1. The Skeleton Key
2. Climbing Escher’s Stairs
3. Fantastic Elastic
4. The Right Membrane
5. All Is Good
6. Off the Spool
7. Something For Now
8. The Joy of Sequence
Three parts to the whole:
Skeleton Keys CD — 8-tracks, 74-minutes.
The Skeleton Collection – Steve Roach
This collection of new and previously unreleased pieces starts out by tracking the origin of Skeleton Keys: the first five tracks, recorded in 2005, set the idea into motion of creating a project of pure analog synth/sequencer-based music. I wanted to place the attention directly on these pure kinetic forms, intentionally stripped down to the essentials. The focus remains on the purity of the analog sound and the interweave of the patterned melodic strands and the ever-present pulse. Those elements all work together to create the keys for opening into a place of perception only obtained though this form of music.
Analog modular creation is all about spontaneous hands-on interaction and the visceral connection in the body and mind as the sound is spiraling forth from the speakers. No second guessing here: the priority is engaging with the immediacy of live electronic music on hardware instruments. Feel it, go with it, shape it by hand, record it, move on.
After orbiting around this project for several years, I continued to return to the original 2005 recordings, still feeling the growing desire to explore the “essence of the sequence” direction.
By early 2014, I built a large format analog system on the Synthesizers.com platform. This was essential in giving me the tools to unlock the passages that would become the definitive Skeleton Keys release. Once this album was complete, the momentum remained at a high point. All I could do was keep capturing peak live moments in the studio. By February 2015, tracks 5, 6 and 7 arrived. Including these on this album felt like a perfect perspective on the tracks that started the Skeleton Keys project a decade ago. It’s all here now.
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