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This is the Complete Edition, 4-CD Set (No Hard Box).
Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces (hard-boxed edition!)
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immersion : three (ltd edition)
The Complete Edition | The full four disc set. ------------Part 1 and Part 2 (in the same double digipaks as below) at a special combination price. Part 1 | The official retail version. A 2-CD digipak containing disc 1 and disc 2. Part 2 | A 2-CD digipak completing the experience with disc 3 and disc 4. Not available in stores.
"Abandoning all conventional notions of music as melody, harmony and rhythm, Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces allows the listener blissful hours on the high frontier between deep listening music and the spirituality of pure sound." - Stephen Hill, Hearts of Space Radio
Moving into the majestic realm of pure, non-rhythmic electro-acoustic soundworlds, Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces is a stunning 4-CD release marking a new milestone in Roach's history as a true artist of sound. His landmark statements - including Dreamtime Return, Magnificent Void and Structures from Silence - are all parts of the uninterrupted flow building to this release. After a recent run of rhythmically fused CDs, Roach moves into awe-inspiring sonic immersion, delving into a spiritual dimension of sound. Nearly 5 years in the making, this release offers a listening experience beyond entertainment and pop culture appeals, creating a new sense of 'ambient orchestration' through a constantly shifting flow of sounds and textures that enters a sacred realm of music.
After dark descents into the abyss on The Magnificent Void and Midnight Moon, Steve Roach lightens up the textures a bit on the double CD Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces. The mood harkens back to his influential 1984 release, Structures From Silence, but the atmospheres are more textured and layered while melody is virtually non-existent. And while Structures had a slow motion pulse, Mystic Chords hangs rhythm free. It floats in a space of richly detailed, but minutely shifting sound constructs that owe more to Gyorgy Ligeti and Mark Rothko than early Roach touchstones like Klaus Schulze and Salvador Dali. Roach is creating a free fall through space, less rooted in the pulsing techno-tribal sound of his 1990s music, and more ecstatic in its evocations of something beyond. He carries you to groaning turgid depths, then lifts you as electric guitar glides and synthesizers gurgle, shudder, and swell in an Aurora Borealis of sound. - John Diliberto
I cannot see how Roach can ever hope to top this tour de force, magnum opus of ambient mastery. From the peaceful depths of his Quiet Music, to the gentle whispers of Structures from Silence, across the metaphysical fields of Dreamtime Return, and whirling about the gelid event horizons of the Magnificent Void's utter emptiness -- comes forth this splendid aural confirmation that Steve Roach is the absolute master of ambience. This release renewed my faith that Roach still had it in him to produce a signature massive imprint of deep listening excellence.
You will find some environmentally calming Mother Nature moments as in Quiet Music but Roach doesn't overdo it. It is just right -- as Eno might say, "sounds to be in and not listened to . . ." There is that sense of relaxing immensity that overflows the listener's psyche as Structures . . . produced. The cosmic timelessness yet earthly antiquities and resultant trance sense as created in Dreamtime . . . pervades. That chilling realization arises in places, of humanity's mark being so ephemeral and insignificant, a point of light floating in endless oceans of time and onion layers of reality which Roach's . . . Void buried us all in, that sends sporadic shivers up one's spine. Yet overall, Roach successfully intertwines a womblike warmth of being "known and kept" by the "Creator". How any logical person can blindly look about the cosmos and deny Design and Thought, I cannot fathom. The subjective peace this reviewer experiences in these compositions of Roach is akin to a belonging, an unseen protection, and an infinity of promises and destinies as yet unrevealed to flesh and blood. Spirit eternal is inside Roach's compositions. That personal sense of one's well-fleshed and mortal temporality is evident yet our spirit-fired exuberance in a God-given immortality is strongly echoed.
Roach's epic vision in his Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces boxed set is without a doubt, a landmark release that has raised the bar nearly to the stars for all ambient works to come. Bravo, Steve, bravo! And mostly, thank you so much for the experience. Highest of this editor's recommendations. - John W. Patterson, EER-MUSIC.com
To call Steve Roach’s new 4-CD set “ambitious” is an understatement. In Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces, Roach has given us more than two years’ worth of work, actually originating from ideas he first worked with in 1996. Mystic Chords lasts more than 5 hours if played straight through. That’s as long as a full-length Wagner opera, but mercifully without the singing. Indeed, this might be called the “Parsifal” of electronic music: a long, mythic journey into a world filled with esoteric light and spiritual passion.
To enter into the world of Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces, you must first understand its language and its culture. Roach’s music grows from many musical roots; he has taken inspiration from rock, jazz, electronica, “world” and aboriginal music, even “Western” cowboy music. But here, Roach’ s musical world is that of what is called “classical” music, or rather, the “serious” music of the late 19th and early to middle 20th century. For Mystic Chords he has chosen to use mostly notes and harmonies which can be found in the work of composers like the late Romantics of Europe and Russia, and the French “Impressionists” as well as more recent composers such as Aaron Copland and even the French avant-garde composer Olivier Messiaen. Most important for Roach’s Mystic Chords is the exotic music of the late 19th century Russian composer Alexander Scriabin, who created a huge “mystical universal chord” on which he based many wild works.
This album could very well be thought of as “classical music,” though Roach is using electronic media rather than an orchestra to do it. Yet it is still essentially “ambient,” and it uses the musical language of “ambient,” with its floating harmonies, its lack of rhythm, and its dreamlike slowness. For this set, Roach has put aside the aboriginal percussion that has been so characteristic of his work (except for one moment of rattle sounds at the beginning of disc 3). He has also left behind the insistent electronic rhythms of his earlier albums, as well as bells, chanting, special sound-effects, didgeridoo, ominous whispers, weird flutes, industrial clanks, and other familiar Roach features. What is left is pure harmony, played on layers and layers of synthesizers (and in places, modified electric guitar) which sometimes sound like an orchestra, sometimes like a great pipe organ. Only one track has an “acoustic” instrument, on Disc 1, where a cello is played as a drone.
On Disc 1, auto-titled “Mystic Chords and Sacred Spaces,” Roach sets all this out for the listener: the floating chords, the underlying drones, the oceanic reverberation, and above all, the harmonies. Everything depends on the harmonies that make up the chords: major, minor, modal, dissonant, consonant. Other ambient composers have tried this, and have produced hours of boredom. But Steve Roach can make transcendent music out of this style. The reason for Roach’s success is his outstanding musicianship and composing ability. He knows just what chord to use to evoke any emotion, whether happy, sad, warm, ominous, blissful or despairing. And these chords are not just simple guitar changes or plinks on a keyboard. They are highly complex tone-clusters, deliberately built up in each separate musical section from different keys and modes, and blended together with modern digital and sound-looping technology. One reason they are so effective, and unique to Roach, is that the notes in these chords are unusually spaced; a single chord may have notes that are two octaves apart, giving it a “vast” and open quality. Yet most of these chords can be played on a conventional piano or organ keyboard.
Enough musical analysis. I was not joking when I compared this to Wagner. Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces can be considered a kind of music drama in four acts. Disc 1, “Act 1,” sets forth a kind of grand musical uncertainty, a question; the mood in this first set is wistful, sometimes plaintive, and wondering. The listener is drawn in to the highly personal, yet universal story of a soul on a journey.
Disc 2, titled “Labyrinth,” opens with the idyllic “Wren and Raven,” which incorporates nature sounds, recorded real-time at Steve’s house. The sound of many birds, including not only a wren but a cheerfully tweeting house finch, are paired with somewhat unnerving synthesizer drones. As the set progresses, the nature sounds become more and more filtered and remote, and the synthesizers come into the foreground. It’s a chilling passage which depicts the transition from the natural world of birds and sunlight to the deep and often terrifying “Otherworld“ (the title of disc 2, track 2). This disc, “act 2,” is a dramatic expression of that otherworld journey, as Roach and so many other shamanic and inner travelers have experienced it. Disc 2 features the scariest, and most dissonant, music on the album. It also contains some of the most exalted and passionate sounds - swells of yearning and dark sinks of despair, all of them portrayed just by the harmonies, moving along in their stately slow rhythm of change. Later on Disc 2, the harmonies change again, in a fascinating mix of tonal (playable on “normal” keyboards) and microtonal sounds. Track 11, “Soulwave,” is the artistic climax of Disc 2, where pure vast vistas of starlit desert space emerge out of murky microtonal mist. It’s like looking out into the vastness of space and finding that you and the distant galaxies are on the same wavelength, resonating to a gorgeous, multi-level synthesizer chord. Disc 2, which had started in Steve Roach’s backyard, ends in sparkling, galactic bliss. But we are in no way done with the journey.
Disc 3, “Recent Future,” is in my opinion the best one of the four. It has the most varied and inventive music, and the widest diversity of mood and musical narrative. Here some of Roach’s titles edge towards the “New Age” (“Open Heart,” “Turn to Light,”) but this is hardly the twaddle which is still emitted by “new age” players. Rapturous shimmering tone-clusters, which sound almost like organ music, establish Disc 3 as a direct ray pointing into mystical consciousness, rising above any specific religious or cultural context. Interestingly, Roach reprises a chord from his frenetic Core (2001) in one of these serene, contemplative passages, in Track 4, “This Moment is a Memory.” The next track, “This Moment is Another Memory,” is also filled with un-mystical bent guitar notes and weird creature noises. Perhaps these are musical memories of previous Roach albums! The middle tracks on “Recent Future” return to the mystical mood and get smoother and softer, until they drift off to a quiet, minimalist sonic sleep in tracks 8, 9, and 10. Track 11, “Grounding Place,” sings not of sleep and bliss, but of melancholy and sadness, which even mystics cannot escape.
And then at the end of Disc 3, after the desolate “Grounding Place” fades out, come two tracks which I regard as the highest point not only of the disc, but the whole 4-disc set. Track 12, “Turning Back,” is a short but majestic “orchestral” tone-poem which closely resembles a quiet moment late in the first movement of American composer Aaron Copland’s “Symphony no. 3” (really! listen and you’ll agree!) which then leads into my favorite track of all of them (and favorite title, too), track 13, “The Spiral of Time’s Fire Burns On.” This is the pivotal and most intense piece of the whole set, where the meaning starts to emerge; it’s like the vision of enlightened fire, the goal which draws the mystic journeyer onward. Dazzling cascades and sequences of parallel 10th-chords build to a brilliant crescendo, echoing against each other in a glorious galactic cathedral sound. Yet, remarkably, it doesn’t end here. The photonic cathedral fades away, into a strange coda of murky, nocturnal, muffled dissonance. Even after the vision, the dark Otherworld, and the musical question, remains. There is one more “act” to go.
Disc 4, “act 4,” is titled “Piece of Infinity,” and it is all one 74-minute track. This extended ambient piece is along the lines of Roach’s other sound-environments, such as The Dream Circle, Slow Heat, or the more recent Darkest Before Dawn (which is derived from one of Roach’s “mystic chords” used on this album). Unlike the other three albums in this set, it is not meant for dramatic or narrative effect, but as an aural meditation or background to quiet contemplation. Musically, it is based on a slowly repeating arpeggiation of one of the basic “mystic chords,” slowly revolving upward over and over again. High, drifting synthesizer tones accompany this bassline, but do not intrude. It’s all much quieter in volume and in mood than the previous three albums. Here, the otherworld is left behind, and the journey is stilled. Is this the “answer” to Roach’s musical and spiritual question? If Roach were a lesser composer, he would just pick a sweet chord, relax, and flow downstream into smug prettiness. Disc 4’s music is comforting, but it’s also strange. This Infinity is not sweetness and light, and these slow orbits don’t provide an easy answer. The listener, and the journeyer, is left looking out into the darkness where despite all the memories of brilliance, the way is still unclear. - Hannah M.G. Shapero
This review presents me with a difficult challenge. I feel that I more than used up the superlatives in my vocabulary when I reviewed last year's Trance Spirits and Darkest Before Dawn. Though I like virtually all of Steve's output, I wasn't prepared for him to top himself quite so quickly and so thoroughly. At the risk of contradicting myself when I called Trance Spirits the best ambient CD ever (which I knew would come back to bite me, but not this soon), I will limit myself this time to saying this is easily one of Steve Roach' finest hours ~ well, 5 hours to be more precise. As an overview, Mystic Chords is what I would call the "classic" organic ambient style of Steve Roach; Labyrinth is his dark ambient style; Recent Future is a tasty variety sampler platter; and "Piece of Infinity" is one of Steve's trademark minimal long-form works, perhaps the subtlest and softest he has ever done. My favorite is the first disc, 5 tracks running from nearly 12 to just over 20 minutes each. There are great highs and lows, wonderful deep drones and high shimmering tones, all richly layered in an organic primordial soup that touches a vibrant nerve for a thoroughly soothing listening experience. Reaching deeper still is Labyrinth, 10 tracks that plunge deep into "The Otherworld," a track which is representative of the intense darkness found at several moments on disc two. Strange creatures call out from the caverns as we stand on the precipice looking down. With no looking back, we enter the even darker "Wonderworld." Gems are found in both long and short tracks, as evidenced by the beautiful "Threshold." "This small number takes on no small task, providing a smooth transition between the darkest and lightest selections on Labyrinth, and it most ably does so. After "Dream Body" and "Slowly Dissolveî"deceive us into thinking weíve found our way out, "Womb Of Nightî"tells us otherwise. Though undeniably Roach, I'm also reminded here of old haunting Schulze numbers from the early 1970s. We climb our way back out of the maze into disc three, Recent Future . It's still a little dark here, but not as much as its predecessor. Here Steve shows just how many subtleties can be brought to bear on this genre called ambient. In these 13 tracks, as on the rest of the discs, not a beat is heard, but the variety on this single disc while retaining a cohesive quality is remarkable. Light, dark, simple, complex, visceral, elegant ~ all are apt adjectives to describe the music to be found here. Sample to your heart's delight, or better yet, play it through from beginning to end and hear the flow as Steve intended. For that matter, I recommend doing that from "Palace of Nectar" all the way through to "Piece of Infinity." Consider it time very well spent. - Philip Derby
Steve wrote that the first ideas for this set came to life around 1996, and from that time was accomplished bit by bit, culminated in the first months of 2003 in nightly TimeRoom-sessions. The result is impressive: 4 cd’s which all clock over 70 minutes, in which deep-delving soundscapes lead the way. Disc 1 opens with profound and deep textures of the title track, slowly morphing and drifting off in vast and unknown territory. Disc 2 contains some sophisticated use of bird-sounds which merges perfectly with dissolving and deep moving-textures. This track really shows some elements of great works like The Magnificent Void and depth found in some of his former quiet recordings such as Structures from Silence. Disc 3 is another extensive journey into time and space with delicate use of environmentals here and there. Steve ’s magical soundsculpturing really surrounds the listener and makes you disappear towards the end. The set concludes with 1 longform composition without separate indexes, aptly called Piece of Infinity . Both deeply introspective and meditative in nature, this seems the ultimate core centre where things are initially born and return at the far end. A grand piece, great stuff for infinite playback like The Dream Circle or Atmospheric Conditions. All in all, Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces is an ultimate soundexperience in nowadays deep ambient, absolutely worth the wait and a great listening adventure! - Bert Strolenberg
Unlike many artists, like Brian Eno, Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream etc. who have created ambient masterpieces, there is no one more deserving then the Steve Roach to be a major part of the meditative and spacey side to ambient music. Steve Roach started his music career off in 1982 with the album Now and then went on to make such great ambient pieces such as Dreamtime Return and Structures in Silence, however you have not heard of the real Steve Roach until you’ve thoroughly listened to and explored the gargantuan goliath of an album that is Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces.
I’ll cut right to the chase here: This is the best ambient album ever made.
Released in 2003, Not only is this album just 5 minutes shy of being a 5 hour long album, it is the most peaceful, thought provoking, beautiful, calming albums I’ve ever listened to and that is not an overstatement. There are a total of 4 CD’s this album is equipped with, and every single one of them is pure gold and when you listen to the album, you should be visualizing what you’re listening to based on the song titles or just overall mood you get from the album.
The album starts off with the first CD which includes 5 songs with each over 10 minutes long, which is the perfect length, if not longer, for songs like these. Each of these songs invoke a happy and warm mood which is the perfect feeling to have on first listen and they all fill mine and (should) fill your heads with different stories, ideas and themes. For example, when listening to Palace of Nectar, I imagined myself as a honey bee inside of a giant nest flying around with all the other bees, and the fourth song Presence, has the feeling of weightlessly climbing a giant steep mountain and ever so slowly trying to climb the top. One thing you’ll notice is that these songs never get too loud or too soft, they’re always in this one airy and reverberated dynamic and it is a perfect feeling to have for an album like this. The first CD ends really strongly on the track Vortex Ring which is extremely spacey and a lot more organic and open than the previous track Presence which felt claustrophobic and airy (almost as if you’re inside of a vortex). Hope you don’t fall asleep yet because it just gets better from here.
In terms of enjoyment, calmness and creativity, the next CD has the same if not more potential as the last CD had, except with a different approach to the mood and sound. The second CD starts off with the song Wren and Raven in which we hear some very interesting bird sounds, as if the album was recorded in a rainforest with heavy fog. The sound of the second CD from first 3 tracks move into a more dismal and sombre sound even touching the sounds of dark ambient (especially on the songs The Otherworld and Wonderworld) in contrast to the first CD, but then the mood turns to warm and sunny as we hear the songs Threshold and Dream Body and it lightens up the whole rest of the CD. The rest of the CD has the same overall vibe as it mixes the dark ambient sounds of Wonderworld and the warm spacey sounds of Dream Body. The Nameless is quite possibly the strongest song on this entire album because it blends dark ambient and beautiful sounding warm space ambient in a very open and thought-provoking way with its extremely echoed, delayed and reverberated synthesizers with some samples (and maybe hints of vocals in the song Presence…?). Another thing about this CD is that it flows from one song to the next unlike the last CD. The best part is about the flow between one song to the other is that you can actually tell when a new song starts up based on the mood that the song provides, if you’re paying well enough attention.
The third CD is a bit of a stretch from CD’s 1 and 2, but doesn’t go too far out of the realms of what he’s already done. While the last two CD’s featured both a mix of warm sunny ambient and dark ambient, this CD, especially the first half, just sound so…euphoric. The song structures are so much more developed and have more intricate notes and chords placed and just the songs itself are more diverse and interesting than the last. It starts out strong, once again, with the intriguingly beautiful songs Open Heart and Turn to Light. As the songs progresses into the other ones, still keeping the same general sound, we’re hit with a stream of songs that sound very sparse, spacey and minimal (songs like Essence of Phaedra, Left Perfectly Alone and A Subtle Body Current) and they all sound beautiful together; not to mention you can really get lost in the sound, but in a good way. The third CD though has one song from it called Grounding Place near the end of the album, which is, and has been for a very long time, my favorite ambient song of all time. The extremely calming and euphoric nature of this track inspires me to do so much more with my life and it is bound to inspire you as well. The CD ends on a rather louder but still very calm song The Spiral of Time’s Fire Burns On, which ends the CD quite epically and leaves a bright and solemn mood on the listener.
The fourth CD on the other hand, has only 1 song that stretches out to 73 minutes in length and can be only described in two words. Bleak and Sparse. It features, what sounds like, one echoed synthesizer just firing off notes at random. This song is so void of anything that it’s as if you’re walking down an endless sandy beach and the sky is barely visible through the thick layer of fog and clouds, however there is no beach. It is just only you, the layer of fog and sand that surround you and this song. It wouldn’t matter if this song played forever because once you’ve heard the first 5 minutes of the song, which is pretty much all you are going to hear for the next 73 minutes and what a treat it is. While it’s a very empty song, it is still probably one of the best songs by Steve Roach as you never want the song to end in fear that this album will soon be over and you’re exploration of creativity and thought has come to an end.
There is no doubt about it. This release was the ultimate exploration of how vast and thought provoking ambient music can be. It allowed me to travel to new worlds, enter ones pre-existing and it is just the most overall interesting, beautiful, atmospheric and bucolic album I’ve ever heard. It goes down as the greatest ambient album ever made and hopefully some of you will share my opinion. However, with saying this, anyone who is interested in listening to it should listen from start to finish with maybe a few breaks in between to fully love fall in love with it, because to some of you it maybe not be the most captivating, but for me it was incredibly captivating. Or you could listen to it as you go to sleep, or reading a book etc. I prefer anyway to get you to listen to this album and enjoy it.
Ambient masterpieces, like this one, actually come around pretty often. There have been so many amazing ambient albums that it’s hard to keep up with which ones are the best. Well, this is one of the first ambient albums I’ve listened to and out of all of the many of them I’ve listened to over the years, this one is by far the most phenomenal. Rating: 5 out of 5. -Jake Hollis