We collected questions from followers on the Steve Roach Facebook page. Here are Steve’s answers:
David DeWolf: Steve, what inspires you the most in creating sounds? Thank you for the endless beauty within your music!
Steve: Creating sounds from a blank slate is like mixing your own colors to paint with; there is a kind of blending of many senses during this process. The sensual nature of hearing and feeling sound is vital in this, and it’s what defines an artist’s “voice.” The pathways into one’s perception as these sounds are developed over time is an experience I crave on a daily basis. The inspirations come from living life itself with a curious mind, from the subtle points of awareness that can’t be described with words. The same feeling I receive when discovering a new place out in nature for example. The sound carving impulses are also certainly drawn from the larger more dynamic episodes of the day to day as well. In most cases the creation of the sounds comes first, then the music emerges.
Louie Bourland: Steve, it was your music that introduced me to the sounds of the didgeridoo. Can you please share how you first came in contact with the didgeridoo? Also, what advice or tips do you have for musicians that are just learning how to play the didgeridoo?
Steve: I first heard the didgeridoo in the movie the Last Wave in the late 70′s. Immediately the sound spoke to to me the same way certain organic synth drones did in those days.
Eventually I started on the early ideas that would become Dreamtime Return. As fate would have it, I was reading more on aboriginal culture and working on the music when a filmmaker heard my music and contacted me to score a documentary on the Aboriginal Rock painting art of the Australian Aborigines of Cape York. The very book I was reading was part of what the film was drawing from.
Soon I was traveling to Australia to experience all this firsthand with a expedition into the deep of the outback and the sacred sites that few westerners had ever seen. During the adventure I met Aboriginal Didg player David Hudson as part of the music/dance group he led in Cairns. This meeting was pivotal for me and the didgeridoo infusion. In the late 80s, I recorded David’s Wollunda. At that time there were no CDs of solo didgerdoo music anywhere on the planet that we could find, Wollunda was the first. I had to convince the owner of the record company there there was audience for this.
Eventually I learned to play from him. As for new players and ways to learn, there has to be a lot of youtube demos. Back then, I was giving day-long workshops on how to play.
Also for learning, playing along with didg albums is a great way to entrain the brain to circular breath. I continue to use the didg in various modes morphed and blended with the electronics and play it for fun and health benefits – deep breathing!
David Leavitt: Steve, what similarities do you see or feel between mountain biking and the process of making music? : )
Steve: David! Yes we have had some great rides in the outback of Tucson. The movement of the rotating mass is highly psychoactive for me, and it’s been fueling the music for years. I have been riding mountain bikes since the mid 80′s; this is great way to get out there and – at the same time – deeper in there. With the kind of mountain bike rides I do, the power breathing, cardio and brain functions are all working towards a sweet spot of what I like to call the endorphin dreamtime, otherwise known as the zone. I access a lot of insights and just pure raw emotion, unassigned joy, and body ecstasy from this state. It feeds the creative fire immensely and might help me to live a bit longer too.
Jamie Blackman: What was Jorge Reyes like, not so much as a collaborator, but as a person? He received practically no English-language media coverage, so I’ve never even read an interview with him. Anything you could say would be awesome.
Steve: Jorge was a man of the world. He spoke 5 languages and was quite well versed in many areas from an intellectual dimension and into the shamanic realm he lived so fully within.
There was a certain wild feeling in him as well. I could feel this when he was staying at my house; wild like maybe a kind of animal – a wolf-like feeling.
He was also gentle and had a warm open heart; and then we would go to these places together in the music that were just off the chart – dark and confronting.
His concert with me in Tucson was his first real U.S. appearance. We were planning more, and I know if he was still here he would be much more known in the states now.
He was very well-known in Mexico; he was on TV and played large concerts for thousands on a regular basis. We did some of those together in the 90′s, and these remain the largest audiences I have played for.
Also his presence in Europe was strong. Lots of interviews occurred in Germany, Netherlands, and Spain. He played constantly over there. That’s were we met.
Philippe Jeudi: Almost no musician today has interest for multichannel engineering, although technology for both recording and music playing are more available than ever. Even the companies who promote these technologies have no interest in native multichannel music. Pioneers like Edgar Varèse in the 1950′s would probably have enjoyed it. Is it something you would like to experience for your music?
Steve: While I feel my music is suited for this kind of application I don’t feel the demand is there to support the overall investment this would involve. Or maybe there’s a multichannel world out there I am not aware of. I am just not able to go out on a plank to find out.
Tim Preston: I want to know if Steve would consider coming to the UK or Europe in the near future.
Steve: I played in Europe over the course of 12 years up through 2003. These days I am keeping the travel here in the US. That can change if the right situation appeared with the proper support to make it happen. It’s a complex matter to air travel my gear these days, after 9/11. We will see.
For the time being, my US concerts will continue to be the destination if people want to see me live.
Robert Millsop: Steve, what might you have to say about your experience(s) working with the late Jorge Reyes? I’ve been specifically fascinated with the Forgotten Gods album and how that came about.
Steve: I will add to the part about Jorge above. We met at a festival on the Canary Islands in the early 90′s. Guitarist Suso Saiz was also at this event. The concert was in a volcanic lava cave made into a theater. I would say this set the tone for our entire run as a group and our duo collaborations, playing in locations that feed our process.
We were asked of do a set together and afterwards the connection grew. Some more concerts in Mexico occurred, and we made plans to create an album together at my house in Tucson.
At that time Linda and I had just moved to Tucson so the Timeroom was in the master bedroom of the house. This is where the entire Forgotten Gods album was recorded and mixed over a week’s time.
The album was built in a live mode; we would play and compose through improvisation, and then record live to capture the feeling, adding the final brush strokes in the end. We completed Forgotten Gods in a few days; as soon as it was finished John Diliberto flew in to record a living room concert in our house for the Echoes radio show. We just moved the gear from the studio to the living room, set up and with about 15 friends around – and John recording the music – we performed what we had just created the week before.
We went on to do a tour in Europe and recorded Earth Island in Madrid, Spain, and Osnabruck, Germany.
Philip Thompson: What was the last CD you played in your car?
Steve: Alive In the Vortex – my new release coming in December. I was listening to a test master on the way to the airport for the Philly concert.
Before that the Jimmy Page remastered Led Zeppelin 3.
Parrish S. Knight: How is something like “See Things” scored? It’s hard to see how you could create sheet music for it.
Steve: All of my music is created the way a painter works: starting with blank canvas of silence or no sound and then letting the first impulse be revealed…
From there the interactive process unfolds in the way which I think any creative act evolves as you focus on your intentions, or just going with the flow of no exceptions.
George Martindell: Hi Steve. Being someone who prefers composing and creating music at night, my question to you is this: do you find yourself recording and composing your extraodionary music more so during the night, or in the day hours? Thank you.
Steve: Indeed the more womb-like pieces are often created in the deeper hours, but many are often made at high noon. If it’s an ongoing piece that involves lots of tracks and arrangements, I might work on these throughout day into night. But I would say the initial birthing is more nocturnal for the pieces that have night feeling. I also really love to work on sounds and explore first thing in the early AM. Wake up, cup of coffee and meditate to the carving up of sounds or playing and working on music before the day gets started.
It’s a great way to merge into the day and sometimes before you know it something lights up a small spark from a sound and this could become a larger piece that keeps drawing me to it.
Tweedel Dee: How many licks does it take to get the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop out of your kid’s hair the night before school picture day?
Steve: This seems obvious. The best workaround is to use scissors.
Amay Progrez: A lot of your albums have the spiral shape. What is the significance of the spiral shape, or is there something about the shape that appeals to you?
Steve: The spiral is a visual metaphor for my work on many levels and the unbroken connection of this creative life I live. I always sense a through-line of life when I see this shappe. From the center outwards, or into the center, it’s a visual form I receive energy and grounding from. Also with its presence in the different cultures and ancient rock and cave art and throughout the world, there is the powerful universal imprint contained in this form.
Witek Borkowski: How much of an influence did Jean Michel Jarre have on your music?
Steve: In the early days I listened to his classics always looking to learn and see how people were creating music with the emerging technology.
I can’t say there was big influence but a strong appreciation.
That live performance DVD from a few years ago of him with the group playing Oxygene was pretty amazing.
Rod Smith: What was the set list for your recent show at St. Mary’s Church in Philly? It was one of the best shows I have ever seen?
Steve: Thank you. The set you experienced had, along with some of the familiar themes, a lot of material that was being created on the spot never to happen again.
In this list “new” means it was created in the moment as you were hearing it.
Opening the Space – the piece out front on the solo synth. – new
A Majestic Void – new
Flow State – new
Primal Portal – new
Looking for Safety
Vortex Immersion Zone
Melting Gone – new
Spiral live part 1 – new
Spiral live part 2 – new
The Way-back Machine – new
Its All Connected
This Delicate Life – new
Structures From Silence – Epilogue version
Jonathan Graham: A two-part question. A: What piece of equipment or instrument (digital, analogue, acoustic or otherwise) have you had the longest and still use? B: the most recent one?
Steve: The Oberheim Xpander-Matrix 12 and the the Oberheim OB8 are the elder analogs. The DSI Prophet 8 and 12 are the recent current synths to join the studio.
The DSI has the deep matrix patching and feels connected to the Oberheim Matrix 12 and Xpander in terms of the intuitive flow, sound exploring options and build quality.
New synths always pass an initial test of my personal needs to get installed in the studio. From there it can still be a few months of working with them to see if they are in for the long run.
Emil Karlsson: Hi Steve, I’m pretty sure I’m one of your fewer younger listeners here, but an avid one all the same. I was just really curious about when you have an idea for a new project, do you do any kind of planning beforehand like many artists/composers? Do you draw out a “map” when you set out, in a figurative sense, or do you simply allow the music and soundworlds to evolve, thus taking on a form of their own in a “spur of the moment” fashion as you work on them in the Timeroom? I hope this isn’t too broad of a question, since it’s really for any of your projects, though if there’s one you’d like to talk about in particular. I’m all ears, and it would be very insightful indeed.
Steve: Great to know you’re listening and curious. Some projects can take months or years to take seed and start to grow, they can live either in the realm of thought before action. Some pieces are created over time that start to reveal a the bigger picture. With Skeleton Keys the desire to create these pure analog-based mandala-like pieces came before the music. As it started to build, it felt like pulling a cord off of a spool, unrolling a connected and highly electrified current. Once you start this kind of connected feeling, the pieces build an energy with a pull that won’t let go.
In this case it was created all live in the studio. Other pieces like Bloodmoon Rising are created in layers and offer the opportunity to listen and work on over time, like a painting on an easel.
This is where the times of day, the magic hour at the end of the day and the light changes in the studio and in the view I have, the deep hours of the night, all inform the process of working on the piece.
Kim Lynn Blackhurst: what is the most favorite piece or composition that you have done and how does it differentiate from your other compositions?
Steve: It’s nearly impossible to choose any one piece. Something like Dreamtime Return has some very deep memories infused into it. Going to Australia as part of the creation of the music, and that time frame over all. There was so much opening up within myself and in the world around this music at that time. Each recording has this kind of imprint of the life I am living at the time infused into the music; even if it’s not something a listener will ever be aware of, it’s there and I can hear it and feel it years later. It might be a subtle awareness that is recalled when I hear the piece or a reconnection to one of those Ah-ha moments.
Johnathan Woodson: Would you ever consider reissuing Structures From Silence on vinyl?
Steve: There is talk of it now with a few people maybe for next year.
Next up on vinyl is NOW, my first release. This will include a unreleased 23 minute-piece from that era. I should have this in November.
Robert Logan: Hi Steve! How did you get such a great sound in the live acoustic percussion recordings on your ‘tribal’ releases – particularly on something like Trance Spirits? (Sorry for such an engineery question . . . But it’s all part of the depths of feeling in the music!)
Steve: The acoustic percussion was recorded in a studio with a collection of great microphones by Jeff Fayman. It was recorded with a few percussionists all locked in together, and that energy is captured in the tracks and processed and enhanced the final tracks and built the pieces on these foundations.
Patrick Van de Ven: Steve, while listening to your more sequencer-approached music, I’ve often wondered if you’ve ever played with/considered odd time-measures like 7/8 or 9/8. A good example of a 9/8 sequence part is in Kit Watkins’ “The Impulse of Flow”.
Steve: I always go with a feeling that sits in the body and mind when carving out these sequencer pieces. I often use different length sequences set against each other. That’s a big part of the beauty of this style of music: the way the patterns interlock and then cycle around and back into phase. I tend to go for a feeling in sequence music that hits a kind of sweet spot, where it grooves and hits you at that body pulse place, so really the groove element is essential in this music for me. There is an infinite calculation of options to what you’re talking about, and we all have a different take on it. Speaking of Kt Watkins, one of my favorite pieces in the style you mention is from his group Happy The Man and the song “Service With A Smile,” great track!
Maarten van Valen: Are there any artists who you would like to collaborate with which would draw you out of your comfort zone?
Steve: I would like to combine my comfort zone with Jon Hassell’s to tell you the truth. I know Jon a bit and was in contact with him back in the late 80′s when he first moved to LA.
Right now I have so many ideas in my own universe I am consumed with, I am mostly focused on my solo work.
I do have a wicked collaboration coming with a young electronic artist based in London. His name is Robert Logan, you can find his music online. We have been working on tracks for a few years along side all the other work. It’s very kinetic and the generational difference is creating a nice melting pot. He is in his 20′s and brings a different perspective on things. At the same the time, he was drawn to a lot of my music both in the deep ambient and pieces like Body Electric, listened to a lot of this in his formative years. He has a brilliant feeling for creating the full range of this music, talented and musically wise beyond his years. 2016 will see the release of our album BioMass.
Thomas Lowther: Not sure if anyone asked this yet. How do you come up with your track titles?
Steve: Sometimes the titles emerge first, and I will live with them for long time before any music is made for that set of words or title. They gather an atmosphere and energy and work like keys to a place that help visualize the music. Other times when the piece comes first, the hours of living with the music will reveal the title or set phrases or words that are born from the essence of the piece. It’s a ongoing mysterious process.
Andy Barbara Dent: Does the desert remain a mainspring of inspiration?
Steve: The desert remains my soul tone zone from which I can return to for recalibration and renewal. At least 3 days a week I venture out into my local outback areas and never take it for granted.
Blair Harrington: Hi, you were the only person I’ve ever listened to that has the ability to to create three dimensional music. I would like to know how you created this. How can you make it sound like you’re playing in a canyon or landscape? Your subtle, very quiet and distant echoes of some of the sounds actually create the landscape around you as you shut your eyes and listen to it.
Steve: Thank you Blair, there is no easy answer as to how this happens. I think the complexities of being human are what defines the soul of an artist. It’s the way of an artist to apply this understanding to the process of creating and pushing the boundaries of one’s self. Indeed I use a lot of modern tools to make this music now; but even 30 years ago — when the tools I used were considered modern and are now vintage — the feeling and desire to make these spaces transcends the technology at hand. In this way I see something that plugs into the wall for power the same as elemental instruments made of wood, clay, stone, or metal; they are all working together to create the expansive, transcendent picture. I am driven to keep reaching for the inexplicable and bring it into form.