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Ambient Electronics by Steve Roach

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STEVE ROACH Rasa Dance: the Music of Connection (CD on Timeroom Editions)

This CD from 2013 features 73 minutes of melodic electronic music.

Lively guitar lends a substantial touch to Roach's normally ambient soundscapes. The presence of harmonica in the opening enhances this difference.

That guitar presence persists throughout the album, imbuing the music with a dreamily tangible quality. While there are some elongated sustains, a percentage of the guitarwork manifests as twangy strumming (yet devoid of any prairie characteristics).

The electronics are typically ethereal, wafting like delicate breezes through the tracks and establishing a vaporous foundation for additional electronics and the guitar.

Airy flute enhances some passages, bestowing the music with a winsome flair. As the album continues, female vocals (of a non-lyrical nature) are increasingly present, voicing an organic temperament.

Some tribal percussion is employed, but the rhythms are gentle and softly played, thereby embellishing the tuneage rather than driving it. In one instance, the beats sneakily display more influence, almost guiding the music's flow instead of contributing to it.

Despite all these unexpected elements, these compositions retain Roach's signature sound: atmospheric streams designed to mesmerize and instill introspection. These songs possess melodic definition of a keen nature, flowing tunes that still mesmerize, but actually generate an outward perceptivity, connecting the listener to their environment instead of isolating them from the real world. This music is also clearly broken into individual tracks (unlike Roach's standard manner of seamlessly streaming one song into the next), tastily segregating each piece's inherent melody

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STEVE ROACH : Live Transmission (double CD on Projekt)

This release from 2013 features 126 minutes of live electronic music performed on May 7, 2013 at Soma FM.

While Roach is the sole live performer, he utilizes pip (Fujara Source) by Dirk Serries and sounds (Beat Source) by Byron Metcalf.

As expected, the pieces here are extra-long, allowing the sonic flow to gradually evolve. Not that separate identity is a factor as each track streams into the next without betraying any break; in fact, each subsequent piece grows out of the residue of the prior track.

CD 1 begins with a sparkling textural that breathes with an erratic fluctuation, accompanied by lighter tones of a similar resonance. These tones are almost melodic in definition, although they are generally put to harmonic use, ebbing and sighing to generate a gentle auralscape. A slushy background presence creeps into the mix, lending a contrast for the otherwise glistening nature of the lead sounds. Soon emerging are muffled rhythms (more muted than muffled, actually), which contribute a languid tempo to the ambience. The electronics become more prominent, in volume and interweaving complexity, producing a flow that is quite entrancing. Somewhere along the way, the ambience mutates into an elevated state, retaining its gentility but seasoning things with a touch of melodic oomph. Those muted percussives engage in more intricate rhythms as they begin to exhibit more cybernetic character; this blend of beat and crackle is quite engaging as it defines sinuous patterns amid the electronic flow. That flow has similarly mutated. thickening with additional sounds, all of which maintaining a remote vantage with their softness. Eventually, the rhythms fade away, leaving the electronics to reorganize and coalesce into fresh atmospherics. When the rhythms return, they are grittier, crunchy as they define a temperate tribal presence just over the hill. The addition of shakers enhances this tribal milieu. As the CD draws to its conclusion and the music starts to enter its extended fade-out, a new melody surfaces, mustering strength until it fairly seethes with pulsating puissance, bringing the CD to a strong end.

Oh, it would be so easy to just say the second CD offers more of the same...but that would be erroneous. While ambience is keynote, the styles in which Roach achieves these soundscapes is different each time. Whether mixing guttural gears with spiraling tones...or piercing bleeps contrasted by snickety beats...his goal may be to mesmerize the audience, but each track pursues alternate methods of delivering that mesmerization. There's a section that approaches Roach's groove style, chugging along with soft urgency while retaining a dreamy air. And this passage slides into an even more energetic mode with surging pulsations of a squeaky nature immersed in bubbling bloops. And the concert wraps up with a piece of moderate strength, bordering on ambient but possessing a tad too much melody and substance to be considered truly ambient.

It is important to understand that although Roach utilizes an amount of his signature "sounds," an abundance exists of fresh oscillations (such as squeaky bird-like noises or bent cello notes) which are new to his sonic palette. The result is a tasty new flavoring of ambiences.

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VARIOUS ARTISTS Possibilities of Circumstance (CD on Projekt)

This release from 2013 features 56 minutes of diverse (but generally gentle) electronic music.

This collection features tracks by:

Steve Roach (an otherwise unreleased piece): twinkling keyboards and thumping bass tones conspire with fluid background textures to produce a lovely soundscape.

Tim Story & HJ Roedelius: stately piano and gently clacking sounds and peripheral electronics create a haunting milieu.

Robert Rich: moody electronics counterbalanced by sparkling steel drum percussion (of a very subdued nature) combine with pedal steel guitar sustains (that expand into dire chords) while those "moody" electronics grow progressively cheery.

Ulrich Schnauss & Mark Peters: several sprightly keyboard threads escalate in complexity, merging together to form an endearing tune.

Larry Fast/Synergy (an otherwise unreleased track): a brooding, almost ominous opening erupts into a percussive-driven excursion into higher altitudes with sweeping tonalities and addition rhythms.

Jeff Pearce (an otherwise unreleased song): airy textures coalesce to form a pensive tapestry that grows increasingly dense.

Nathan Youngblood & Soriah (an otherwise unreleased track): moody electronics and infrequent bell-tones are backed by a host of remote chittering sounds and tempered by the rise of an immense lunar shadow.

Erik Wollo (an otherwise unreleased piece): a full range of instruments (chugging percussion, twangy guitar, dreamy tones and serpentine electronics) produce a lush and enticing song.

Whether this is an introduction to these musicians or whether you're interested in new music by old favorite performer, this is a delightful collection of gentle electronic music.

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