a passive sine wave, abetting receptivity to mysteries held fast in the mental depths. Shakers (i.e.: seed pods) introduce an expectant agitation to the music?s ceremonial motif. An electronic presence lends a growling undercurrent that enhances this numinous quest.

While primarily ethereal in definition, the undulant threads provide ample substance, transforming this ambient excursion into a vibrant sonic experience.

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STEVE ROACH/ERIK WOLLO: Stream of Thought (CD on Projekt)

This release from 2008 features 70 minutes of stimulating ambience.

Roach plays analog and digital synthesizers and sequencers, loops and atmospheres, while Wollo plays electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, bass, Roland guitar, synthesizers, VST instruments, sequencers, loops and atmospheres.

Crisp electronics and airy tonalities blend with stringed instruments to generate lavish yet serene melodies.

Initially, layers of soothing but lively guitars establish a bewitching presence with undulating textures providing an atmospheric foundation. That basis expands with subsequent pieces, exploring realms of haunting distinction with floating drones and cosmic ambience. This ambience refuses to remain sedate, however, persisting in variations of thrilling diversity, maintaining a constant level of engagement throughout.

Ephemeral electronics express a trance state that is tempered and elevated by the presence of dreamy guitar patterns. These strings vibrate with a spectral demeanor, bestowing the celestial music with a sense of human spirituality.

While some soft rhythms (all of them synthetic) are utilized, the music is generally a construction of interweaving electronics designed to function like boundless fluid, oozing and flowing without restraint. In several instances, the beats are processed into blurred sequences that are immediately alluring in their ethereal mien.

One sequence casts off ambient sensibilities and flourishes with a more energized sound with sprightly tempos, lively electronics, and guitars that adopt a decidedly astral motif with their searing resonance.

Combining Roach?s arid desert flair and Wollo?s arctic stylings, this tuneage is of high appeal and unique disposition, a fusion of hot and cold that exemplifies a psychic plane beyond physical sensations. While the music is presented as a continuous stream, the various compositions (there are 19 of them) possess diverse characteristics whose variety is guaranteed to entertain.

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