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Steve Roach: Innovative Ambience

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STEVE ROACH: Back to Life (double CD on Projekt)

This release from 2012 features 144 minutes of beguiling ambience.

Ambience in its purest form is attractive; ambience that skirts the boundary between harmonic and melodic structure is even better. And that's what this release does.

The application of harmonic atmospherics results in a hypnotic state, but inject hints of melody within those textural flows and you get auralscapes that subliminally stimulate the psyche with tantalizing threads for the mind to pursue. As auxiliary layers slide into play, the placid sonic environs become a realm of potential surprises. Each new tonal element thickens the mix and steers the listener's consciousness into fresh neural pathways, escalating the fruitfulness of contemplation.

Normally, Roach's ambient compositions are presented in long, CD-spanning tracks. And while the second disc offers just that, disc 1 breaks the flow into several distinct songs. Okay, some of them stream together seamlessly, but the astute listener can detect how each piece differs in temperament and structure; even the sounds which define the music change as the CD progresses. Grittier contributions enter the mix, chittering with eerie evocation, tempered by flowing electronics of a crystalline nature. Non-percussive beats rise into play amidst celestial passages.

Meanwhile, disc 2 brims with conventionally structured soundscapes that evolve gradually, adding layers while others fade, achieving an illusionary environment of seeming uniformity (which the more discerning listener easily recognizes as no uniformity at all as the elements ebb and surface with languid dependability). One can easily become lost in the vaporous flow.

Naturally, the music is all designed to aid the audience in subtracting the real world from their perceptions so they can immerse themselves in undistracted reflection. Or (if meditation's not your thing) the music serves as a beautiful backdrop for just sitting around and daydreaming.

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STEVE ROACH: Groove Immersion (CD on Timeroom Editions)

This CD from 2012 features 74 minutes of kinetic ambient music.

The music on this release was created by Roach exclusively on hardware instruments.

Electronics conspire with rhythmic elements in a melodic mode. That last bit is important--"melodic"--for this is not one of Roach's minimal soundscape outings. (i)This(/i) music has melody and body and visceral impact.

The electronics are a blend of dreamy backdrops and gutsier lead layers. Peripheral inclusions serve to liven things even more, such as a cluster of insectoid chitters sliding into play in tandem with the basic serpentine flow. The sounds sigh with lazy abandon, streaming into seemingly infinite loops with changes are often too subtle to detect until the riff has fully metamorphosed.

Roiling clouds of sound whisper at each other, generating moods of seductive calm which are then teased into a mildly energetic mode by auxiliary electronics and the luxuriant percussives.

The rhythms are all artificial and mainly consist of tempos crafted from electronic sounds instead of sampled drum beats. These percussive threads lend the tuneage locomotion in a sedate manner; never mustering an intrusive presence but taking a noticeable stance in the overall sonic gestalt.

The composition is a long one (one track on the CD), but the music undergoes several distinct evolutions along the way, allowing the cycles to mutate into engaging variations, which in turn lead to even more diverse passages. The result is hypnotic and affluent with tangible charm.

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BYRON METCALF: The Shaman's Heart II (CD on Projekt)

This release from 2012 features 71 minutes of tribal ambience.

Metcalf plays buffalo drums, ceremonial toms, frame drums, clay pot, medicine rattles, ambient percussion, voice, wind spirit, and huasca breaths. Joining him is Steve Roach (on didgeridoo, ocarinas, analog and digital synthesizers, analog modular system, looping, and co-composition).

A variety of rhythmics is given a harmonic flow by textural electronics.

Do not expect the percussion to be frenzied dancebeat stuff. Here, the beats are languid and metered to approximate a heartbeat and the consequential pulse. The central tempos remain steadfast, while auxiliary percussives (rattles and softer drums) gently embellish those core patterns with undulant rhythms which vary over the passage of time (or as the music progresses). Escalation of the rhythms generates tension as the body follows the artificial template set forth by the music, just as a decrease in the tempos guides the listener into a more sedate attitude.

The electronics are wholly textural. Atmospheric waves pulsate softly and produce a very organic milieu for the tapestry of beats. Not much happens with this electronic presence, its regularity serves to accentuate the subtle changes that occur amid the rhythmic structure.

The didgeridoo lends a haunting fog to the mix, lifting the soundscape from a basic ambient territory and depositing the listener in a realm of holistic tribal airs.

These compositions are designed to segregate the listener from the material world and put them in tune with their own physiological system. The rhythms create a connection with a person's pulse-rate, providing a doorway to a psychic appraisal of one's own anatomical processes. The tuneage does undergo a steady evolution, moving through various temperaments, although those alterations may be difficult for a casual observer to notice. They do exist, however, resulting in a fluid progression (enhanced by ancillary tempos) from a resting state through diverse levels of relaxation. A few of these cunning changes are reasonably pronounced, such as with the introduction of vocal drones and grunts in one passage, or when the beats vanish for the music's final stage, marking not so much a cessation as a transcendence to focusing on the ethereal wave which lies beneath everything.

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