Steve Roach: Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces (4CD complete edition)

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Product Description

Disc 1:
1. Palace of Nectar 14:15
2. Oracle 20:06
3. Within the Mystic 15:52
4. Presence 11:47
5. Vortex Ring 11:51

Disc 2:
1. Wren and Raven 14:49
2. The Otherworld 04:48
3. Wonderworld 09:07
4. Threshold 02:20
5. Dream Body 11:12
6. Slowly Dissolve 04:15
7. Womb of Night 02:42
8. Soulwave 11:00
9. Wordless 04:06
10. Nameless 09:29

Disc 3:
1. Open Heart 04:38
2. Turn to Light 09:19
3. Shift the Dimension 03:46
4. This Moment is a Memory 05:44
5. This Moment is Another Memory 04:32
6. Slightly Below 02:28
7. Essence of Phaedra 02:45
8. Left Perfectly Alone 02:29
9. A Subtle Body Current 05:15
10. Personal Nature 10:36
11. Grounding Place 07:48
12. Turning Back 03:38
13. The Spiral of Time’s Fire Burns On 10:52

Disc 4:
1. Piece of Infinity 01:13:46

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Stephen Hill, Hearts of Space Radio: 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.


On the 20th anniversary of Roach’s breathtaking album, Projekt collects all four parts into a single release — close to five hours of electronic ambient music.


Moving into the majestic realm of pure, non-rhythmic electro-acoustic soundworlds, these four discs are a milestone from a true artist of sound. His landmark statements — including Dreamtime Return, Magnificent Void and Structures from Silence — are all parts of the uninterrupted flow which built to this 2003 release. Roach’s awe-inspiring sonic immersion delves into a spiritual dimension of sound. This release offers a listening experience creating a new sense of ‘ambient orchestration’ through a constantly shifting flow of textures that enter a sacred realm of music.


Frank MacEowen, author of From the Celtic Dreamtime, The Mist-Filled Path, and Chasing The Deer: Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces is truly among the creme de la creme of Steve’s work. It is an astonishing series of recordings. At times I found myself facing the darkest of the dark in the collective unconscious. Just as I thought I had reached the edge of where I could go in my voyaging, a tonal shift would occur and carry me into a delicious and heart-achingly beautiful space of unparalleled hope and faith. These recordings are both initiatory and a veritable soul-retrieval in this time of widespread soul loss. In essence, this is healing sound.


Darren Bergstein, e|i Magazine: A cinematic epic for the ear. In his grand, monastic nature, Roach scatters all notions of ambient to the four winds, leaving in its wake what must be the sounds of the temporal void itself, escaping with subtle velocity. It is to gape in awe.


Steve Davis, Neptune Currents, KKUP-FM: Steve Roach has created an ambient masterpiece: a varied collection of totally absorbing, immersive soundworlds, clearly a milestone in electronic music.


John Diliberto, Echoes: After dark descents into the abyss on The Magnificent Void and Midnight Moon, Steve Roach lightens up the textures a bit on Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces. 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.


• 4CD EcoWallet
• Limited edition of 1000
• 20th Anniversary rerelease


Disc 1: Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces
… The sacred and divine aspects of sound are the heart and soul of these five innerconnected pieces.

Disc 2: Labyrinth
… The path through the labyrinth is one of choices and consequences. These ten soundworlds were drawn from the metaphor of the labyrinth and the passing from one ring to the next, reaching the center.

Disc 3: Recent Future
… Time, memory, reflection, future dreamings and the places in between are the broth of life from which these thirteen pieces are poured.

Disc 4: Piece of Infinity
… It’s always there, this piece of infinity. A single longform space.

Original Projekt release: June 3, 2003
Projekt rerelease: June 23, 2023


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Additional information

Weight .4 lbs
Label

Projekt

Release Year

2003

Format

4CD ecoWallet

Artist

Reviews

  1. Reviews Editor

    From Exposé

    There’s a bit of history here; 20 years ago Roach issued this monumental set of four discs, a truly massive epic of floating ambient music, roughly 76 minutes per disc, or nearly five hours in total if one goes at it in one sitting. The original release had all four discs (each with its own subtitle: Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces, disc 2 is Labyrinth, disc 3 is Recent Future and the final disc is Piece of Infinity) housed in a heavy cardboard box that fits nicely on your CD shelf. For whatever reason, the set was almost immediately reissued as two double CD sets, (Part 1) contained the first two discs and (Part 2) contained discs 3 and 4. Then, like all great and sought-after box sets, they went out of print. Around ten years ago the set was issued as WAV, FLAC and mp3 files, but this 20th Anniversary Complete Edition is the first time the set has been available on physical media since the originals went out of print, now in a 4CD eco-wallet bearing the original artwork.

    I’ll tell you another secret: Back in 2003 when this set first came out, my colleague Mike McLatchey and I wrote a roundtable review in Exposé print issue #27. To be sure I gave the four discs a fresh listen, re-read both reviews from 2003, and I still stand by my original review of the set, and Mike’s review goes into even greater detail than mine. Keep in mind the current edition under review is a straight reissue of the original, no further remastering (not needed, how do you improve on perfection?), only the packaging is different. It’s still a monumental masterpiece and an essential item in Steve Roach’s vast catalog of nearly 250 releases since the early 80s. And like the earlier CD sets, this one is a limited edition and won’t be around forever. Just sayin’. -Peter Thelen

  2. Reviews Editor

    Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces
    by Mark Morton, Wind and Wire
    January 2004

    Steve Roach’s stature in the genre known as “ambient spacemusic”, one which he had a large part in founding, is now such that most fans of his music just want to know what rough subcategory any new release falls under and whether it is one of his many inspired landmarks in the field. For those fans there are two answers; this is an extended series of “atmospheric soundworlds”, with a fond look back to the days of STRUCTURES FROM SILENCE for all his old fans. The answer to the second question may be more problematic. I think it deserves to be labeled a “landmark” for nothing more than the innovative manner in which Roach expands the possibilities of composition with polyphonic drones, but some fans may be disappointed because the subsequent emotional riches require more digging than usual, even for a Steve Roach record.

    The release comes in a two disc digipak with some nice “ambient” artwork on the cover showing a shell that has a spiral shape. Much of the music sounds like an aural spiral, so this image fits the release well. “Part 2” of the title is only available as part of a four disc set containing these two discs and two others from Roach’s website.

    Disc 1 is subtitled “Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces” and disc 2 “Labyrinth”, but the pieces on disc 2 flow into each other to present what sounds like one long composition, whereas the pieces on disc 1 fade out and are more easily heard as separate compositions.

    The journey begins with “Palace of Nectar”, an expansive drone piece, which provides a good introduction. Drones are placed in the soundfield to seem like they are being played some distance away and fade in and out to fine effect, but this piece is clearly prepatory to the heart of the journey. “Oracle” is next and is the first striking piece here. Here Roach layers each drone so it can perceptually appear as one polyphonic drone with expanded harmony or as a series of monophonic “strand” drones, each with its own tonal and timbral implications. Thus, Roach is creating music that can stimulate a multitude of perspectives apprehended closely in time by the listener. Out of this background Roach creates small motives that emanate from several of the monophonic drones. These motives then create further harmony, begin to overlap, delay is used on them and the listener begins to have a picture of what eternity looks like. Roach has been moving in this direction for a while, but this is his most clear realization of it. It is all the more impressive when one realizes that the material here is largely tonal-harmonic, with occasional polytonality.

    “Within the Mystic” is next and continues down this path, but uses filter resonance and tuning to create even more timbral variation. The individualization of the drone strands is achieved by using a wide pitch palate (low drones, high drones, feedback drones). Each sustained tone seems like it has its own sonic space. Roach uses a cello (played by Kathryn Gunzinger) as a sound source here to good effect. “Presence” uses the familiar descending stepwise motive as a springboard for morphing the repeated sounds and patterns. Roach’s “morphing” (a technique of altering the timbre or sound of a repeated musical pattern so that it appears to “morph” or evolve into something quite different) throughout this recording is his most sophisticated yet and often taken to such extremes that one would be hard pressed to remember the source of the sound being morphed, the most extreme example being that “Vortex Ring” appears to base its material on “morphed” sounds from “Presence”, although the pitch content has been largely drained and the listener is left with an atmospheric piece that sounds vaguely familiar.

    Disc 2 plays continuously but there are individual titles. “Wren and Raven”, contains what sounds like field recordings of the two birds, sounding concretely of the world and otherworldly at the same time while expansive drones move beneath the natural sounds. “Dream Body” is the most beautiful music I have heard from Roach since “Structures Form Silence”. Many of the pieces on disc 2 slip the tethers of ordinary pitch and are better described as “soundscapes” but are no less interesting. Here, the soundscapes (“The Otherworld”, Wonderworld”) manage to sound like drones, although not “pretty” ones. On this disc, it sounds as if Roach is exploring deep space or has gone very deep inside (I had visions of both while listening). It sometimes requires very intent and active listening but the rewards can be great. I found myself feeling nourished and challenged at the same time. The recording ends with “Nameless”, an interesting work that has a guest guitarist, who goes by the name of Filtered Sun. Although there is nothing on the work that sounds like a guitar to my ears, I guess that he or she is doing the high-pitched shimmering tones that end the recording nicely.

    There are many indications that the work was important to Roach. For anyone moved by his past work, this is definitely a watermark that should be explored, with the hope of more to come. My strongest recommendation.

  3. Reviews Editor

    Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces
    by Phil Derby, Synth Music Direct
    August 2003

    This five-hour set is an amazing collection of all-new material showing master ambient musician Steve Roach at the top of his craft. This epic anthology is one giant mind trip into deep sonic worlds of imagination.

    The first disc is classic Steve Roach, if one can use such a term given his varied and extensive output. These five tracks are quintessential organic ambience of the highest order, my favourite disc of the set, thus making it an ideal starter. Dark drones, deep shimmering echoes, roaring undercurrents, all characterize the “Palace of Nectar”. “Oracle” is a richly layered intense piece of swirling drone music. “Within the Mystic” is brighter in tone, though it still has a dramatic feel to it. A guest cellist enhances the mood on this number.

    Disc two lives up to its name, going deep within a “Labyrinth” of sound, easily the darkest of the four discs. Disc three is a feast for the ears, with no less than thirteen bite-sized delectable morsels. “This Moment Is A Memory” is perhaps a reference to the “Void Memory” tracks from THE MAGNIFICENT VOID, as there is a similar feel, although “This Moment Is Another Memory” (yes, it is the next track) sounds more like something from MIDNIGHT MOON or STREAMS & CURRENTS, given the inclusion of Roach’s ambient guitar playing.

    Finally, we come to disc four, appropriately titled “Piece of Infinity”. This 74-minute track is perhaps Steve’s most minimal long-form work yet, and does have a great expansive quality that lends itself perfectly to the title.

    Besides the music itself, this is a beautifully packaged set, in duo Digipaks with very attractive artwork. It only enhances an already complete package. No ambient fan should be without this in their collection.

  4. Reviews Editor

    Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces
    Morpheus Music

    STYLE

    Floating, oceanesque chords, minimal harmonies and huge spaces — no beats, no rhythms. Listening to this album is rather like being immersed in swelling, curling ambient fluid. Each track a different drifting tonal infusion. There are wispy, glistening synthesised textures and vast meandering, droning fogs all rich in detail yet blurring, indistinct. The heavily layered sheets of sound form into eddies, that languorously shift, dissolve and are replaced.

    MOOD

    The mood here is very dependent upon the listener. Each individual is freely able to associate this constantly shifting, ambiguous weaving of tones with their own mental imagery. I tend to visualise a thick tangible darkness shot through with viscous furling colour. At times the darkness amasses substance and can suggest despair, loss or isolation — or instead the listener is immersed in a sonic mist of indescribable beauty, as safe and as warm as the womb.

    ARTWORK

    The cover art is spread across a beautiful Digipak. Ambient color glows on the front in a vibrant ammonite spiral, almost as you might see it from within. This then disperses into vague forms and lush densities across the additional panels. The CD’s themselves are printed with exquisitely subtle liquid textures. The whole package has a sumptuous beauty that makes it immediately desirable even before you’ve heard the contents.

    OVERALL

    Tranquil, placid minimal harmonies that float and swirl, thickening and dispersing with a sense of no beginning and no end. The dreamlike torpidity can occasionally suggest ghostly, floating gloom, sometimes flushed, churning colour, or even infinity wrapped up in sound. Here is music to influence your environment and state of mind or, if you prefer, to be influenced by your current dreams and disposition — a canvas upon which to daub your own mental imagery.

    WHO WILL LIKE THIS ALBUM

    This music could well accompany lying and staring up into open space, meditating or simply drifting in the expanses of your own mind. A focus for a unique musical experience, incredibly deep and absorbing. A backdrop for reading or thinking, creating a mood or even study. For the ambient explorer looking for pure sound uncluttered by rhythm, tempo or melody.

  5. Reviews Editor

    Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces
    by Darren Bergstein, e|i magazine
    October 2003

    Delving as deep into the molecules of silicon diodes as he can, Steve Roach again does the impossible — arm in arm, hand in hand, exorcising dormant ghosts out of his machines, he exposes the gaping spiritual core where impression and expression morph into pure, dazzling sensation. MYSTIC CHORDS & SACRED SPACES speaks of willing immersion into solipsism, of immense places brimming with unspeakable presence and spectacle, aural textures smited by an epoch-spanning hand dusted with the big bang’s residual ash. Not since the likes of DREAMTIME RETURN has it seemed fit to brandish a Roach release truly ‘epic’, but spread out over four discs no other description is as apt. Mystic Chords takes Roach’s previous exercises in minimalism (STRUCTURES FROM SILENCE and QUIET MUSIC) out of the sublime, into the darkened, embryonic territory first postulated on THE MAGNIFICENT VOID, and beyond.

    This is electronic music organized into symphonic passages, each an independent entity but drawing their collective strength from the whole. In fact, physical ‘descriptions’ of this collection of stark, dramatic sounds simply don’t do them justice — fundamentally these are a series of orchestrated drones, but that is an oversimplification of the grandest sort. Roach knows his way around these patterns so well by now — yawning sheets of white synth noise, shifting tableaux, the chirping of myriad fauna, digital loops stretched to the breaking point — it’s practically instinctual. In fact, his ability to conjure explicit images and feelings, to basically suspend time, ensure his formidable reputation on the electronic spectrum. Out of tentative eclipses, twisting and unfurling like jet contrails dissipating into a moist, blackening sky, this is music of brobdingnagian gestures, a cinematic tour de force for the ear.

    In his grand, monastic nature, Roach scatters all notions of ‘ambient’ to the four winds, leaving in its wake what must be the sounds of the temporal void itself, escaping with profound abandon. It is to gape in awe.

  6. Reviews Editor

    Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces
    by Phil Derby, Electroambient Space
    August 2003

    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’s finest hours — well, 5 hours to be more precise.

    As an overview, MYSTIC CHORDS & SACRED SPACES 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, five 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 Dissolve” deceive us into thinking we’ve found our way out, “Womb Of Night” tells us otherwise. Though undeniably Roach, I’m also reminded here of old haunting Schulze numbers from the early 1970’s.

    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.

  7. Reviews Editor

    Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces
    by John W. Patterson, Eclectic Earwig Reviews
    June 12, 2003

    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 FROM SILENCE produced. The cosmic timelessness yet earthly antiquities and resultant trance sense as created in DREAMTIME RETURN 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 THE MAGNIFICENT 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 box 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.

  8. Reviews Editor

    Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces
    by John Diliberto, Echoes
    June 2003

    After dark descents into the abyss on THE MAGNIFICENT VOID and MIDNIGHT MOON, Steve Roach lightens up the textures a bit on the 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.

  9. Reviews Editor

    Widescreen Ambient Music
    by Marc Weidenbaum, Disquiet
    April 25, 2003

    Over the course of four full-length CD’s, Steve Roach’s MYSTIC CHORDS & SACRED SPACES (Projekt, 2003) extends itself beyond the traditional realm of music. The sheer mass of sound – in terms of length as well as depth – is a challenge for listeners hung up on such arcane concerns as “song” or, for that matter, “melody”. Roach refutes such preconceptions with a ritual hum that will resonate in the body cavity and the imagination as much as it will in the ear.

    These four CD’s are the result of Roach’s long-running communion with his computer, which is no less a tool in his ambient toolbox than are his deeply echoing electric guitar or his pulsing, aboriginal didgeridoo. For more than 20 years, Roach has probed sounds for their essence, recording over 50 solo and collaborative albums in the process. MYSTIC CHORDS & SACRED SPACES was made on a computer, but it is not computer music, per se. It is indifferent to the metronomic synchronization inherent in most digital media. Instead, Roach pulls pure cloudstuff from his sonic source material, sounds that never quite begin or end, but just float and flow.

    The album alternates between existential epiphanies and industrial dread, and it’s a triumph of widescreen ambient music that defies the listener’s sense of proportion and scale. At a low volume, it’s an aural scent, a background flavor; played loud, though, it’s a whole other world, reproduced with detail and precision. Despite this otherworldly aura, at times figments from our world surface, as with the birdsong that enlivens the track “Wren and Raven”.

  10. Reviews Editor

    Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces, Texture Maps
    by Gianluigi Gasparetti, Deep Listenings
    July 2004

    TEXTURE MAPS gathers tracks from 1987 to 2003 through different stages of this artist’s life. It feels the echoes of distant times typical of DREAMTIME RETURN or QUIET MUSIC, where Roach explored wide, tuneful spaces in absolute lack of gravity, and the real sonorities chosen for the monumental MYSTIC CHORDS & SACRED SPACES. Those two worlds are not independent; far from it they interpenetrate and enhance the link between the old and the new, and also testify the integrity of either the man or the artist along with his constant development, as well as his never-ending creativity.

    Often used as the linking material during concerts (“Artifact Ghost”, for instance, was chosen as the opening for the Due Acque concert), or as a deep atmosphere to put in “Timeroom” loop in order to shape the nights in the desert, these deeply static tracks come as fragments of a huge mosaic, the boundaries of which are no longer visible.

    Roach is way beyond our range of vision. He is the most advanced musician of the Ambient movement. If this is his “scrap” work, then it comes easy to get the reason for that. The long, epic genesis of MYSTIC CHORDS & SACRED SPACES had Roach keeping himself in the Timeroom for months, as he got stricken by a rare, creative fever; it was his own inner flame that burnt away, and the consequent soundworlds pushed him to pursue the searching, to end up completely worn out by the rash of creativity, and to open new gaps.

    Superb sounds and atmosphere convoy into what can be looked at as the spiritual will of an artist who has always tried to share with us his own visions or the projects in his mind, and who has eventually overcome his own skills by wide-opening his heart in a most extreme way, in a final sacrifice, in a perfect act which has disclosed his unconscious engine-room door — the image of collective unconscious. Travelling through times and places belonging to the myth, Roach reached the depth of his own soul as well as ours. He saw things that only music can describe, and he brought those things back to us. It’s been quite a while since I last shuddered, since I was surprised by every single change of atmosphere, or since I shivered along with the air. These four records represent a sort of experience that transcends mere listening; they are sacred sculptures, or spaces of a new cathedral sound, or the keys to revealed truth. After such a work, Deep Music is bound to change. The king is dreaming. Let’s listen to him in religious silence.

  11. Reviews Editor

    The doors of perception. Leaping to mind immediately: Huxley and his strategic metaphors, the last vestiges of aberrant psychological states hovering in a fading ’60s twilight zone, awry interpretations of art viewed through rose-colored glasses, arcane primitives sharing space with surrealist renegades. And through all these doors lies in wait Steve Roach, the guide for those looking to be plunged into wells of lost souls, into uncertain regions and across mystic lands.

    Roach has erected these many doors and crossed their thresholds in search of new ones for more than 20 years now. From his humble beginnings where the chilly Germanic sheen of Klaus Schulze shared equal influence with the raging desert environs of southern California (and later, Arizona), Roach has consistently eked out a definitive niche in the electronic music community, sidestepping misinformed pigeonholers desperate to brandish his music ‘new age,’ breaking free of the Teutonic chains of yesteryear and creating a formidable catalogue of sonic art lesser talents can only pray to aspire to.

    Germanic proclivities notwithstanding –�the germ of which is found in such early Roach documents as Empetus, Now/Traveler, and the live Stormwarning, records whose towering Escher-like mosaics bring new meaning to the concept of sequencer music –�Roach’s body of work is ultimately informed by his deep admiration and obsession with the stark allure of the Sonoran desert landscape where he makes his home. Point of fact, he has always been galvanized by primitive regions and the nomads which trek across their unforgiving and mysterious environs, areas of the earth tarred by an aeons-old brush redolent with rugged, arid beauty and a solipsistic melancholy. His early classic DREAMTIME RETURN, a benchmark in American electronic music as pivotal as Eno’s On Land and Jon Hassell’s Power Spot, was an aural sieve through which flowed the spiritual hues of the Aborigines’ rich ancestry and contemporary digital musicmaking technology, the result a hybridization of human sound design writ puzzlingly organic via the synthesizer matrix.

    Dreamtime Return remains an archetypal peak in his back catalogue, but rather than resting on his laurels, Roach has ardently, fervently, passionately continued to cultivate his art. His knack for creating intense, deeply involved soundworlds has arisen both from his mooring to time-blasted lands and the reinterpretations of his earthly muse in a live setting. Throughout the many venues playing host to his magnetic creations — from volcanic craters in Mexico and hallowed churches in Philadelphia to minimalist art galleries and the pristine airs of concert halls — Roach works in a dynamic, ever-shifting realm that allows entrance of a vast multitude of shapes and configurations. Those doors of perception he opens for himself, and the doors he beckons his listeners to enter, exist because of ideas and images that erupt not just from the studio but, as powerfully, out of the world’s stages, those moments in real-time when the act of performing yields equal parts myth and mistakes. These elements often provide the necessary psychic blueprint that Roach uses to catapult the audience headfirst into dimensions of writhing atmospheres, storming drones and rhythmic turbulence.

    In his music, Roach makes a certain abject requirement of the listener, a requirement that is no less important he imparts it on himself, because to him the very politics of perception are fascinating. And that requirement translates into the act of deep listening. From the tribal labyrinths of his recent collaboration with Byron Metcalf, the sinuous The Serpent’s Lair (Projekt), and his mind-meld triumvirate fusing percussionist Jeff Fayman with crimson guitarist king Robert Fripp on Trance Spirits (Projekt), to the personal and ruminative climes of Core (released on his own Timeroom Editions label) and Streams & Currents (Projekt), the music demands you reorient your thinking, shift your perspective, and not just allow yourself to be wholly focused as wholly immersed. The very nature of Roach’s music, especially the more minimal, ambient sojourns to be found on Midnight Moon (Projekt) and the aforementioned Streams (not to forget his former, utterly required ambient bulwarks Structures From Silence and Quiet Music) makes it necessary to suspend your other senses while you connect to his quiescent tones, and as you do so, time itself recedes into the horizon.

    Having now worked his muse for a considerable time, plying his craft with intelligence, indomitable spirit and the drive to create that only a true artist possesses, the many styles and substances that imbibe Roach’s art remain intertwined, yet have also migrated into a number of distinct areas. Rituals burnished and ancient continue to creep up in his collaborations with Vidna Obmana and Roger King, and he has, perhaps more critically, recently discovered the nuance of the guitar, although that instrument’s over-inflected ingredients are broadly reconstructed in the Roach milieu. But the tenor of the times and his omnipresent investigation of all things mythic and primeval have brought him to a specific space at the dawning years of the new millennium. His latest Timeroom Editions epic, Darkest Before Dawn, is the yin to QUIET MUSIC’s yang, the bastard offspring of Structures From Silence, a near-sepulchral venture into endless voids and passages bereft of spatiality, infinity rendered corporeal. It is ambient music ripped from the fabric of spacetime to reveal the residual quiet of the vacuum, a place that is universe-endless, foreboding, unrelenting, but yet perversely compelling. It is music that even in its most skeletal state reveals the emotional heart that resides at the core of Roach’s oeuvre, music of subtle moves, born out of expansive motions…

    …which, in ringing the bell for the commencement of 2003, bangs the gong for the next stage in his evolutionary quarter. No, strike that — the ongoing evolution built on a momentum more than a few years in the making, a spacious, intense sound that when experienced melts away to reveal the essential, internal habitue Roach revels in. This third year of the aughts will bring us the multiple CD release Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces, the title of which speaks volumes as to where Roach has been, where he finds himself today, and where he is proceeding tomorrow. He reveals that Mystic Chords has been harnessed through a battery of live work, live mixing, spontaneous creation and improvisational sound generating; pieces that came into form fairly quickly and not overworked or overobsessed upon. That being said, Roach has emphasized that these new longform works have been carved and shaped over larger timespans as well; in the same painterly fashion he has always worked since Mystic Chords was first conceived. In fact, under the conditions he usually finds himself in – the microfocus of his studio or the intense zone of the live setting – his approaches spring from a biological need to enter and nhabit this pronounced physical space, a space that can often feel claustrophobic; however, the byproduct of such a mental confinement often yields an equalization in his mind and muse, a sudden release that brings forth a supernova of stunning audiovisual colors.

    Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces may well validate the notion of the contemporary electronic musician as sound painter and sound designer, working with a limitless palette of sonic hues, color swatches and tonal mixtures. As the electronic musician of today is barraged by a virtual onslaught of laptop software and still-emerging digital interfaces, sound synthesis continues to attain new levels of sophistication and inexhaustibility. Naturally, in the right hands even black and white retains its virtues-light and perceptions cast in shifting shades of grey can forever reveal the starkness contained on either side of the color spectrum. Roach, understanding these chromatic gestures, has frequently demonstrated the old maxim that less is more, but the colors he chooses to augment his creations with have the unnerving ability to dig deep into your soul. It is music that is as effecting as it is effective.

    The dynamic realms of Roach’s pieces never sit in one place too long, but it seems to be a place he returns to time and time again, spaces that seemingly go on forever; the spaces that through a certain combination of notes creates a chord that acts like a key to a door, a door of possibilities, and (yes) perceptions. If Roach’s past recordings are any indication at all of the variegated paths he’s consistently explored, Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces might belie the fact that the doors of perception are still only slightly ajar. Step over the threshold and see what’s inside. -Darren Bergstein, Beneath the Icy Floe March 2003

  12. Reviews Editor

    Steve Roach rarely ceases to amaze me with his continued musical achievements that have spanned over two decades. While I appreciate his works on various levels depending on where exactly his soundworlds lead me to, there’s no denying that with each work a new destination is fully explored, both sonically and visually; inwardly and outwardly.

    Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces (part 1), which comprises the first two CD’s in a four-disc set, exemplifies some of Roach’s finest moments in crafting longform, rhythmless ambience, as opposed to the more tribal-ambient explorations of past works such as On This Planet and The Serpent’s Lair. Aerial yet substantial, expansive and highly three-dimensional with moderate shifts between chords, supernal tones and frequencies merge with ample drones and layers of mutable shapes of sound threaded in-between. The compositional whole emits profound esotericism, as Roach weaves a sonic labyrinth of contemplation and exploration that feels dark, but positively so.

    Despite the lack of any known cultural or geographical inspiration for this album, imagery that comes to this listener’s mind are inexplicably those of Amazonian wetlands and numinous tropic dwellings. Think of drifting surreally along a thick-forested river while lying in a reed boat or canoe, as the water’s current flows in concordance with the hazy chord transgressions, carrying the traveler along to a destination unknown. Tonal mists begird the senses like thick, expanding fog, as the sparse calls of exotic birds and invisible creatures enhances the presence of this tenebrous abode of tranquility. In fact, the listener’s brainwaves are likely to become so immersed in the surround-sound of the shifting chords and timbres that one is liable to forget that the sounds are coming from the stereo-system and not the universe itself — something which Roach’s soundworlds are so often capable of achieving. While on the surface this recording may seem to lack the variety of Roach’s more rhythmic and perhaps “exciting” works, when listened to on a more subconscious level Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces reveals a wonderfully ambiguous stirring beneath the stillness. Highly recommended for the mystic aspirant! -Candi Brammer, Ambient Musings January 2004

  13. Reviews Editor

    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 & Sacred Spaces 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 & Sacred Spaces 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 & Sacred Spaces 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 & 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 cactus 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 June 5, 2003

  14. reviews editor

    Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces
    by Jim Brenholts
    June 2003

    Steve Roach has never been one to rest on his laurels. After releasing a stunning trilogy (totaling four CD’s) to commemorate the tenth release on his own Timeroom Editions label, he has stunned the e-music community again. He has released a four disc set, MYSTIC CHORDS & SACRED SPACES. Each disc has its own sonic and thematic integrity and each takes steps to — with apologies to Aldous Huxley — A Brave New World.
    Disc one is “Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces”. Steve does not fool around, as this disc goes straight to the heart of the matter. The obvious juxtapositions actually make sense. The dark strokes of the “ambient paintbrush” create bold and vivid sonic Technicolor. The music, while subtle in its ambient and minimalist natures, is anything but subtle. It transports casual listeners to cavernous bio-sonic catacombs. Deep listeners will venture with Steve as he goes to plateaus at the highest realms and the deepest miasmas. The travelers gather knowledge. Knowledge is good. Goodness is truth. Truth answers all questions.

    Disc two, “Labyrinth”, is — as the name implies — suitable for losing the listener. Steve has gathered a series of dark organic atmospheres to intensify the mysteries surrounding this shamanic ritual. The mystic chords have strong overtones and psychoactive properties. There will be no casual listening; it is, quite simply, not an option! Deep listeners will follow the progression of the trance as Steve delves deeper and higher — further — into his own psyche. These atmospheres and soundworlds are so unique that they are reminiscent of everything. The journey continues to begin. Each note is a fresh start. Every atmosphere is a new experience. The journey begins again… and it is half over.

    “Recent Future”, disc three, will not buy into the pessimistic concept of “half over”. Rather, listeners are half fulfilled. This disc continues the continuation and the continuity. This is interrelated to everything. The absolute appeal of this magnificent and elegant soundscape is numbing. Listeners must become part of the fold. The soundscape is an intoxicant. Meditators will question nothing and succumb to the will of the spirit. The brilliance of this sound design is that it seems to have no design. The simplicity is intricate. The intricacy is simple. Is it a chicken or an egg? It is both. It is neither.

    “Piece of Infinity” is a classic Steve Roach-ian long-form composition. This is 74 minutes of electronic minimalism as only he can do it. There are the beginnings of some ends and the ends of some beginnings as he starts to come down from the mountain. The languid structure takes listeners on a gentle and gradual surrender. The surrender is to the inner workings of their own inner psyches. It is in the surrender to the self that one finds the true self. Truth answers all questions.

    This set is absolute classic Steve Roach. The emotional and spiritual experiences continue to cascade as each atmosphere unfolds into a new soundworld. The entire set — almost five hours of brilliance — takes on existential and Zen personae. It questions everything and validates nothing. It questions nothing and validates everything.

  15. reviews editor

    Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces
    by Matt Howarth, Sonic Curiosity
    August 2003

    CD 1: Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces

    Tenuous textures swim into view, approaching with stately grace from a distant horizon to hang overhead like an imaginary fog. This sonic mist undulates with utmost eloquence, unhurried yet shrewdly resolute. Atmospheric substance amasses with sneaky growth, densifying the cloud and seasoning the air with reverent passion. A sense of paranormal energy permeates these soundscapes, hinting that shamen are at work in their ancient caverns, weaving spells that will touch all humanity while remaining consciously undetectable by the Earth’s population. Placid and serene, the minimal harmonies become a ghostly sonic influence that fuses with any environment, pacifying the surroundings and all who dwell within reach. Luscious electronic tones amalgamate with themselves, roiling with tranquil stamina to produce passages of elongated stability. The soundscapes are tantalizingly intangible, comparable to the state of being that exists between drowsiness and deep slumber.

    There seems no end or beginning to this music, as if infinity has wrapped itself around the audience, immersing the world in a protective formula of amity.

    CD 2: Labyrinth

    Roach’s electronic ambience is assisted on one track on this disc by the guitar effects of Filtered Sun.

    The music on this disc approximates a subterranean voyage that ends up delving into the human psyche. At the onset, the audience is conveyed by remote “wrens and ravens” through a pleasant ballet of intermingling electronic tones to reach the underground portal. A passage of mounting anticipation ushers the listener from this tenuous “other world” into the languid awe of a “wonderworld” where the electronic textures adopt an air of fruitful potentials. Crossing a brief “threshold” of wispy consistency, the sonic voyagers are attributed a digital “dream body” that converts all stress and worries into a placid stretch of sighing clouds devoted to sedation. Properly prepared for the rest of the cerebral descent, the audience “slowly dissolves”, becoming one with a harmonic tableau of infinite reach. Passing through a celestial “womb of night”, you find yourself riding the ambient majesty of a transmogrifying “soulwave” of glistening viscosity that cleanses the mind of all earthly concerns, rendering the audience “wordless” with a soundscape of whirling tonal filigrees. At the cumlination of this sonic labyrinth, the listener emerges saturated with a “nameless” quality that imbues serenity and total awareness (inward and external) that is embellished by the aforementioned astral guitar, which acts like a dose of filtered sunlight waking the dreamer.

    CD 3: Recent Future

    Here, Roach is aided by “organic sample food” provided by Vidna Obmana on the opening track.

    Roach’s even-tempered soundscape receives a rustling enhancement sourced from environmental samples, before sliding into yet deeper terrain consisting of nebulous cloudbanks of tranquil sonority. This dignified resonance transmutes the overall mood into ambient light, affording glimpses of prescience according to the depth of mesmerization achieved by the listener during this music. While the individual tracks flow seamlessly into each other, each composition delivers its own imaginary vision, as the thematic atmospherics are flavored by sublte treatments that infuse the drones with different characteristics. These variations are extremely faint but nonetheless suggestive, evoking fugitive memories buried deep in the audience’s cognition and releasing such tenuous recollections for fresh scrutiny.

    CD 4: Piece of Infinity

    All the sounds on this disc are generated and manipulated by Roach alone.

    This disc features a single track, during which Roach explores the basic theme with greater minimalism and exacting subtlty. The soundscape emerges softly, rising gradually from silence to quasi-silence. The gentle electronic texture enters like a mellow breeze, wafting from near inaudibility to a hint of a whisper. This steady pulsation takes considerable time to accrete some substance, and even then the intonation remains stable and seemingly untouched by enhancement. Resolutely loyal to the track’s title, the ambience stretches its sparse harmonics into infinity, as if simulating the background hum of the universe itself. Upon close examination, the variations become faintly evident: the hum adopts a soothing gurgle, wavering slightly to generate the illusion of a gentle wave rippling across the fabric of time. By the time the composition nears its conclusion, the sonic rendition has actually altered greatly, but those changes were accomplished so gradually as to be humanly undetectable.

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