by Bob Brill, May 2002 (unpublished)
I have a favorite greeting card, one I picked up in Boulder about ten years ago. It shows a cartoon of a gleeming, elderly Asian fellow, rock in one hand, daisy in another, and the caption reads "Sage contemplating the conversation between a stone and a flower." This is the effect Steve Roach's music has had on me: simultaneously elevating me to profundity, the Tao, yet reducing me to the simplicity of an empty snail shell basking in the sunlight.
Over the last 20 years, Tucson soundscape artist Steve Roach has treated the world to over 50 widely acclaimed albums. Through the scope his musical vision, he's been recognized as a virtual Beethoven of the New Age. Didgeridoo was introduced to us on his 1986 album DREAMTIME RETURN. The genres of "tribal" and "dark ambient" music were pioneered on his albums WORLD'S EDGE and THE MAGNIFICENT VOID. His STRUCTURES FROM SILENCE was recently named one of the Top-10 Yoga albums of all-time. The NPR radio show "Music From the Hearts of Space" has featured him dozens of times.
Rhythmically and texturally hypnotic, only fleetingly melodic, these pieces feel more like living beings of sound. Primally evocative more than emotional, they move us towards the dimension we share with the seemingly inanimate components of our world, what's called the shamanic reality.
I was introduced to Steve in 1987 when a friend visiting from New York City gave me a copy of his groundbreaking WESTERN SPACES, recorded with Kevin Braheny and Richard Burmer. Newly transplanted to the Southwest myself, I had been content mollifying my bodywork clients with misty, ethereal Space Music (Kitaro, Iasos, Emerald Web, Michael Rowland) and what slow movements I'd culled from classical LP's. But here suddenly was an explosive new approach to a "New Age" sound. Lusty, asymmetrical rhythms, swarms of warm of desert dust; throbbings impelling you towards the innerworkings of the body's organs, closer to the soul; suggestive mumblings of cell nucleii; the interplay of subatomic particles, of stars and their satellites. I was hooked, and have since amassed a huge collection of Steve's work, logging hundreds of hours with my clients within their healing spell. I used to be nervous about overwhelming female clients with his Yang energy. That presumption always proves wrong.
Roach's music breathes, comforting the inner-body with an easy ebb-and-flow, above which percussive emphasis and mineral-like melodies ramble and shake out a message of profound interconnectedness, of the continuous revolution of things. His chords are vast, a third again as many notes as Brahms or Bach, imperceptively changing midcourse, like sunbeams from behind a moving cloud cover. Sustained organic chords, momentarily odd, far too bold for lesser composers, are the pre-melodic structures forming the "soundscapes" which are Steve's signature. In a 1998 radio interview he told me that a single soundscape may play continuously through his house for days on end until a piece has finally formed itself.
Over the years these soundscapes have spawned a wonderous array of music: The spectacular HALCYON DAYS (my current favorite) featuring Steven Kent (didgeridoo) and Kenneth Newby (percussion, suling bass); Native American rituals on KIVA (with Michael Stearns and Ron Sunsinger); Tibetan recitations on PRAYERS TO THE PROTECTOR with Thupten Pema Lama; Balinese gamelan with Robert Rich on the best-sellers STRATA and SOMA; guitars on DUST TO DUST and this year's STREAMS & CURRENTS; Meso-American shamanism with Jorge Reyes on SUSPENDED MEMORIES: FORGOTTEN GODS, VINE ~ BARK & SPORE, and 1994 New Age Album of the Year SUSPENDED MEMORIES: EARTH ISLAND; electronic woodwind with Kevin Braheny on DREAMTIME RETURN, DESERT SOLITAIRE, and WESTERN SPACES.
Steve is a native Southern Californian and competes as an off-road cyclist; he now resides in Tucson. His wife and liner-essayist is Linda Kohanov, author of the current best-seller "The Tao of Equus". Newly completed are albums with legendary guitarist Robert Fripp and with frequent collaborator Vidna Obmana.
As inspiring and nurturing as "New Age" music can be, much is musically simplistic, tending to be pollyanna-like emotionally. This music's beauty flirts with the moving edge of the human shadow. Greatly to his credit, Steve's works unerringly retain an absolute positivity a testament to the genius of this contemporary musical mystic.