2. The Function Inside The Form 8:23
3. It’s All Connected 9:28
4. Outer Weave 5:12
5. Symmetry And Balance 9:35
6. Saturday Somewhere 10:50
7. Escher’s Dream Is Dreaming 9:48
8. A Subtle Twist Of Fate 13:24
total time 74:00
Three parts to the whole:
Skeleton Keys CD — 8-tracks, 74-minutes.
Steve Roach: Skeleton Keys
Experience the beauty of 100% pure analog modular sequencer-based music.
There’s a worldwide analog modular synthesizer resurgence in full swing. Pioneering electronic musician Steve Roach taps into the zeitgeist on Skeleton Keys, a 74-minute album recorded using the Synthesizers.com large format analog modular synthesizer/sequencer-based system. These are eight emotional and mind-expanding spiraling mandalas-of-sound made from interwoven tapestries of melody, rhythm, tone and musical space.
“Skeleton Keys connects directly to my first love in electronic music,” Steve Roach explains. “This form of music creates a living portal to a unique place in consciousness, emotion, body awareness and expansion of perception. It’s a place that can only be reached by way of this genre and these instruments, in particular the sequencer: a tool common within electronic music since early in its inception. I have been obsessed with the sound this instrument facilitates since my arrival as a composer in the late 70’s.”
With the availability of a new era of hardware instrument builders to draw from, in early 2014 Steve set out to create his ideal large format modular synthesizer/sequencer-based system.
“My intention was single-minded,” Steve says, “to make these ‘Keys’ in particular. The instant this system was in place, the compulsion to create was unleashed. Each piece on this release is an aural skeleton key providing entry through these arcane doors to what awaits inside. In addition, the momentum of my life’s experience was vital in helping turn the skeleton key to open these doors at this precise moment.”
“A lot of artists are going in (the analog electronic) direction these days, but few have the mastery and control that Steve Roach reveals.” – John Dilberto / Echoes Radio review
Steve’s artistic path is filled with new discoveries, both nuanced and dramatic. He brings to the table years of dedication and experience exploring sound via hands-on synthesis.
With the sense of an artist working in three dimensional space, Steve’s skill set creates an album that breathes power, passion and vital life energy. On Skeleton Keys Steve connects to the European EM masters at the roots of his electronic heritage while simultaneously mapping the soundworld of today’s contemporary technology-based music. The result is warm and engaging retro-futurism, a continuing evolution upon the musical structures Steve has unlocked in the restless pursuit of his soundquest.
Reviews Editor –
From Bandcamp Daily: Better Living Through Synthesizers
One of the pioneers of New Age ambient and space music is also a veteran and skillful modular synthesizer musician. Skeleton Keys, from 2015, was the start of what’s been something of a renewal of modular systems in Steve Roach’s music and is a powerful and accomplished album. There is far more activity on here, through patterns and repetitions than on vintage Roach albums like Structures from Silence—very much a Tangerine Dream-style album. But the goal is classic Roach: creating a transcendent experience in the mind and soul and also the body, where his punchy square waves, in his metaphor, act as keys that open up “arcane doors to what waits inside.” -George Grella
Reviews Editor –
Yes, sequencer music can be repetitive. But two things: one, we’ve known this for decades and for many of us, knowing hasn’t dampened our love of it. Two, in the hands of Steve Roach, who started in this sphere, took a long trip through so many other realms of electronic music and now returns to his hands-on, purely analog roots with Skeleton Keys, the dynamics of repetition take on a new timbre. He’s not trying to reinvent or reinvigorate the style here; he’s clearly just digging on coming home. If you’ve been along for the ride this whole time, the reverse-echoing intro to “The Only Way In” is like a vortex pulling you back the man’s early work. For me, it was a familiar sound, one I greeted with a broad smile, like seeing an old friend again. (And damned if I can remember which song I’m reminded of. Ah, age.) And, yes, both the opener and its followup, “The Function and the Form,” are deliciously old school, but the strength of Skeleton Keys is that is doesn’t just linger in that zone.
Roach is a couple decades more experienced than the guy who created Now and Empetus, and he’s got a smoother hand. “It’s All Connected” shifts the feel toward a more subtle groove, reminiscent of the zones he played with on Immersion 5. This track spreads the sequencer bits out more, finds an easier rhythmic stride, and lets the focus fall more squarely on slow-breathing pads in the background. It’s also a welcome shift in pace after the high-speed runs of the two tracks before it, and it slips very smoothly into the just-slightly-faster beats of “Outer Weave.” Outside of the fact that I have always enjoyed this style of music, the more I listen to Skeleton Keys the more I’m aware that what I’m really enjoying about it is the seamless juggling of lines, pulses, and pads and they way the come together. On “Escher’s Dream Is Dreaming,” there’s a great sense of Roach as the patient conductor, deftly cue’ing his various phrases, picking and choosing and just watching the sound build around him. There are some great uses of small textural sounds hiding in here, skittering and burbling beneath the main lines. By the end of the album, we understand that the guy standing behind the modular rack might in many ways be the same one who caught the analog bug 40 years ago and switched us on with Now, but the man behind Skeleton Keys is a more confident, deeper composer—who has never lost his sense of play.
Reviews Editor –
From Sonic Curiosity
This 2015 release features 74 minutes of kinetic electronic music.
Lively electronics are keynote here, crafting bouncy tunes with strong sinuous undercurrents.
The electronics are more than just agile, they flow together to form a pastiche of glistening quality. Instead of merging, different threads coexist to form complex definition. Keyboards are crucial in the creation of many of these sounds, and while numerous loops are generated, they tend to vary with rapid velocity, constantly generating fresh patterns of tasty pulsations.
Much of the sounds employed dwell in the high range, but there are a few tracks that season this squeal factor with pensive bass, establishing a lush balance between these extremes.
Percussion is quite unnecessary here. Enough of the electronic riffs possess adequate pep to serve as rhythms; indeed, if basic rhythms are your thing, this music is guaranteed to delight, for a majority of its substance is comprised of these spry keyboard riffs.
In all honesty, one track does feature subtle percussives, but the tempos are gentle (and non-tribal) and the beats nestle comfortably amid the effervescent notes.
The intrinsic liveliness of these compositions marks them as different from the majority of Roach’s releases. Instead of extreme ambience, these tunes flourish with sprightly energy. And the resulting melodies are enticing and delightful, if perhaps sometimes exhausting in their relentless zest. Another aspect differentiating these songs is their short duration (between 5 and 10 minutes), forcing them to muster themselves right out of the gate and progress through their developments without undue delay. -Matt Howarth
Reviews Editor –
From Ambient Music Guide
We live in the era of digital synthesis and plug-ins, an era of anything-goes electronica that has rather spoiled us. Almost any sound can be borrowed or created or transformed by sampling. So if nothing else, an album like Skeleton Keys is a reminder that synth hardware once had its own distinctive and sometimes imperfect in-built textures, timbres and rhythmic patterns.
Prolific and pioneering, e-musician Steve Roach’s 35-plus year career has spanned large tracts of both the analog and digital eras. On Skeleton Keys he embraces a warm retro-futurism with music composed and performed entirely on a modular analog synthesiser and sequencer system. Quite far removed from the breathing, beatless landscapes you might know him for, the music is heavily patterned, a kind of sonic mandala. It’s the analog sequencers that generate those bubbling, purring loops and riffs, a style that was everywhere in e-music in the 70’s and 80’s including Roach’s own early work. In modified forms this quintessentially European sound has never left us, appearing in electronic music everywhere from West Coast ambient to the dance styles of club trance, house and techno and their many downtempo spinoffs.
Skeleton Keys is a stimulating release and a gentle history lesson to boot. It manages to sound both retro and modern and still has that delicious psychedelic vein that’s present in much of Roach’s work. He obviously loves analog textures – and there are still sounds that cannot be reproduced perfectly by digital synthesis – but I think part of the appeal in making an album like this is dealing with the relative limitations of such hardware and how one might use creativity to overcome them.
Reviews Editor –
From Son of Flies
Ritorna lo statunitense Steve Roach, compositore di fama internazionale e pioniere dell’ambient-atmospheric-electronic music. Artista di spessore da sembre lontano da mode passeggere e vincoli strettamente commerciali. Il suo ultimo album intitolato Skeleton Keys, celebra un modo di fare musica distaccato da molti nomi contemporanei che neanche meriterebbero una recensione. Se la sua influenza sembra provenire principale da alcune correnti stilistiche europee, le note composte per la nuova Opera entrano anche in ambienti più ampi, rendendo il risultato affascinante ma, allo stesso tempo, suggestivo (“It’s All Connected”, “Outer Weave”, “A Subtle Twist Of Fate”). Altri due brani stellari sono “The Function Inside the Form” e “Escher’s Dream Is Dreaming”, esempi di gran classe e sopratutto, colonne sonore che vi rimarranno in testa in maniera uniforme. Solo dopo ripetuti ascolti questi suoni possono essere assorbiti totalmente. Un compendio che provvede ad esaltare quanto creato in 3 decadi di attività. Solo i veri Maestri riescono a raggiungere certi obiettivi. Ideale per chi desidera rilassare il corpo e viaggiare con la mente.
Reviews Editor –
From The Grim Tower
Steve Roach is an absolute master of his craft, a man who has been producing countless numbers of atmospheres since the early eighties. Skeleton Keys is his newest offering from Projekt Records, and it is much different than anything I’ve heard from him prior. This could be because I’ve only heard a few records from him, (Dreamtime Return, Soma, The Desert Inbetween, Immersion Five and Landmass respectively) but I would most certainly place Skeleton Keys in the realms of unexpected spatial and/or robotic-themed soundscapes. It sounds like a melding between classical compositions and something truly out of this world, making me feel like I’m on a sort of spacecraft where these sounds are commonplace to the crew aboard. Perhaps I could even liken this to the kind of music that android type beings would enjoy as they walk down the streets of a very different society, where also the screech of hover cars and fill the air and a fluorescent sun fills the sky.
Yet in the track titles alone, I can discern some sort of electronic artistry at foot, particularly in “The Function Inside The Form 8:23” and “Escher’s Dream Is Dreaming 9:48” which seem to convey the same effect that one might get from viewing a fine work of art, except that Roach’s brushes and paint are his synths and the canvas is your ears. It certainly seems like the kind of music that would illustrate the futurisms made by the geometric obsessed M.C. Escher and feels like a mathematical equation in its composition. It’s a very lively piece, whereas much of the work I’ve heard from Roach has been largely calm and contemplative. It also seems to speak to the left-brained logic, while tapping at the door of the right-brained creative. There’s a good balance here, while airy synths help to decorate the background of beats and rhythms that I can only describe as being in constant motion. It feels like the soundtrack of our human technological existence in this era and seems to demonstrate the active robot mind of which we’re all slowly evolving towards. As I said in the beginning of the review, it sounds like the kind of music that androids might listen to in a vast future-world, yet we might be those kinds of androids that I mentioned.
In any case, Roach has once again achieved a masterpiece and I’d consider this one of his best works by far. It’s something I could put on at nearly any time to get the synapses flowing (I actually feel a slight spark in brain function, which means that this must speak to my cognitive senses) and it feels like a morning work-out or a cup of coffee for the mind. If you’re in need of a quick boost, or you just want to explore futuristic landscapes, then I would highly recommend it. As a matter of fact, The Grim Tower definitely recommends Skeleton Keys and we think you’ll definitely find something within these elaborate and complex tapestries. It’s most definitely a work of art in audio. Rating: 10/10
Richard Gurtler –
“Skeleton Keys” chapter, using throughout 2014 and 2015 the Synthesizers.com large format analog modular system, can easily be labeled as a monster project dedicated to the re-explorations of magnificently sparkling, sequencer-based patterns. Obsessed with this sound since the very first days on the scene in the late 70’s, Steve Roach, the iconic sound architect, again activates all his audible insignias in the Timeroom in order to demonstrate his innate wizardry and flexibility within the genre he was born to enhance. Released on Projekt at the end of May 2015, the theme is attractively displayed by elegant 6-panel digipak featuring catchy cover images by Kyle Wright (of Diophantine Discs) and artist and modular photographs by Adam Fleishman, while the graphic design is handled, as usual by Sam Rosenthal. Behind the mastering desk is Howard Givens of Spotted Peccary fame.
“The Only Way In” ignites the journey and briskly transports the listener into stunningly euphoric sonic realms, with immediate connection to the Master’s fully blooming wizardry, highlighted by an array of glistening sequences, which persistently emerge, swirl, helix and enthrall. This is a real celebration of 100% pure analog sound, welcome to the musical dome of ultimate passion and dedication!!! “The Function Inside The Form” gets closer to Berlin School reminiscences, although gratifyingly reinforced here and there by some buzzing cyber-tech mesmerism and elusive grooves. The next piece, “It’s All Connected”, straightly shifts into utterly laid-back, yet strongly hypnotic, high-tech-infused rhythms meticulously guarded by ethereally undulating blankets. Wow, a 9 and half minutes long sonic elixir reveals all its magic, bravo!!! Electronica cybernetica continues its domination on “Outer Weave”, it shifts to much higher speed, but translucently polished, though celestial waves are still safely hanging above. They even overlap to “Symmetry And Balance”, which emphasizes with vivid mixture of sharpened sequences, continuously pulsing, oscillating and painting mindscaping, trance-charged mandalas. “Saturday Somewhere” gorgeously blends exquisitely carved, refreshingly mesmerizing and hauntingly elevated rhythms with intangibly sweeping washes, while some nice Kraftwerkian feel is thrown in as well. “Escher’s Dream Is Dreaming” pushes the magic even further, with all those splendidly ear-tickling embellishments, spiritedly bouncing, when the listener is bathed in an awe-inspiring perpetual epic of sequenced magnificence. This is a truly delightful listening experience and certainly one of the pinnacles!!! With 13 and half minutes the longest composition, “A Subtle Twist Of Fate”, closes this essential album with an ultra rapid sequencing work, which moves through stirringly nuanced portals and forms fascinatingly spiraling images.
It’s no secret that I was never really into Berlin School electronics and when it goes to Steve’s sequencer-driven discography, I personally prefer more embracing slow-motion splendor such as “Living The Dream” or “Today” for example. Nevertheless, 74-minute “Skeleton Keys” collection grows on me with each new exploration, it’s always fully rewarding, precisely polished in every single detail to its absolute perfection, no matter if listening through the speakers or with my headphones on. I am absolutely amazed by its lushly flavored scenario, each track is different, yet the overall feel remains always highly homogeneous. The old vintage sounds are masterfully amplified by Steve’s own signatures, which keep on expanding over the course of his stellar career spanning across the four decades. Feel the “Skeleton Keys”, feel the magic, feel the energy, feel the passion of the genius, who was born to enrich our lives with his infinite virtuosity and visionary!!! To make the story complete, of course don’t hesitate to explore also “The Skeleton Collection 2005-2015” released on Steve’s Timeroom Editions with 5 tracks originally recorded in 2005, while the remaining 3 pieces were created during February 2015. And last but not least, for all vinyl aficionados, there is available a 180 gram LP version “Skeleton Keys”, with 3 tracks taken from the CD and one exclusive piece “Inner Weave At The Outer Edge”, released in limited edition of 400 copies on Kyle Wright’s Diophantine Discs. By the way, this is the first vinyl release of Steve Roach since “Desert Solitaire” LP in 1989!!! Big kudos to all involved for the whole “Skeleton Keys” package!!! The journey continues and I am thrilled to be deeply connected!!!
Richard Gürtler (Jul 11, 2015, Bratislava, Slovakia)
Reviews Editor –
From Star’s End
While Steve Roach was recording his album Empetus (1986), did he have occasion to contemplate what of his future self was within him right then? Nearly thirty years later, listening to Skeleton Keys (73’57”) we may find traces of this past work, as well as a touch of the prior man himself. While Skeleton Keys may be compared in both cause and effect to a few earlier releases, it does again find Roach having great success at exploring the expansive promise of this musical sort.
Converting electrical current into music, his tone tools produce myriad lines of consistent metrical pattern – which our listening minds integrate into a unified sonic structure. Creating a driving pulse out of multiple rows of recurring notes, our emotions intensify with each growing cycle. As luminous open chords suggest a sense of infinite space, our thoughts blend with the rushing, breathless arrangements. Synchronized sequencers pump out a protean array of throbbing rhythms and echoing tones, and charge brawny oscillators to dart out, in, up and down intervals and scales in fascinating, minimalistic shifts. This machinery lends Roach the remarkable ability to manipulate volume, bulk and dimension, and therefore the unique power felt in each of Skeleton Keys‘ eight tracks. To fully enjoy this music the listener must be curious – not just with how it was made, or by whom, but with what happens when we allow ourselves to momentarily disappear into it. -Chuck van Zyl
Reviews Editor –
From Musique Machine
For his new album Skeleton Keys, ambient veteran Steve Roach brings us a richly analog piece of unadulterated synthesizer worship in the tradition of Life Sequence, Empetus and Proof Positive. As with the 3 albums just listed, a sequenced, grid-locked sound dominates the album, a more stable 4/4 than many of Roach’s drifting sound currents, the compositions developing through permutations of spiralling arps. The melodic aspects of the music are more boldly stated than is typical in Roach’s often sparse and completely gaseous sound forms.
I’ve been a die hard fan of Roach’s for many years now, having first listened to Immersion: Three around when it came out in 2007. Skeleton Keys may be my favorite album of them all, or at very least, possessing of the most immediately satisfying physical and emotional effect. It is a dazzling kaleidoscope of subtle color gradations too gentle to ever become fatiguing, too finely detailed to grow overly familiar.
How Roach could have fashioned the subtle melodic complexities of these lovely and mysterious chord progressions is baffling to me. Each smoothly undulating iteration winds gracefully through a series of available pitches in a subtely varied pattern, forming a thread in the overall mandala, an astonishingly massive abstract structure. Droning pitches common to all variations form the eternal ‘om’ beneath.
The production / sound texture quality on this album is just staggering. The buzzing resonance of the analog synthesizers is a very physical sound, unlike the silent detachment of many modern digital ambient recordings. I can’t imagine a more lush, physically pleasurable sound than the music on this album.
As a huge fan of trance music, both in its classic 70’s Berlin School definition and the modern dance music form, I find this 4/4 styled version of Steve Roach’s music intensely compelling. For those who’ve been waiting for a more active form of Roach’s often very slow musical style, this is it. A supremely wise and talented individual, Steve Roach continues to be an endless source of brain food, balancing energy and philosophical inspiration. In the case of Skeleton Keys, one doesn’t have to look so deep into the music to find the profundity and content. Rating: 5/5 -Josh Landry
Reviews Editor –
From Sound Contest
Steve Roach, massimo esponente dell’ambient e della musica elettronica, ritorna al glorioso suono analogico con Skeleton Keys e The Skeleton Collection. Due dischi che insieme raccolgono e raccontano i risultati di dieci anni di lavoro spesi a creare e sviluppare nuove scenografie sonore solo con l’ausilio di sintetizzatori e sequencer analogici. Previo un paziente recupero e certosino assemblaggio dei migliori marchingegni forniti da synthesizers.com, produttore leader del settore, il veterano compositore californiano ha così rimesso mano a sintetizzatori, filtri, oscillatori e altre diavolerie elettroniche d’antan come non accadeva da prima della svolta epocale di Structures From Silence (1984). Il ritorno di fiamma per l’estetica analogica si accompagna, ovviamente, anche a quello per la corrente teutonica berlinese (i vari Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream e Cluster, tanto per intenderci), che tanta influenza ebbe sulla produzione del primissimo Roach al pari di quella immediatamente successiva esercitata da Brian Eno e Jon Hassell.
Vero che un parziale avvistamento di tale “retromarcia” tecnologica e stilistica allignava tra le pieghe e i suoni di Spiral Meditations (2013) ma va da sé che con Skeleton Keys il cuore e la mente di Steve Roach saltano l’ostacolo in modo chiaro e ineccepibile, eligendo come stelle d’orientamento la “Berliner schule auf elektronische musik” e i corrieri cosmici degli anni Settanta. Sicuramente l’accostamento più preciso per dare un’idea del suono che percorre e abita queste otto tracce è quello del Klaus Schulze di Totem, prima traccia inclusa nell’album Picture Music del 1973. Partendo da tali canoni Steve Roach plasma, tuttavia, la sostanza elettronica delle sue creazioni in chiave brillantemente contemporanea, infondendo nel suono un messaggio e un’essenza polidimensionali, non solo “space-ambient” ma anche e soprattutto “inner-mind”, visto che il flusso strutturale delle composizioni sembra restituire l’immagine di un’avventurosa e misteriosa missione esplorativa nei meandri della corteccia cerebrale e del subconscio umano.
Non appena partono i pulsar iridescenti e intergalattici di The Only Way In e le labirintiche scanalature a spirale di The Fuction Inside The Form la prima infallibile sensazione è quella di avere a che fare con un Roach raramente così dinamico e ritmico, così creativo e variopinto nel progettare con tasti, pulsanti e manopole architetture tanto avvolgenti e cangianti. Qui come nella cibernetica It’s All Connected (in cui si agitano anche lievi brezze chill out) o nella più “technoide” Outer Weave l’alchemica evoluzione-sovrapposizione di timbri elettronici, delay, echo-beat, loop ed effetti “quasar” generano il miracolo di una musica “radiale”, trasmessa direttamente dallo spazio.
La bravura con cui il maestro riesce a portare alla fine l’opera senza mai ripetersi merita davvero un grande applauso. Infatti ancora diverse sono le atmosfere e le caratteristiche che contraddistinguono il volto sonoro di Symmetry And Balance (molto trance-pop, quasi alla maniera degli Orb), Saturday Somewhere (armonicamente ipnotica nella sua fluida ripetitività), Escher’s Dream Is Dreaming (circolare, oppiacea e cosmica come i più valorosi Tangerine Dream) e A Subtle Twist Of Fate (ambient che schiude le porte ad una sensualità aliena). In altre parole un disco di grande forza espressiva e abilità tecnica, grazie al quale Steve Roach rammenta a noi e a se stesso da dove è iniziata la sua grande avventura alla conquista dell’ambient elettronica e della sublime arte del soundscape.
Complementare e in qualche modo esaustivo del racconto di tale impresa è invece The Skeleton Collection 2005-2015, che, come afferma lo stesso Roach, traccia le origini e i passaggi attraverso i quali è venuto poi alla luce il materiale di Skeleton Keys. La raccolta si compone di otto tracce di cui le prime cinque (quelle composte e realizzate nel 2005) sono più che altro bozze ed esperimenti utilizzati da Roach per mettere a punto l’armamentario analogico e investigare le proprietà effettistiche, cinetiche e puntillistiche che da esso potevano essere ricavate. Anche qui si nota un’evidente varietà di risultati e forme da brano a brano. La propulsione ritmica resta sempre in primo piano e addirittura in The Right Membrane sembra raggiungere picchi nevrotici. Estremamente elaborate e raffinate sono invece le ultime tre composizioni risalenti al febbraio del 2015, successive pertanto all’uscita di Skeleton Keys e qui documentate per testimoniare un’euforia creativa che raggiunge sorprendenti apici melodici in Something For Now e The Joy Of Sequence, quest’ultima quasi una variazione ancor più estatica del motivo chiave alla base di The Only Way In. Rating: 8/10 -Olindo Fortino
Reviews Editor –
In occasione dell’intervista che ci concesse due anni fa, Steve Roach citò come prima influenza e base di partenza della sua ricerca la Berlin School. Non a caso l’espressione che più di tutte, in quella fondamentale esperienza storico-artistica che fu la kosmische muzak tedesca degli anni Settanta, si è concentrata sulla descrizione in suono dell’ambiente e delle emozioni da esso evocate: sostanzialmente il primo step verso l’idea di musica atmosferica che Roach ha reso grammatica universale. Ma il legame fra la California degli anni Ottanta e quella Grande Germania sta anche e soprattutto nella continuità di mezzi e nella concezione dell’elettronica come gergo sonoro autonomo, in grado di cogliere la realtà da un punto di vista realistico quanto squisitamente umano.
A quarant’anni da tutto questo oggi Steve Roach torna alle sue origini, firmando un disco realizzato esclusivamente con un set-up di synth analogici modulari. La genesi di Skelton Keys è raccontata per filo e per segno all’interno del digipack che contiene il disco, dove Roach racconta di aver dedicato parecchi mesi dell’ultimo anno e mezzo a costruire un armamentario di sintetizzatori modulari nuovi di zecca, in gran parte recuperati sul sito synthesizer.com. Al disco va anche la palma di uscita più promossa degli ultimi dieci anni fra le tante firmate dal maestro californiano, a dimostrazione ulteriore della portata dell’investimento artistico sull’intero progetto. Merito della dedizione della “solita” Projekt, via cartoline, grafiche e una cura maniacale nell’estetica dell’uscita.
Se è vero che Skelton Keys non rappresenta certo il primo comeback all’estetica analogica (si prendano, su tutti, lavori come Sigh Of Ages o il recentissimo “Spiral Meditations”), qui si assiste ad un autentico comeback ai tempi di Now e Traveler, vale a dire a prima della svolta di Structures From Silence. L’apertura di “The Only Way In” appare subito come una trasfigurazione in pulsione delle cavalcate di Michael Amerlan, affidata alle evoluzioni di un sequencer che accumula e scarta elementi sonori ad ogni passaggio. Si tratta solo di un primo approccio con la materia, pronta ad essere rielaborata in una varietà di declinazioni già a partire dalla marcia sostenuta di “The Function Inside The Form”.
La prima metà del lavoro racchiude poi un paio di applicazioni ai soundscape classici di Roach: in “It’s All Connected” torna d’attualità la trancedelia al ralenti, mentre “Outer Weave” tocca con mano i territori convulsi e hypno-tech dei lavori con Vir Unis. Il ritorno alla purezza analogica è affidato alla seconda metà del lavoro: se “Escher’s Dream Is Dreaming” e “A Subtle Twist Of Fate” simulano affascinanti featuring rispettivamente con Klaus Schulze e i Tangerine Dream di “Rubycon”, l’inno delicato di “Saturday Somewhere” e l’inchino al pop sintetico di “Symmetry And Balance” offrono forse i take più originali e difficilmente collegabili ai trascorsi storici del californiano.
Due ciliegine su una torta gustosa, di quelle dal sapore e dalla ricetta quantomai “classiche” ma che proprio per questo piacciono sempre. Un lavoro che colpisce per la capacità di suonare quantomai attuale nonostante sia concepito in seno ad una tradizione sonora ormai quarantennale ed eseguito interamente con strumenti la cui età ha superato il mezzo secolo. Merito di una tradizione sonora che resta fondamento imprescindibile e trasversale di tutte le espressioni elettroniche contemporanee, ma anche del tocco inconfondibile di un maestro che dopo trentacinque anni di carriera ha ancora molto da insegnare a tanti. Rating: 7 (very good) -Matteo Meda
Reviews Editor –
One way electronic pioneer Steve Roach vitalizes his music is by not not only anticipating the future but by looking backwards, too. In the case of Skeleton Keys, he returned to his analog modular sequencer-based roots by recording all eight of the album’s long-form tracks using a large-format analog-modular synthesizer/sequencer-based system (a photo on the inner sleeve shows Roach standing in front of the large apparatus with its many rows and columns of cables, switches, and knobs).
Representative of the recording’s general style, “The Only Way In” inaugurates Skeleton Keys with shimmering swaths of twinkling synthesizers, dense tapestries whose individual elements pulsate, spiral, and weave at varying pitches. Like the Mobius Strip-like design intimated by its title, “Escher’s Dream is Dreaming” features sequencer patterns that literally feel as if they’re looping in on themselves. One occasionally hears in such material echoes of ‘70s artists like Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze. There are moments during “The Function Inside the Form,” for instance, where the former’s influence is strongly evident, but it’s hardly the only piece where the presence of such precursors looms.
Roach’s music naturally has evolved throughout his multi-decade career; in recent years, it’s developed into something one might call tribal-techno, an hypnotic form of music where synthesizer patterns serenely drift on delicate beds of percussion, and certain tracks on the album do, in fact, gravitate in the style’s direction, among them “It’s All Connected” and “Saturday Somewhere.” A number of these retro-futuristic settings unfold at a surprisingly fast clip. Though slow-motion washes might exhale in the background of “Outer Weave,” their glacial movement is offset by rapid percussive pitter-patter that powers the twanging cut at a breakneck pace. Once its kinetic rhythms lock into position, the prototypical Roach setting unfolds with a mathematical precision.
Reviews Editor –
I know you’re probably saying to yourself – another ambient Steve Roach album? No. Roach hasn’t recorded an album anything like Skeleton Keys in several decades, based almost entirely on analog modular synthesizer and sequencers, with a solid nod to German pioneers like Klaus Schulze, early Tangerine Dream and other like-minded travelers on both sides of the big pond. This is in fact is where Roach started his work back in the early 80s – on our photo of him on the Exposé artist page from 1982 (around the time of his second album Traveler) one can see the big modular synths and associated gear in his private studio with all the knobs, jacks, and cables. This was in fact the genesis of electronic music.
Well, after many years Roach decided to break this gear out again in 2014-15 and create something new with it, occasionally blending in subtle elements of his more contemporary sounds. Revisiting ancient concepts via his new hardware implementations of this early electronic instrumentation after so many years, he has capably infused new feeling and emotion into the compositions that might come off as merely mechanical in less capable hands, but Roach has always been a master at this, and has moved his technology and creativity forward together to a whole new level. There are eight titles here, although “It’s All Connected,” “Outer Weave,” and “Symmetry and Balance” fuse together to form one 24 minute block of pulsating electronic bliss. The remaining five tracks also wield a cornucopia of pulsating rhythms, darting melodies, and woven textures that always sound fresh and ever-changing. This 74-minute CD will also be available as a double-vinyl LP. -Peter Thelen
Reviews Editor –
From Sequenzer Welten
Wow, wann gab es das zuletzt? Reine, analoge Musik von Steve Roach!
Ich kann mich wirklich nicht erinnern, gab es das schonmal? Das ist wirklich was sehr ungewohntes von Steve. Wo wir sicherlich alle seine tiefen Soundlandschaften noch im Ohr haben, werden wir hier mit einer “Analagschlacht” überrascht, die nicht nur Steve Roach-Fans aufhorchen lässt.
Der Grundstein wurde bereits im Jahr 2005 gelegt und erst 10 Jahre später fertiggestellt. Pure analoge Musik mit Rhythmus und Melodien …. da freut sich doch das EM-Herz (und natürlich die Ohren!)!
Und so wie ich es auch gelesen habe, ist dies noch nicht alles, denn Steve Roach gibt noch die -The Skeleton Collection- heraus, die analoges Material aus der gleichen Zeit beinhaltet. Also Leute, da können wir uns richtig drauf freuen, denn diese Musik ist absolute Spitze !!
Zur Zeit gibt es beide nur als Downloadalben, während es mit der “richtigen” CD und sogar Vinyl noch bis Ende Mai dauert.
The Skeleton Keys ist schonmal ein richtiges Highlight und daher absolut zu empfehlen! -Uwe Sasse
Reviews Editor –
Skeleton Keys is Echoes’ May 2015 CD of the Month!
As Steve Roach’s Skeleton Keys opens, with a reverse sequencer pattern fading-in as if going backwards in time, this quote struck me because Roach is returning to his analog synthesizer sequencer roots. But since Roach has been relentlessly discovering new music directions for 35 years, when he revisits these sounds, he hears it anew, discovering innovative pathways in an old vocabulary.
Steve Roach is a child of German space music. Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and Ash Ra Tempel (sic) were his Holy Trinity and he expanded on that sound with albums like Now, Traveler and his definitive sequencer statement, Empetus. While many artists were content to stay in that mode, Roach crossed the border into a new world of sound, developing techno-tribal with Dreamtime Return, deep drone with Magnificent Void, and galactic expansion on albums like Arc of Passion. Elements of those 1980s sequencer pulses would return, radically shifted, on albums like Light Fantastic and Proof Positive, but they have been secondary or understated elements on the 50 or so solo albums Roach released since Empetus in 1986.
When “The Only Way In” opens the door to Skeleton Keys, a wash of familiarity rushes in, but it’s a sound that is also altered by a quarter century of musical evolution. There’s a more tribal, percussive approach to these analog-driven tracks that wasn’t present in 1986. The nature of Roach’s interwoven sequencer patterns has also changed. They’re more intricate and transformative, a fractal moiré pattern of shifting perspectives and deceptive depths. Roach slowly alters sequencer patterns in a track, changing focus, bringing one element into bas relief then re-submerging it into the pattern. It’s a fascinating display of electronic painting that reveals a minimalist element to this music that owes more to Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians” than Tangerine Dream’s “Phaedra.”
This might be the only Roach album that displays its technology like a trophy. Roach composed Skeleton Keys on a massive analog synthesizer constructed in the style of early Moog modulars, with tons of switches, knobs and patch bays. An extreme close-up photo of a few knobs on the instrument graces the cover and a promotional postcard has Roach standing in front of it, the huge synthesizer spilling beyond the frame. A lot of artists are going in this direction these days, but few have the mastery and control that Steve Roach reveals.
Most of the compositions’ titles relate to Roach’s sonic structures. “Escher’s Dream Is Dreaming” features sequencer patterns that seem to turn on themselves, and “Symmetry and Balance” reflects interlocking notes that mirror, refract and move contrapuntally through time. “It’s All Connected” is both a philosophical construct and a commentary on Roach’s music: the piece is built upon a techno-tribal flow of acoustic sounding percussion, matched by a twanging, nattering electronic pattern, a marriage of his two dominant worlds.
Sonically and sensually, Skeleton Keys is as immersive as anything Steve Roach has recorded and is best heard loud on good speakers or headphones, as patterns bounce across the stereo spectrum in lysergic pirouettes. These Skeleton Keys will unlock your consciousness. -John Diliberto