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Atmospheric Conditions

Steve Roach

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Album Review

This is another chapter in Steve Roach's on-going sound world projects, designed for continuous playback or with Dream Circle, Magnificent Void, and Slow Heat in a multiple-disc player. Over two years in the making, the five selections here are worlds unto themselves, though they are linked not only by their creator, but the passage of time, and the (dis)order they creator within the mind of the listener. All of them lie within the heart of the dreamer it would seem, or at least at the heart of Roach's dreams, envisioned or not. Roach has a gift for capturing in his pieces, the essence of moments he has not witnessed in the flesh. He captures a moment, its sense impression, and layers it deep within a pool of sound and space, knowing full well that the moment itself can never be "captured" by recording tape; it can only be represented. And it is with this information that Roach goes about the business of creating the five sound worlds on Atmospheric Conditions, gracing his trace images with ghostly presence and the touch of the sacred upon them. This is not ambient music to "chill out" to mindlessly, though you certainly could. This is a music that creates its own ambience, offers a world and its dimensions for the listener to meditate upon or conduct rituals to, whatever is instructive.

From the single movement "Underground Clouds Over a Secret Grotto" and its notions of vast enclosed spaces and spectral presences hovering above them to the two-movement work "In the Heart of Distant Horizons," who is to say those horizons aren't an extension, dimensionally of the vast enclosed space of the clouds and grotto? They certainly melt together as music, as sonic expanse, as shimmering heat in places where it is difficult to make out anything concretely.

As we move to the final work, the two-movement "Two Rivers Dreaming," we have come to the beginning of a Moebius strip and discovered the interconnectedness not only of these five sound worlds but their accompanying universes as well. This is a sonic architecture based on restraint and listening for languages to assert themselves in the space and time of creation. Design becomes secondary to the inaction of allowing the implications of those languages, those sounds, those very layers proposed as "moments" to enter into the body, into the heart and bloodstream before decisions are made as to what they are trying to say. And Roach is a wise man; he knows, that even after careful contemplation of his sources, he can only go by his intuition because no one has ever been here before. Ultimately, that's what separates Roach from the other electronic composers, he doesn't decide ahead of time what the end of an objective will be, he allows the information and materials collected in the quest for an answer to decide what he should and shouldn't know; therefore he goes deeper and wider without concerning himself about achieving a goal: he stops when he is asked to by the music itself. The circle — like the photographs by Stu Jenks on the front and back of this recording illustrate — doesn't just travel around once, nor does it travel in only one direction. To be continued.


Born: 1955 in California

Genre: New Age

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

A longstanding leader in contemporary electronic music, composer and multi-instrumentalist Steve Roach drew on the beauty and power of the Earth's landscapes to create lush, meditative soundscapes influential on the emergence of ambient and trance. Born in California in 1955, Roach — inspired by the music of Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, and Vangelis — taught himself to play synthesizer at the age of 20; debuting in 1982 with the album Now, his early work was quite reminiscent of his...
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Atmospheric Conditions, Steve Roach
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