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Steve Roach: Live at Grace Cathedral, Sigh of Ages, Nightbloom

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The electronic ambient maestro is back with a tantalizing live release...and two studio albums...

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STEVE ROACH: Live at Grace Cathedral (double CD on Ages (CD on Timeroom Editions)

This release from 2010 offers 116 minutes of glorious ambience.

As the title implies, this music was performed live at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, on June 29, 2007. Notably, Roach recorded the concert using ambient microphones to capture the structure's natural reverberant characteristics.

Disc 1 is extremely ambient. The music begins with a vaporous stretch in which fragile tones expand with a sighing quality. Gradual rises and ebbings create a languid feeling, matched by the airy nature of the electronics. The harmonic flow evokes a pacific calm that slowly matures into an optimistic soundscape, still ethereal and quite minimal, but mustering spiritual power with each passing moment. Hints of change creep into play, sneakily, with subtle circumscription. Remote sounds whisper deep in the atmospheric mix, heralding a shift in tone. While the ambience remains ephemeral, a sense of new beginning is established amid the sparse textural flow. The harmonics swell, revealing new scope that manifests in a pleasant escalation of tonal emotion. Just before the disc's conclusion, things achieve a stately pinnacle.

The second disc continues the luxurious ambience with delicate atmospherics tinged with an airy gurgle. Harmonic tones swell, mustering a touch of moderate power that reliably remains subdued. The flow reaches a point where more guttural tones rise to rumble amid the fragile textures, but the overall temperament swiftly returns to its soothing mien. This placid soundscape is periodically visited by auxiliary drones, some of which display hints of authority, accumulating to create a pleasant interlace of undulant tonalities. This even structure is maintained with chords elongated into infinity seasoned by sidereal effects that remain near subliminal in their definition.

About halfway through the second disc, a marshalling of vitality occurs. Whirling electronics rise from the ambience to achieve a state of engaging pulsations seasoned by piercing notes. Surging sounds create a languid animation tinged with melodic character. This passage endures, building to a soft intensity that glimmers with an inner illumination. Then things enter a darker stretch, moody and sans whirligig pulsations...which leads to an expansion of optimistic bearing for a gentle finale.

Overall: a very sedate offering.

STEVE ROACH: Sigh of Ages (CD on Projekt)

This release from 2010 offers 74 minutes of timeless ambience.

In the first track, textures of languid temperance are established and allowed to unfurl in their seemingly unchanging fashion. Yet there are changes as the breathing harmonics gradually indulge in subtle variations, transforming their minimal definitions in ways that primarily impinge upon the listener's subconscious.

The next piece features a twinkling keyboard loop that winds through a series of undulating textures. These latter atmospheric layers are set in contrasting modes: one is airy and ethereal, while the other possesses a subtle vibrancy. The conjunction of these elements produces a smooth flow that is quite engaging.

The third track concentrates on approximating a high altitude soundscape in which pensive tones pulsate in a relaxed manner that instills a sense of aerial liberation. Unfettered by extraneous matter, these sonic zephyrs easily communicate this freedom with their expansive whispers.

In the fourth piece, rarefied tonalities are elongated into structures of infinite proportion. These melodics are subdued to a condition of stretched harmonics. A distinctly celestial demeanor is generated.

Track five features a stronger keyboard presence as piano chords slither through tonal layers. A gentle rhythm is present, blending with soft effects of a sparkling nature. A mood of tranquil majesty is the result.

In the last piece, a selection of regal textures drift in airy conjunction, intermingling to produce a flow of stately evocation that leaves the listener spiritually vitalized.

A heavenly touch can be discerned in this gentle tuneage, evoking the passage of angels on nearby breezes, their wings softly caressing the listener's ears with a whisper of heavenly tonalities.

At the same time, this music is rich with the flavor of ageless beauty, as Roach achieves auralscapes that convey the mood of timeless ambience, serenity that has always been and will endure long after the passage of man from this world. As if these sounds were trapped in stone and allowed to seep forth for the edification of passers-by.

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STEVE ROACH & MARK SEELIG: Nightbloom (CD on Projekt)

This release from 2010 offers 74 minutes of dark ambience.

Roach plays drones, zones, and terra grooves. Seelig contributes throat singing and vocal overtoning. Guests include: Beate Maria (on tamboura) and Dwight Loop (on groove elements).

Atmospheric drones conspire with organically generated tones to generate a moody pastiche of nocturnal character.

The electronics actually exhibit a grittier sound than Roach's usual offerings. A growling, almost grinding quality is present among the constant auralscape. There are instances, though, in which auxiliary electronics provide sweeter augmentation, glittering tones that swim in the overall dark sonic pool. In one passage, a blooping sound enhances the feeling the feeling that the music is a deep water-filled abyss.

Seelig's vocal effects provide an earthy flavor to this textural panorama. His contributions are so processed that they are generally unidentifiable as a human voice, excellently blending with the resonant timbre of the electronics to season that synthetic stream with sounds possessing anthropological qualities.

Hints of rhythm occur, but it is immersed in the flow and consequently manifests as a series of muffled punctuations. This creates an eerie undercurrent, establishing a foundation of beats lurking beneath everything. During the final part, the beats rise and adopt a more prominent bearing, imbuing the music with a peppier sensibility.

Although divided into five parts, this music flows together to offer an extensive excursion into a skyscape of deeply pensive consistency.

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