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Steve Roach and Electronic Ambience

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Ambient pioneer Steve Roach has been crafting minimal soundscapes for decades. Here is his latest example (and a reissue of a not-so-old release):

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STEVE ROACH: Destination Beyond (CD on Projekt)

This release from 2009 offers 72 minutes of delicately rhythmic ambience.

Tenuous harmonic waves achieve a constant pattern that actually changes, but does so in such a gradual fashion as to defy notice. But--that’s what ambience is all about: establishing a soundtrack that walks a fine line between “hey, ya hear that?” and “hey, I didn’t notice there was anything to hear.”

Roach has mastered the ability to craft soundscapes that deliver to both opinions. His music can function as a barely discernible backdrop or provide silence with an extra boost. Subliminal sounds don’t not exist, they aren’t supposed to be noticeable. And one can rightfully say that Destination Beyond fulfills that criteria.

On the other hand, discerning ears can argue that this release possesses sonic body and depth. Ethereal vapors are generated, then tempered with additional waves of gentility. The flow is constant, but variations are present. Admittedly, this release does exhibit a tad more substance than many of Roach’s examples of extreme ambience. The atmospheric flow features several passages of distinctly audible melodies. They emerge slowly, but when they appear they possess engaging definition. And a little rhythmic presence too, as electronic pulses are cycled to produce delicate tempos.

In fact, as the single track progresses, rhythms become more prominent, contributing sinuous threads that will drag the dreamer closer to the surface of their mind (while never achieving an intrusive presence that might interfere with one’s train of thought).

If you’re the type of person who sits back and actually pays rigorous attention to music like this, you’ll be rewarded with serpentine rhythms winding their way through nebulous electronic vistas. Cyclic electronics provide a secondary level of harmonics rippling through the ephemeral constant.

In all fairness, these rhythmic passages do not run throughout the album’s entirety. There are stretches in which the ambience is dominant, allowing new tempos to eventually surface and play out...before dwindling away for another section of minimal dreaminess.

Which only serves to enhance the album’s overall charm.

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STEVE ROACH & LOREN NERELL: Terraform (CD on Projekt)

Originally released in 2006, this out-of-print CD has been reissued in 2009 and offers 74 minutes of soothing ambience.

Now, this release is pure ambience: no melodies, only harmonic flows; no rhythms, just seemingly endless streams of pacific sound.

One might expect this music to be comprised of nothing but atmospheric drones, but there’s more going on than just ethereal backdrops. Augmenting the vaporous foundation are additional electronics and environmental recordings. Waves of gentle pulsations cascade in steadfast embellishment, while auxiliary textures breath softly in the middle space between the foundation and more prominent threads, creating an illusion of vast space existing within the tenuous minimalism.

A curious aspect of this music is the geological impressions evoked by the tuneage. While most ambient compositions are readily comparable to atmospheric conditions, this music generates the feeling of immersion in rock, moving slowly through subterranean strata, or traveling along the supple contours of water-sculpted ravines. Ponderous bass tones lurk within the mix, approximating barriers of immutable stone; yet the luxurious harmonics imbue the listener with the capacity to easily pass through these solid regions and discover wondrous realms of stygian glory.

Every once in a while there are hints of machinery, establishing a technological presence in this geological milieu. Meanwhile, nature is injected into the flow through the periodic inclusion of crickets and sounds that are suggestive of water.

These compositions reliably create a pleasant auralscape that is conducive for relaxation, spacing out, or introspection.

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