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Empetus by Steve Roach
Structures From Silence (2001 Remastered Ed.)
Arc of Passion
& Erik Wollo : Stream of Thought ~ SALE $9.98
A Deeper Silence
Long out-of-print Electronic classic with limited edition bonus disc of never-before-released tracks. At the price of a single CD! The rights to the 1986 release Empetus reverted back to Steve; this - along with some recently discovered "lost pieces" - inspired this 2-CD Collector's Edition. The second disc, entitled The Early Years, features two amazing long-form sequencer pieces circa 1982. The first piece, "Harmonia Mundi," was recorded live in the L.A.-based Timeroom with Swiss-born electronic musician Thomas Ronkin. At 45 minutes, this is one of the more possessed and intense analog sequencer trance pieces you're likely to hear. "Release" is a 24-minute solo statement of emotion and energy connected to the early years of Steve's evolution in sound, harkening to Now and Traveler. By the time Empetus was released, the approach of these longer German School styles were morphing into a new sound heard on Empetus and beyond.
Empetus Full blown sequencer-based music illustrating a further evolution in the visceral side of Roach's music. Nine precise pieces that still sound fresh today. A favorite of sequencer music lovers.
Released in 1986, this recording of intricately-woven sequencer lines and buzzing synthesizers established Roach as the American answer to the pioneering European electronic masters of the '70s (Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream). Alternately thrilling and serene (sometimes within the space of the same track),
Empetus' waves of energy rest upon labyrinthine patterns of interlocking notes and wildly cascading tonal clusters. Roach varies the moods from piece to piece as well: the bright, piercing electronics of “Seeking” contrast vividly with the starker, sweeping veils of sequenced notes and arcing waves of “Empowerment,” or the turbo-charged synths that rev through “Conquest.” It’s all riveting, exciting stuff, and although Roach largely abandoned the style as he moved forward, Empetus remains an important, if largely unsung, statement documenting the course of modern American electronic music. Muze - Darren Bergstein On Empetus, Roach has created a masterpiece, done purely on synths and sequencers... a rhythmic / melodic tour-de-force of solid, totally compulsive synth music. Lotus, England - Andy Garibaldi
On Empetus, Roach has created a masterpiece, done purely on synths and sequencers... a rhythmic / melodic tour-de-force of solid, totally compulsive synth music. Lotus, England - Andy Garibaldi
Ah yes, what I described before as “the sequencer album”. So, time to revisit the original review and find out if what I said all those years ago, still applies – and guess what? Yep,. Surely does...
Eight of the 9 tracks are propelled by layers of cyclical synth rhythms, with a mix of clipped melodies and flowing, stretched string-like synths flying away on top,. In a sense, it's almost a '90's answer to the organ/loop works of Terry Riley from the '70's, with a similarly cyclical yet spellbinding nature, only here, obviously, all on synths and more full-sounding than you would imagine. But anyone who gets off on this whole spellbinding looping stuff will really enjoy this album, largely because it's got that depth that you so badly need on an album such as this, one that manages to soften the effect of the sequencers to a degree that makes the whole thig as listenable as it is hypnotic. In addition, it also has a sound rooted in '70's TD sequencer sounds to give extra depth to the rhythms that take the centre stage throughout, except the last track which ends on a slowly drifting sea of synths and not a rhythm in sight.
After this you now get a bonus CD. The first track, “Harmonia Mundi”, is 46 minutes long. Now here, there's a difference. Once more, it's a sequencer piece – only here, there's no softener. This time, you're on your own in sequencer freefall, as this immense sounding sea of cyclical sequencers builds, travels, flies, unfolds and changes, yet all the time the Terry Riley way of doing things is accelerated to a pace that would make the legendary organist gasp for breath. On first hearing, it's almost overwhelming, but come back to it a second time, and you begin to see what lies behind, under and all around the rhythmic intensity that comes at you like a charging rhino, seeing the beauty that lies beneath the stark exterior – and once you get to that point, this is absolutely mesmerizing and more than repays its duration. The 26 minute “Release” is more sedate, you'll be thankful to hear, but in its sedate state, it now becomes a spacey sequencer piece, if that isn't a contradiction in terms, and as it develops, a thing of glory slowly unfolds and shines before you, still cyclical, still repetitive, but the slow pace at which change happens, just enough to keep you hooked. Add to that a flow of melody that you didn't get on the first disc in such an obvious way, and you have something that is the closest you'll have hears Roach get to classic mid-seventies “Berlin School” and that's to be recommended, in this case. Overall, as sequencer albums go, this is right upfront and takes no prisoners yet behind the rhythmic firepower lies an electronic heart and a comforting soul. - Andy Garibaldi
With embers from 2007’s Arc of Passion still unextinguished, vintage Klaus Schulze poised to hit the racks in early 2009 and far more circumspect artists errorizing the sequencer mainframe, there’s no better time than to revisit Empetus, Roach’s 1986 sequencer-intensive follow-up to his earlier Now and Traveller sessions. Reissued as a two-disc set, its cover a bisection of fibre-optic kaleidoscopia catapulted as if through a particle accelerator, twenty-two years of retro-stylings and digital brinkmanship hasn’t rusted one bolt on Empetus’s die-hard chassis: if anything, its utter lack of irony or nostalgia serves to shore up the record’s totally distinctive, and bracing, architecture. Roach’s first true sequential masterwork remains seminal precisely because it handily acknowledges its source code without breaking bread with it. Sure, Schulzian parallels could be drawn by dearth of the comparable instrumentation involved, but Empetus is truly that rare breed: a synth/sequencer album that doesn’t sound like any other, despite the malapropism so designating Roach one of the few then-emerging “West Coast” synth artists. Empetus effectively crystallized a genre—these works aren’t mere Klaus encounters of a third kind. What’s held the album in such high esteem over the tide of years is it’s magnificently diverse patterning and impeccable arrangements. Sequences are turned inside out, twisted, corkscrewed; the elephantine synths of “Arrival” airburst overhead as they climax, as do the dizzying motifs that drive “Seeking” and “Merge.” “Twilight Heat” contains the kind of sprightly sequence that most bit-programmers would kill for, while the hypnotic acid-trance headrush of “Distance is Near” maxes out a near-perfect distillation of Berlin/California sensibilities. And “The Memory” could very well be one of Roach’s best ambient nuggets committed to disc, a languid decompression infused with diaphanous stillness and Quiet Music melancholy.
However, the ride doesn’t end there. As a way of clearly affirming that even in the early 80s, at the dawn of his career, he often transcended his influences, Roach produced a longform sequencer piece with fellow electronic artist Thomas Ronkin. Considered lost for years, Roach obtained the original tapes and appended them to the revived Empetus package as a second disc labeled The Early Years. Consisting of two mammoth tracks, “Harmonia Mundi” (clocking in at 46-plus minutes), and “Release” (just under a half-hour in length), these enormously powerful, orgiastic blowouts, though definitely of their time (1982-83), still pummel the speaker fabric with earth-shaking ferocity. Totally analog, “Harmonia Mundi” is the sound of two gents locked in mortal electronic combat, wielding their synths like swords, hacking lesser soundbytes into mulch. Notes interlocked so closely their tightly-wound springs threaten implosion, synths galloping triumphantly over parched terrain, Roach and Ronkin tagteam on an extraordinary symphony of sequencercore. “Release” harkens back to Roach’s formulative upbringings splayed over the Now and Traveler releases, as he pirouettes his modular’s pliable contours across an atavistic dappling of spongeiform noises and varispeed rhythms. As a landmark album, Empetus is beyond reproach—the inclusion of the Roach/Ronkin twin behemoths, rescued, ripped, out of time, cements its legacy as one of the finest sequencer albums ever. These recordings quite rightly square the circle, bridging gaps separating decades and genre, the artist himself forging ahead, time’s great ennabler, built for the future. - Darren Bergstein
Originally released in 1986, this 2CD reissue of the single-disc Empetus by legendary US ambient artist, Steve Roach, comes with a bonus disk of tracks tied in to the period in which Empteus was created. Steve Roach, who has a huge catalog of cutting-edge synth albums, has been at the forefront of new technology for decades. Where many artists have produced and then fallen out of fashion, as did many of the German artists (Tangerine Dream, Peter Baumann, Klaus Schultze, ), or those that simply produced few complete works (Michael Hoenig), Steve Roach has continued to fulfill ambient fans with various pathways of inventive sounds.
Empetus takes complete pages from the magnificent trance-works by many of those previously mentioned artists. But Roach is one of the masters and his album is a dead-on classic that should be in every library right next to those German masters of electronic synth and sequencers and their respected albums. Fans of the genre and particularly fans of this German-dominated style will recognize the sound. They will also recognize the creative talents that went into its formation.
Originally released, as many of Roach’s early works were, on Fortuna Records, Roach has recently recovered recording rights and has elected to revisit this album. The new bonus CD is referred to as The Early Years and, as such, provides two rhythmic sequencer sets originally recorded in 1982. The first is a 46+-minute absorption piece recorded with Thomas Ronkin, a classically-trained pianist whose own works and explorations mimic the interests of Steve Roach. The piece is called “Harmonia Mundi” and is followed by a 26+-minute composition called “Release.” While it is great to have these additional sets, it is the Empetus CD that is the real prize here.
Fans of those early German synth maestros (if you are not already aware of this album (Empetus)) will marvel at the classic feel that this album generates. Empetus is NOT to be missed. Rating: 4.5/5
This is a reissue of an classic slice of electronica/ambiance from 1986 which shows Roach in a more racing, upbeat and atmospheric form than his more expansive breathing ambiance. It also comes with an excellent extra 70 minute disk of unreleased early material too.
There’s no doubt about it this is very much of it’s time with the synth sounds, rhythmic textures and production sitting squarely in 1980’s. But if like me you enjoy active 80’s synth soundtrack music or Tangerine Dream's more effective and up-beat mid to late 80’s work you’ll find a lot to enjoy here. The tracks are all fairly short, sharp and dramatic with each lasting between four to seven minute a piece with Roach never stretching or over milking an idea – which again quite relates to a soundtrack like feel. All but one of the tracks here is built around layers of up-beat synth textures which Roach weaves into effective racy, cinematic and melodic tracks. There’s also an rather nice and effective use of female vocal harmonizing on a few tracks which adds and interesting edge to proceedings. My only slight criticism is on a few of the tracks here he seems to pull out too soon from tracks racing atmospheric pace leaving you wanting more development, but it’s no major thing and I guess it’s better that way around then getting fed up with thing been stretched out.
The second disk brings together two early tracks firstly we have Harmonia Mundi which is a 45 minute collaboration between Roach & Swiss born electronic musician Thomas Ronkin recorded between 1982 & 83. It basically a seemingly never ending stream of interlocking synth patterns that the pair knit out in spacey and harmonic wonder, & again like Empetus is very up-beat & racy- been a very satisfying long form piece of 80’s synth music. The other piece on the disk is entitled Release and it's a 25 minute track recorded in 1982, just after Roach’s first album Now. And as Roach points out in his linear notes it has quite a Klaus Schulze vibe to it been a lot more 70’s electronica. But again it’s still a really great atmospheric slice of synth bobbing and cinematic weaving that keeps your heart racing and attention through-out.
All in all a great double disk of highly rewarding and classic 80’s synth music,with the newly discovered material been just as rewarding as the Empetus material. Rating: 4/5 - Roger Batty
Roach's Empetus album was originally released in 1986. This CD reissue from 2008 offers that 45 minute release and includes a 72 minute bonus disc, The Early Years which features previously unreleased rare material.
On Empetus, Roach plays analog and digital synthesizers, sequencers and digital drums. He is assisted by Weslie Brown (whose voice can be found on two tracks) and Michael Stearns (who contributes beam to three pieces).
Before Roach attained his lustrous ambient reputation, his early music pursued conventional electronic paths, although his personal style did tend to flavor what was considered "conventional" with his own liquid sound.
You'll find less tonal atmospherics here, more strident keyboard structures compounding into rolling melodics. Not that ambient foundations were utterly absent, they put in periodic appearances, bridging the more nimble-fingered passages with celestial interludes--but the sonic emphasis is on sprightly electronic riffs that cycle into lavishly hypnotic tunes. Drones creep through the mix, expressing more definition than would be found in later compositions.
A sense of urgency dominates this music, communicating a constant locomotion of delightfully crystalline chords. The songs are decidedly bouncy with artfully impulsive melodies which are spiced with sinuous drones that sweep through the mix like glistening honey. Some passages achieve a boisterous vigor that often threatens to exhaust the listener.
E-perc contributes strong rhythms, injecting additional propulsion to the upwardly mobile songs. There are no tribal allusions in these tempos; the beats are wholly modern and strictly dynamic.
The use of choral voices lends a distinctly Philip Glass air to some of the tracks, matching the rapid-fire style employed with the keyboards loops.
The Early Years features two tracks.
"Harminia Mundi" was recorded around 1982-83. On this 47 minute epic, Roach is joined by Thomas Ronkin. The music is completely analog and pre-MIDI.
This long-form piece starts with immediate zest and builds from there, maintaining a constant level of engaging tune-age and undulating structure. Attractive riffs are established and coaxed to expand with auxiliary elements entering the flow. New riffs sneakily appear, seeping into the mix like liquid intrusions--often barely discernible until they conquer the melody's prior course. A hyperactive demeanor is accomplished as the deft chords compound into frenzied structures. Each stage leads to levels of higher ascension, culminating in a stratospheric pinnacle of breathless glory. Before that magnificent peak is reached, percussion lends an agile oomph to the tune's increasing density.
Release was recorded in 1982 right after Roach?s debut album. He is the only performer on this 26 minute piece.
While the pace is less frenetic in this piece, the overall intention is quite similar to the other track. Appealing riffs slide into perfect definition, bolstered by a peppy determination and pursuing a shimmering goal that hangs on high. Here, though, majestic tones blend with delicate keys to produce a lusher sonic experience. The melodies engage in diversions that are gregarious and quite unexpected, all of them equally mesmerizing. E-perc can be numbered among those diversions; the tempos indulge in a slushy passage that is fascinating. The finale flourishes as the central theme is treated to a fragile downward spiral.
The music on both discs offers vibrant nostalgia for longtime fans and surprisingly peppy roots for those who are familiar only with Roach's extremely soothing material.
In a now frequently repeated claim by journalist and electronic music activist Darren Bergstein, Empetus "established Steve Roach as the American answer to the pioneering European electronic masters of the '70s". A statement perfectly suitable for promotional purposes, it does beg two important questions straight away: Was there really no scene for electronic music in the USA before Roach's arrival? And: What exactly was the question the album was supposed to have been a response to? The two issues are intricately related to each other, as in Germany, for example, surely no one would have considered Klaus Schulze to have been an "answer" to Tangerine Dream. Without a doubt, there seems to persist a European ignorance to what was happening across the Atlantic. Surely, what composers and sound artists like Milton Babbit, Joel Chadabe, Morton Subotnick and Laurie Spiegel were conceptualising, sculpting and recording at roughly the same time – or even well before – Schulze, Froese and company ever set foot in the electronic domain, was easily as "progressive" or, to use Bergstein's wording, "pioneering" as the productions of their European counterparts. So why exactly did it take until 1986 and Empetus for the new world to stake its claim?
The reason lies in a particularity of the European – or more precisely, the German – approach to electronic music at the time: The focus on a new compositional entity called the "sequence". Essentially, in its most simple form, a machine-driven ostinato, it had both rhythmical and melodic traits to it, without being explicitly percussive or thematic, and therefore allowed artists to create a both propulsive and meditative, equally floating and driving music. Contrarily to the techno-aesthetic of simply piling various motivic layers on top of each other, sequencing didn't work on an additive basis, but through gradual shifts in accent or textural density and none of the Krautrock-acts used them quite in the same way: While Tangerine Dream more or less operated like an improv-ensemble, in which every member continuously tapped in and out of the action and in which the sequence was the sole, undiluted core of the musical action, Schulze favoured a style in which sequences would hypnotically build up from nothing but a few tones into a dense web of pulsation, which would eventually, almost formulaically, serve as a foundation for extensive solo-excursions. Because both were well aware of the mechanisms of the concert scene at the time and staged their appearances similarly to the gigs of psychedelic scene, their contributions were widely regarded as belonging to the world of rock, which gave them an immediate popularity bonus over their American colleagues: Tangerine Dream celebrated a completely unique UK top-10 sensation with Phaedra and only shortly after, Schulze would turn into a widely respected artist in France, attaining unprecedented levels of popular recognition.
Although Roach has himself admitted that, at one point, Schulze's Timewind was as essential as his morning cereals, the patterns of influence are anything but obvious. By the time Empetus was released, he had already released a Kraftwerk-inspired band-effort under the Mobius-alias and four solo full-lengths, which, despite their occasional nod towards his Berlin-based electronic colleagues, sounded more like an early version of what was ultimately to become Acid-Ambient ("Mysteries Continue" off Traveler wouldn't seem out of place on a 90s Future Sound of London record) and a silent, epic version of New Age (the Quiet Music triptych). At the time of their release, meanwhile, the musical axis was still very much believed to run through the German capital – a supposition further confirmed by the fact that it would take until Western Spaces that his name first started appearing in the annual rankings of arguably the most influentia electronic music radio program of the era, Schwingungen. With Empetus, Roach may actually have been somewhat less visionary, but he certainly exactly hit the musical nerve of the time: In many regards, the album's production is remarkably close to what Tangerine Dream (Underwater Sunlight) and Klaus Schulze (Dreams) released the very same year and in its colourful, eclectic amalgamate, incorporating a variety of different approaches, it almost comes across as a sum and summary of sequencing.
What is most apparent on Empetus, and this was definitely a sign of the times, was the concision and dramaturgical tightness of these nine pieces of just four and a half minutes on average, most of which end abruptly and without having arrived at an obvious "conclusion". At the same time, Roach doesn't follow in the footsteps of an album like Underwater Sunlight by avoiding an all-too-melodic focus. Pieces like "Conquest" or "Urge" are pure, nervously pulsating rhythm-tracks, powered by feverish arpeggios and frantic drum machine poundings, while the thematic material on other compositions is intriguingly spread out across the canvas, never fully coalescing into fully-fledged themes, or comprises of ominous slides – abstractions and allusions, therefore. The impression is less one of catchy "songs without words" - although "Merge" may perhaps be the most immediate and to-the-point lovesong Roach has ever written – or sketches, but rather of musical doors into alien territories without definitive beginning or end, opening themselves up to the audience in one moment only to close again the next, leaving the aftermath of the imagery to reverberate inside the listener and leading straight and without ado into the next movement – in the liner notes to the collector's edition, Roach aptly characterises this tendency as being "about infusing high emotion into the pieces, which were moving from longer forms into concise, interconnected meditations on energy, movement and dynamic flow."
It was a process which had taken place at an astounding speed. The most fascinating aspect of this re-release of the original Empetus recording is its second disc, containing two pieces recorded just four years earlier in the first incarnation of the famous Timeroom in Culver City. Compared to the impressionist precision of the studio album, these archival discoveries clock in at almost seventy four minutes and well over the length of the studio album. As Roach reveals in the liner notes, recording a piece like "Harmonia Mundi" essentially took place in a different age, without MIDI and with the immediacy and spontaneity of a jam session: With the sequences synchronised by a master analog clock, Roach and his Swiss colleague Thomas Ronkin first freely created a pool of sequences on a carefree Saturday morning, before taking a necessary caffeine-injection courtesy of Roach's espresso-machine and launching themselves into a 46-minute flow. The anything-goes-mentality of the proposition is apparent at every single second: Over the course of it duration, the duo not only take their patterns through a string of subtle variations and changes, they also add short, timbral solos and even a passage of drumming, which adds a surreal funk to the already epic proportions of the piece.
The sheer dimensions of a work like this seem to represent a contrast with the other Empetus-material, but that is a misconception. Roach had rightly estimated that the sequence, as a musical building block, was potentially endless by definition. Footing in stoic repetition, it was only through constant change that it came alive and only in infinity that this process of change ever led to a natural resolving. From this point of view, it really didn't matter whether a piece was cut off at the three quarters of an hour mark of after less than three minutes, as on the spiraling dervish-dance of "Distance is Near". On Empetus, this realisation culminated in astoundingly catchy configurations, sometimes even complemented by the voice of Wesley Brown, which really were a specifically American answer to the European developments. As Roach has pointed out, even more so, as they took place in an environment in which everyone was eager and willing to support the other in their strive for greatness – including fellow musicians like Michael Stearns, who adds his production skills to three tracks, and gear manufacturers like Oberheim. The tables weren't necessarily turning, but there was a pervasive sensation that the conversation could now be led on equitable turns.
In the end, of course, the ultimate consequences of the insight would prove to be even more monumental, leading Roach to the "new places and spaces" of his mid- and late-90s work. It wasn't long before VidnaObmana's Dirk Serries, one of the leaders of the new ambient-movement, would make his way to Roach to record their cross-atlantic collaborations and classics - rather than the other way round. -Tobias Fischer