2 The Long Road
4 Cloud of New Promise
5 Primal Return
6 Embrace the Infinite
7 Parable of Understanding
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Twenty-six years after their noted collaboration Kiva (1995), American electronic music originators Steve Roach and Michael Stearns’ orbits return to a point on the horizon between and beyond worlds. Their mastery of tactile sonic environments meld into boundary-defying music creating a language of transcending and transformative experiences. These seven captivating tracks are born from a devotion to the power of sound. Within realms of elemental, primordial, celestial and deep emotion, the enveloping influence is found within the natural world of forests, deserts, canyons, mountains and the beyond.
“Checking in deeply after decades apart,” Steve reflects, “Michael and I found we both chose to live in places away from cities, close to the natural world. The ongoing influence of the environment we live in gives us another level of going past the day to day. Out my window, I look seventy-five miles to the horizon, horizon is home. We’re both at home in our element, present in one’s self while focused on something far in the distance, moving towards it, pulling us out there.”
The inventory of instruments utilized on this release includes The Beam (a 12-foot bass instrument with 22 strings), an extensive array of analog and digital synthesizers, vintage and current analog modular sequencers, the 6-foot didgeridoo, guitars, and more.
Meeting in Los Angeles in the late 70s, Steve and Michael lived a few blocks from each other in neighborhoods separated by Venice Blvd. They collaborated in those early days — ripe formative years of the developing American electronic music scene. As their individual lives and careers unfolded, Michael became a successful film composer, known for passionate soundtrack work on director Ron Fricke’s Chronos, Baraka and Samsara, while Steve went on to create many pioneering electronic/ambient classics including Structures from Silence, Quiet Music and Dreamtime Return and now has a discography of well over 150 albums.
The two artists reconnected at Steve’s performance in Santa Fe in 2019 where Michael participated on The Beam. Afterwards they spent several days together laying down basic tracks that evolved over the next two years into this collaboration.
From the moment we enter into the realm of Earth & Sky to the moment we depart it, the space beyond calls to us, guiding the unfolding of our lives. Through music we hear that call, transcending the day to day and ordinary states of awareness, Beyond Earth and Sky.
Michael Stearns is an American musician and composer of ambient electronic music. He is also a multi-genre composer, sound designer, and soundtrack producer. His credits include music for television, feature films, planetariums, theme parks, World Fairs, twenty-two IMAX films and nineteen solo albums. He has created music for NASA, Laserium, Disney Films, HBO, ABC’s The World of Explorers, 20/20, Ron Fricke’s non-verbal global film masterpieces Chronos, Sacred Site, Baraka and Samsara. His career began with electronic music releases in the late 70s; his landmark Planetary Unfolding came out in 1981.
Steve Roach is an American pioneer in the evolution of ambient/electronic music, helping shape it into what it is today. Grammy nominated in 2018 and 2019 consecutively, his career spans over 4 decades drawing from a vast, unique and deeply personal authenticity. His albums are fueled by the momentum of a lifetime dedicated to the soundcurrent. Driven by a passion and unbroken focus, the emotive, soul-stirring depth of his recorded music — along with countless concerts — Roach inspires audiences worldwide. His massive catalog of landmark recordings includes Structures from Silence, Dreamtime Return and Mystic Chords and Sacred Spaces.
From Darkroom Magazine
The American Michael Stearns, a multifaceted musician widely celebrated in the field of soundtracks, we met him in the summer of 2020 on the occasion of Convergence, a work made together with the other noble Norwegian composer Erik Wøllo, and now, again in the ‘bed of the Projekt roster, we find it in another album written and made by four hands, this time with the dean of the ambient Steve Roach. The two American artists, longtime friends, had already collaborated on a couple of distant occasions, in ’89 and in ’95, and now, after having met in 2019 for a performance by Steve (in which Michael actively participated), they return with a new work in pairs, employing an instrumentation that includes The Beam (a large instrument with 22 strings), a ‘wide range of analog and digital synths, modular sequencers both vintage and current, the didgeridoo, guitars and so on.
The seven tracks of the work (enclosed in the beautiful six-panel digipack) are born – as the official notes explain – from the devotion to the power of sound, and are directly influenced by that Nature near which both musicians have decided to live, moving away voluntarily from the city and redefining its concept of everyday life. Without doubt, their choice of life, with its profoundly different rhythms, reverberates in the tones of the work in question, from the placid chillout movements of the initial “Horizon Is Home” to the subdued oriental breath of the final “Parable Of Understanding”, passing for much darker tones which guarantee us a wide range of optimally used solutions and a very high sound quality. Work not to be missed for fans of the genre, proving how Stearns is an added value in the prestigious Projekt roster. -Roberto Alessandro Filippozzi
It’s been many years — decades, in fact — since these two electronic music pioneers appeared together on a recording. Roach and Stearns used to be neighbors in the Los Angeles area in the late 70s when both were getting their start, before each took different paths out of the city, Stearns to New Mexico to concentrate more on soundtrack work, Roach to Arizona to continue his work, releasing over 175 albums to date. In 1989 they teamed up with Kevin Braheny to record Desert Solitaire, and then again six years later with Ron Sunsinger to record Kiva, but the two had not collaborated (on a recording, at least) since 1995, so with the album at hand, Beyond Earth & Sky, the reunion is long overdue.
Throughout the listener is treated to their trademark floating ambient explorations, interspersed with shimmering gliss, heavy dronescapes, and sequenced elements, all the while with attention to melody and atmospherics. It’s hard to know whether Roach and Stearns were together in the studio when these seven tracks unfolded, or whether they were passing partially completed files through the ether, and though it sounds like it could easily be the former, I suspect the latter. But who knows? As one listens the possibilities keep the listener guessing. “Horizon Is Home” opens the set, staying fairly close to a pure floating ambient sound across its thirteen minute duration, graced by delicate glissando and subsonic swells, eventually joined by the steady percussive beat of hand drums. The focus of the piece keeps shifting, making it one of the most interesting tracks here. “Impelled” is a growing, breathing organism that sparkles with beauty as it slowly takes flight with powerful sequences driving, eventually subsiding int a flickering starlight, while “Primal Return” slowly opens the door to a cascade of dark growling subsonics as it proceeds. “Embrace the Infinite” follows, like the warm sun of a gentle spring morning. Taken as a whole, these seven pieces make for a powerful soundtrack that, while relaxing, won’t put the listener to sleep. -Peter Thelen
From Star’s End
Exploring ingenuities of form and mysterious pressures of feeling, Steve Roach and Michael Stearns each inhabit a distinctive zone of their own. Their joint effort Beyond Earth & Sky (71’20”) is a release of discovery, for the musicians and their audience alike. A meditation on enchantment, it strives for timelessness, ascending to a rare spiritual intensity. The seven tracks focus their creativity under the regime of collaboration, and take us places we cannot get to with anyone else. From moonlit soft chords and floating synthesizer atmospheres, to dramatic tonal transitions and gradually darkening visions, the music skillfully twists and shifts – leaving listeners lost in the thoughts, memories and passions of two extraordinary talents. Sounds ebb, flow and glow as each tingling detail stimulates the mind. Vast in their proportions every musical phrase is shaped by the color of fantasy. Impressed by an enigmatic, swirling current of textures and tones – including those of the famed towering steel stringed instrument “The Beam” – we find Beyond Earth & Sky leveling itself, and waiting for the world to follow. The album is beautiful, full of commanding synth-borne harmonies, animating electro-ethno grooves, and the echo of ethereal rituals throughout. While Beyond Earth & Sky may seem not of this earth, after repeated listenings we hear that its beauty is completely of our world, and undeniably explicit. Whether meant as a travel soundtrack to accompany us to some distant planet, or within to the warmth of our own inner realm, as a work of human imagination the journey Roach and Stearns provide is retraceable – so long as we are open to the possibilities of their adventure. -Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END November 4, 2021
From Synth & Sequences
“Roach & Stearns surpasses expectations by delivering an album that exceeds my most audacious expectancies”
Michael Stearns is definitely on the lips of the faithful followers of contemporary electronic music. A solid album with Erik Wollo in 2020, Convergence, an appearance at the last SoundQuest Fest 2021 and finally a collaboration album with the unique Steve Roach. Honestly, I was expecting something big, as I was expecting a slight disappointment as it is often the case when two geniuses meet. But nothing like that here! I also took the opportunity to listen to Kiva, the last collaboration between these two magnificent musicians. This album exploited good percussions effects, tribal as well as electronic, big Native American atmospheres, as well as intense atmospheric soundscapes. We find these ingredients on BEYOND EARTH & SKY, but in the right proportion and new perspectives for the term intensity to find a little more of its nobility here. Tie your ears to your headphones, although the production is perfect to face the spaces of my listening room, since the two American musicians have concocted a small masterpiece where we haven’t the same visions of the deserts of the American West anymore.
It’s with a sound light that the horizon rises in both universes of Steve Roach and Michael Stearns. Soft and warm, violins and cellos’ layers stimulate its ascent. It’s in this secret opening that Horizon is Home continues to amplify its musical structure. A vampiric bass line solidifies an ambient structure whose pastoral intensity stretches its final radiance until a superb tribal rhythm takes over our ears. Tribal percussion, percussive effects and a bass drum are sculpting an ancestral Native American rhythm that lives under a sky lit by sonic graffiti from synths which oppose their visions. A piano infiltrates this slow and heavy movement of passion after the 6th minute. Becoming more electronic folk than tribal ambient, Horizon is Home abounds with a divine musicality that traps our attention on a mesmerizing rhythmic canvas. The slow agony of the cello draws out these sighs from the soul that the piano releases with its discrete presence. The organic texture of the beats is unique in itself and is at the origin of The Long Road whose sparse beats and tinkling bells/bottles leave a fine resonant haze on its introduction. The rhythm that emerges is slower and when a chord falls with a bang, it is to excite this shamanic wave that whispers through a didgederoo. From this moment, the rhythmic texture of the track bursts with a panoply of percussive effects. The African trumpets try to give a second breath to The Long Road which remains anchored in the attractions of its percussive elements under a sky buzzing of musical fever. The second part proposes a more meditative phase that goes on growing up until its finale. We reach Impelled and no, the road of the rhythms is not yet finished! Its opening grows in intensity from percussive rumblings and sharp blue sound waves. And this outfit fragments like a particle that regenerates into a more jerky form…like a train rolling towards the American West. Built on a fascinating mesh of tribal percussions, bass-pulses and sequences, this rhythm is frenetic and frantic. Obviously prismatic elements stick to this flight for the least surprising coming from the tandem Roach & Stearns. Moreover, we are able to hear the texture of this rhythm when it slows down to meet another train that crosses it around the 5th minute. This meeting takes place under a sky of an intensity filled with layers of a pastoral organ. The echo of this train and the reverberating crumbs furnish the ambiences of a percussive stratagem that has us nailed to our seats. And yes, the organic fauna breathing does us good until the finale of Impelled.
A guitar lays its notes on a bold mist at the opening of Cloud of New Promise. The rise of this dense mist and its slow movements bring us back to that wonderful period of Western Spaces. After this beautiful ambient and meditative moment, Primal Return decides to stay there and exploit these shamanic rhythms of the time, with today’s technology. The first spurts of the synth are an azure blue which turns into drones as the ambient, haunting rhythm sets its base. A tenebrous pace which beats under a dark sky filled of muted breaths and of didgeridoo whispers and which embraces the curves of drones floating in darkness. The tribal rhythm is threatened by muted incantations as keyboard riffs fall, creating fiery blue firebrands in a darkness cracked by a synth which throws up filaments of apocalyptic nights while building a wall of voices where the older ones’ voices croon. A little more and it is me who drank this shamanic Amerindian potion where I fly like an eagle in the darkness. A journey that crosses the 6-minute mark where afterwards, Primal Return floats on the wings of silence. Intense and captivating when played in open air, without headphones. In my humble opinion, Embracing the Infinite is BEYOND EARTH & SKY‘s most beautiful track. Yet, its envelope is draped with a dense and dark haze. And it is under it that opalescent chords decided to carve an incredible spectral melody to give goosebumps. It’s like hearing a melodious passage from M’Ocean but played backwards. Also to be classified in Structures from Silence. The introduction of Parable of Understanding is as much pushed by the winds of the US Western deserts than the finale of Embracing the Infinite. A serene opening where flutes compete with azure winds that lightly make tinkle various chimes. A synth layer injects a dose of intensity into this ambient movement some 30 seconds into its 4th minute, giving a brightness effect that translates into the slow arrival of another layer that awakens a thunder of percussions 2 minutes later. This atmospheric rumbling rages on for barely 60 seconds before the tranquility of the desert and of these chants launched by the winds going around or piercing cactus and rocks come back to haunt the last moments of an album that seals the reunion of 2 pioneers of the Pacific School.
Grandiose! Steve Roach and Michael Stearns surpass expectations by delivering an album that exceeds my most audacious expectancies. BEYOND EARTH & SKY is a superb, seamless album that strikes the right balance between ambient, tribal ambient, electronic folk and frenetic beats. At no time on this splendid 71 minutes long album, we feel the two musicians lacking breath or inspiration. Everything is perfectly balanced for the pleasure of our emotions and our expectations that just didn’t anticipate such a spectacular album. -Sylvain Lupari (November 2nd, 2021) *****
From Sonic Immersion
Soundsculptors Steve Roach and Michael Stearns are both electronic music veterans with an extensive list of solo and collaborative releases under their belt. Their last collaboration (Kiva) though saw the light of day some 26 years ago, so what a joy to see them team up again for Beyond Earth & Sky, for which the basics were laid down in the few days after Roach’s concert in Santa Fe in 2019 where Michael participated on stage on The Beam.
The seven-track result is a collection of heartwarming, profound, and transcendental music, the opening track “Horizon is Home” bringing back memories of the emotive, highly atmospheric soundings of the concept album “Desert Spaces”. The same can be experienced on “Cloud of New Promise” and “Embrace the Infinite”, places of simple beauty found a bit further down the road. This tantalizing sensation carries on from there, rising and falling in intensity as the beautifully molded music unfolds further. The fact both composers live very close to (and/or are surrounded by) spectacular natural environs is an ongoing influence here, they are present in their own self while focused on something far in the distance, moving towards it, pulling them out there as they create a language of transformative, elevating aural experiences.
For me, this process has already reached its first pinnacle on the highly evocative “Impelled”. In that respect, I can only second these lines from the press sheet: From the moment we enter into the realm of Earth & Sky to the moment we depart it, the space beyond calls to us, guiding the unfolding of our lives. Through music we hear that call, transcending the day-to-day and ordinary states of awareness, Beyond Earth and Sky. To that, I‘d like to add it stimulates awareness, reflection, meditation, and spirituality, culminating immersively on the final track “Parable of Understanding”. Well done you both! Rating: 4 out of 5 -Bert Strolenberg