Welcome to the Vortex
by Mike G of AmbientMusicGuide.com @MikeG_AMG
Electronic and ambient pioneer Steve Roach started creating his music during the late ‘70s golden age of analog synthesizers, a time when the digital variety was only visible on the horizon. So it’s refreshing that an album which continues that hands-on tradition, Spiral Revelation
He drew upon his unique perspective, deeply rooted in a connection to the starkly beautiful landscapes and open spaces of the southwestern desert in which he grew up, to pioneer the inherently expansive breathing quality of his early releases.
“My life at that time was purely focused on drawing out an inner voice that had been building over many years: a feeling born from my immersion in the quiet spaces of the desert environment,” Roach reflects. “I could channel this feeling, this expansive atmosphere and blooming inner awareness. I was uncovering and discovering a palpable sense of stillness emanating from a soundcurrent of ‘silence.’”
Today, with a passionately prolific drive, Roach stands among the giants of modern ambient and is one of the most respected electronic musicians in the world. His discography is enormous with well over 100 releases. All of it is “ambient” in a way, but it’s better understood by singling out three major strands in his sound.
Here and elsewhere in Roach’s rich oeuvre are outstanding examples of the evolving “breathing chords” central to his ongoing quest to humanize the music and release his machines from their mechanical moorings. This extraordinary sense of natural breath is an organic quality not easily realized with synthesizers. Diverse examples can be heard on the 3-CD Quiet Music (1986), the 4-cd opus Mystic Chords and Sacred Spaces (2003), running right up through the recent Nostalgia for the Future (2017) and Long Thoughts (2017).
Roach is an artist in his element on stage; from the very beginning of his career he has presented live electronic music in venues around the world, bringing this sound to life in the present moment with all its complexity, emotion and visionary nature.
Roach invites the listener’s adventurous spirit to surrender to the dynamic journey that unwinds with power and grace. Whether it’s large scale shows in cities like San Francisco or Los Angeles, or more intimate performances in his hometown of Tucson, it is a remarkable immersive soundworld performed in real time. There is something deeply elemental about it; a sounding of the earth and the cosmos that’s been rendered into tones, visuals, and emotions that can be felt viscerally.
Always reaching towards what’s next on the horizon, Roach refuses to be tied down in any one stylistic direction. His worldwide audience continues to grow, and his innovations continue to inspire new and long-time listeners. If Spiral Revelation is the first Steve Roach album you hear, know that you’re hearing the momentum of a lifetime dedicated to the soundcurrent, an artist operating at the pinnacle of his artform. At this point in Roach’s career, a Grammy nomination is an honorable light shining upon his thirty-five years of dedication, passion and unbroken focus on creating a personal vision of electronic music. Roach’s hypnotic swirl and kaleidoscopic sounds makes this album unlike anything else nominated for a Grammy this year and quite possibly, any previous year. It’s just one facet of a multi-faceted soundworld that stretches back four decades.
Welcome to the vortex.
Mike G is a music journalist, DJ, radio producer and founder of the music reference website AmbientMusicGuide.com | Facebook | Twitter | Podcast | Mixcloud