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Steve Roach's Journey of One

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While Steve Roach has expanded his ambient sound to various electronic genres, one of his styles has left an indelible mark on the music industry: that of tribal ambience. This new release goes back in time to document a superb example of that signature sound--in a live recording from 1996.

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STEVE ROACH: Journey of One (double CD on Projekt)

This release from 2011 offers 98 minutes of tribal ambience recorded live in Sacramento on 11.8.96.

Disc 1: It begins with vaporous tonalities creeping out of the shadows. Auxiliary tones emerge to accompany the background drone (although technically none of them are "drones," being instead more cultivated electronic pitches elongated into undulant textures). soon followed by soft percussives pittering out a tribal rhythm. There's the rattling of shakers, the resonance of shamanistic chants, and the tones achieve a piercing quality on the up-breath. The rhythms seem to be a basic loop, but there are deviations in the pattern. Enter the didgeridoo, casting out somber drones (these we can call "drones," for there is no better description of the alien breathy pitch of the Australian aborigines' wind instrument) and evoking a gathering of elders beneath a cloudless nocturnal sky. At this point, some of the winsome electronics actually do seem to approximate the vastness of the desert heavens. Different tribal drums slide into play, heralding the beginning of a journey that will penetrate the barriers between the realm of things known and the mysterious vista that lurks inside one's head. A collage of indistinct voices commune with the spirits that guard the boundary, and eventually passage is granted and the listener crosses over. This new realm is resplendent with bells, whose chiming guides the traveler toward a zone of sonic clarity. The textures, the tempos, the sighing electronics--all adopt a crispness, as if the listener has emerged from a muffled area into a pocket of well-lit precision. The spectral voices on this side of the vale are more communicative, their chatter and laughter conveying a general welcoming of travelers. Meanwhile, the percussives are still going, gentle and pensive, and the electronics are sighing a complexity of ethereal waves. As the CD draws to a close, a celestial tinge rises, infecting everything with a regal posture as they all commence a slow fade out. And just before the end, a remote drum signals the transition to the next disc.

Disc 2: This begins with a reasonably lively electronic sequence that rises from a murky pool of churning tonalities. The notes are remarkably crisp (especially so after the brooding quality exhibited by most of the sounds on the first disc), even bouncy as they cavort with jubilation. A dense didgeridoo fog swallows everything, clearing the stage for an airy textural passage. Tribal percussives eventually appear in tandem with ghostly shakers. This sober mood is gradually banished by the introduction of snappier percussion. These agile rhythms carry the music into a realm of promise. Answers lie here, hidden by ignorance, but revealed as the listener drifts through this spry territory. Some of these mysteries are quirky, as evidenced by their weird electronic chirping. But waves of glittering tones bring with them the optimism needed to unlock all secrets. The electronics convey a sense of awe concerning these revelations. A peppy rhythm appears, expressing satisfied celebration. The electronics grow denser, shriller, more authoritative. The traveler is approaching a big insight, and the music marks this achievement by ascending with mounting grandeur. The peppy bongos get even peppier. The electronics escalate to a piercing pitch. After such a thrilling passage, one needs to rest, so the energized ensemble passes and is replaced by a haunting stretch of winsome tonalities basking multiple tempos. Yet, despite the languid character of this section, the tuneage possesses a nourishing flair. The emergence of a triumphant didgeridoo testifies to the listener's revitalization. The return to normal space is conducted with elegant smoothness. Hosts of vaporous tones muster to usher you along. A sense of calm is instilled as the atmospheric electronics waft like gentle breezes.

All in all, an outstanding concert. Roach touches on every aspect of his tribal style and even injects a few sprightly passages, displaying his creative range and fusing everything together in a wonderful fashion.

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