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Every 5 years or so a recording comes along that breaks all pre-conceived notions, establishing a paradigm against which future releases are considered.
A wrap-up of the final three Steve Roach releases of the year 2000.
From The Raging Consciousness Desk by Glenn Hammett
(Please note that Early Man will be reissued in early 2001 on Projekt.)
click here for advanced info.
September of the year 2000 turned out to be a watershed month for ambient music aficionados worldwide with the surreptitious release of three new recordings from pre-eminent Electronic Artist, Steve Roach. One might guess Roach to be complaisant – wishing to hold true to past releases to quell fans - keeping status quo. This, it turns out, could be no further from the truth. There are the patented "Roach Sound Worlds" yet the pullulate releasing of four CDs worth of new sounds as diverse as are any ambient works would, emanating from disparate sources. Roach presents followers with a solo work, the one-of-a-kind, slate-packaged Early Man, a duet of sorts with a Tibetan Monk, Prayers to the Protector, and a host of surprise guest musicians on the double CD, The Serpent's Lair.
Never recumbent, Roach's hegemonic rise as the leading artist of droning, still, ambiance has been steady and deliberate, one of solid, fully realized sonic journeys these last Twenty-plus years.
Recent volitions of ambient music collectors and artists have found Roach titles topping the polls - and for good reason. Roach retains a sound often copied - never bettered - a mix of mysterious sound-worlds, outstanding sonics, skill and attention to detail sorely lacking in so much of today's 'lo-fi-is-better' world. In a recent dialogue with Steve the 'magic' that give the impression of the difference of his work VS other similar music is that "My music is coming from the inside outwards. The years of travelling the soundcurrent have created the understanding that comes with it."
Early Man is a brilliant piece of sonic archaeology - a time machine transporting the listener to the dawning of man - all the while glancing into the unforeseen, which lies in our path. This is a sound world comprised of strange animal calls, murky, tar-filled marshlands and awakenings. Crude sounding, albeit beautiful, percussive effects, ancient wind instruments are juxtaposed against an array of futuristic sonic whisperings. A progression of sorts takes place within the compositions entirety. The music becomes clearer, progressing towards a more intricate state.
Many ambient music collectors expressed concerns as to the direction the drone-based music would follow. There was, it seemed, an exhausted end to the technique. There is only so much one may realize within a given area, right? However, Roach's compositional sagacity lends itself to the drone electronics, creating music with seemingly infinite boundaries. There is depth of texture and colour Roach creates, which is the very splendour of his work. While some artists create in shades of black (or likewise) - Roach uses the entirety of the frequency spectrum - one sated with unbounded possibilities and endless mixing of colour.
Comparing Roach's works is an experiment in futility - as they prove most dissimilar. Various points of references might be The Magnificent Void and Atmospheric Conditions though observing them as such is a disservice to Early Man's unique fusion of sounds. Much of the recording is profoundly reflective; floating extended drones punctuated by blipping computers, subterranean shifting of the Earth's crust, bubbling volcanic liquids and those captivating textures. This work (and the unique slate cover) is sure to be a highly sought after product for years to come. Of the 1,000 issues, many are destined for European shores leaving all but a handful for sale in the U.S. Sure to be a collector's item.
Moving through time thousands of years to the not so distant past of four thousand years ago, we land at the feet of a Lama - one Thupton Pema. Prayers is one of Roach's most beautiful works - one filled with sacred chant and stunningly mesmerizing swirls of electronics. Not to compartmentalize one seriously doubts that, for the most part, listeners could guess this to be a work of Roach. Here, he has erased sonic attributes of other works and replaced them with fresh, exciting, almost experimental set of rules. Many musicians find a niche in the market and stay there - using a proven formula - whereas Roach steps out seeking new directions in sound. Aside from Bill Laswell's “Somma” recording of Tibetan Monks and Dub-Electronics, Prayers is in a category of its own. There is, at times, the solitary voice of Thupten Pema Lama chanting, segments of meditative solo electronics and both combined. Perhaps the synergy of the two artists working together - ancient VS future - had an effect on Roach's style. Whatever the cause, the CD breaks new ground for adventurous listeners. Hypnotic undulating waves of electronics, sustained struck and rubbed bells and metal and an inimitable air of Sacredness combine to form a unifying whole. Prayers is so unique that it will undoubtedly find the way into many collectors hands - placed in a space for 'Special' recordings. This disc was on a steady rotation in RagConDesk's office and cause for many visitors to order it directly. As a bonus, this recording may serve as a jump-off point for listeners unfamiliar with Tibetan Chant. Prayers is perfect fodder for those that still enjoy music made for the mind as an opposed to the body.
Every 5 years or so a recording comes along that breaks all pre-conceived notions, establishing a paradigm against which future releases are considered. Despite the fact that many of Roach's initial recordings made quite a splash upon their release, most collectors following his output agree Dreamtime Return was a seminal release, an apex within his early career. While there were many landmark recordings to follow, Roach made yet another quantum leap forward by way of the neck-snapping The Body Electric, a recording brimming with charged sonics that left hearts beating quickly and heads swimming. Serpent continues in a similar vein to Body with patterns and shimmering sounds that seem to emanate from all points of the sound field. For this recording Roach is partnered with Shaman-Drummer, Byron Metcalf amidst the convivial gathering of ambient's finest musicians which include Jorge Reyes, vidnaObmana, and Vir Uris. The Serpent's Lair is yet another landmark recording - one that seems destined for our "CD of the Year" decoration. The symbolism of the serpent shedding skin - ridding itself of that which it has outgrown - is not lost on Serpent as Roach and Metcalf, among a bevy of ambient artists, forgo previous techniques to take on a completely new style. The Serpent's Lair forces the listener into immaculate, imaginative sound worlds the likes of which have heretofore remained in the recesses of the human mind. This radiant music, densely wrought with emotional impact; create an experience similar perhaps to the welding together of Reyes' Mort Aux Vaches coupled with The Body Electric- while managing to surpass both. Roach wrenches far-fetched new sounds from the synth - which convey a mental cinemascope of bejewelled temples, swarming tryptamine patterns and foreign worlds, while Metcalf's accomplished Shamanistic drum patterns combine into a hypnotizing set of Sacred space music.
Disc 1 teems with throbbing, distended rhythms, diaphanous synth threads - delicate as a spider web - and Metcalf's polyrhythmic drumming. There are moments of contemplative moods, yet those are rare as the majority of hour one is that of upbeat, ritualistic soirees. Here, Metcalf, lays down percussive configurations of intense complexity offset by assorted shakers, rattles and other sundry implements while Roach injects waves on undulating synth, chugging sequences and the odd sonic embellishment.
Whereas disc one is a formative composition of ambient art, it is disc two that plumbs the depths of the Other; taking the listener into sound worlds of such mind-boggling proportions that it begs to be heard. Roach's vitreous sound patches gracefully adorn the works as facets on a Faberge' egg - scrupulously detailed beyond one's usual acuity. Beginning unassumingly - the music similar to that of side one - there is nothing to prepare the listener for what will soon transpire. Track two sets in motion an eerie, unearthly descent into the void - a sound-world filled with shadowed reverberations, metallic clattering and smooth, oblique drones trailing off into infinite space. There is a feeling of immense space; simultaneously creating gelled-like parameters that pulse to the vibrations. Track three drops the listener into the unknown, a swirling mass wrapped in sonic wind, haunting, ethereal chanting and drum cycles that implode only to form new, more intricate configurations. The result is one of ambiguity, loneliness and self-reflection. A peace-filled atmosphere develops, only to lead the listener through yet another doorway - not quite as foreboding - filled with overtone chant, and stillness backed by an array of gently beating percussives. The cycle complete, Serpent's ends on an affirmative note - one of emerging from a cave to witness a surreal sunrise of magnificent depth-of-colour. Phased instruments briefly swirl amidst water sounds, whisperings and gently chanting female voice.
There is, in Serpent's, so much to wholly assimilate that it requires many plays to suitably grasp just how essential this release really is. Once again, Roach amazes with his delft styles - forging ahead and carving new paths in sonic architecture. The Serpent's Lair is a stunningly beautiful, otherworldly and deeply satisfying listen.
There are recordings are more readily reviewed than others, allowing readers to a glimpse of the music, while there remains that which language fails at doing justice. Shivkumar Sharma, Arvo Part and many other Classical, World and Sacred music falls into this category. It is when music slides beyond the written word and into the psyche's emotional area that all words become trite and nearly meaningless, able only to describe the sonic goings on. Serpent falls into this category with deep listening techniques a requirement to fully obtain all this recording has to proffer.
Roach's keen sense of sonic 'rightness' - when combined with the revealing nature of his powered Mackie studio monitors - makes for a concrete foundation in issuing, undeniably, the finest recordings the electronic worlds has to present. There is, in Timeroom Produced recordings, an ethereal presence - Roach is playing this live in your living room - a factor missing from much of today's Low-End releases. Bass has shape and characterization - no lifeless gobs of hum, while the highs are sweet and neutral without a suggestion of rigidity or stridency. It is the midrange music lives; breaths, and Roach uses the complete capabilities fully. Here, listeners may indulge the subtle nuances of these sonic worlds - worlds that exist only within one's mind. Thank goodness, we are privy to the public unlocking of Steve's imagination...
Early Man review at AmbientVisions.com
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