Streams & Currents
by David Rush, amazon.com
March 31, 2002
The approach Steve Roach applies to ambient music often resembles that of Mark Rothko's static expressionist paintings: huge blocks of pure color which seem to blur at the edges at which they meet. The difference is while Rothko's paintings are always static, Roach's "blocks of sound" move through an auditory space, at times melding with each other to create chordal tapestries that are as haunting as they are soothing.
For two decades, Roach has applied this approach to synthesizers and samplers (as well as sending the sounds of ancient acoustic instruments through a plethora of electronic processors) but recently has started using electric guitars to achieve the same trance-inducing results. It started with his collaboration with Roger King DUST TO DUST, but really started coming into focus with 2000's MIDNIGHT MOON, which was received admirably by music critics but got mixed reactions from many longtime fans.
STREAMS & CURRENTS is a considerably lighter affair (in tone, not in quality) and while it is a refinement of the glacial flow of MIDNIGHT MOON, there are some notable exceptions: Roach incorporates a rhythm loop on the 28-minute "Spirit Moves" and there is a greater sense of melody here than on "Moon", in particular the noticeable plucking sounds on "Present Moment". Roach's intent is not to hide the fact that guitars are in use but instead to show how they can be assimilated into his musical vocabulary. With pieces like "Almost Touching" and "Slow Rising", Roach's guitar-based ambience vaguely resembles the recent collaboration between David Sylvian and Robert Fripp ("Approaching Silence"), but while Fripp's approach is rooted more in loud tonal clusters which erupt repeatedly but very slowly, Roach's endeavor achieves a more restrained effect, gliding though various emotional states in a manner almost akin to the work of Lull (Mick Harris' ambient persona) and Lustmord. The album becomes even more textural towards its end, and compositions like "Ebb" and "Flow" show Roach coming awfully close to creating a kind of textural electronic music similar to the works of Thomas Koner. But unlike the occasionally chilling effect of Koner's experiments, Roach adds just the barest hint of emotion to allow the pieces to resonate even more deeply within our imaginations. The sense of drama here is even more subdued when compared with the quietest compositions on MIDNIGHT MOON, but no less probing.
One senses Roach moving into increasingly quieter spaces with each new release within the ambient realm: the symphonic flair of the atmospheric pieces on DREAMTIME RETURN and THE MAGNIFICENT VOID is being slowly replaced by a deepening sense of introspection, with EARLY MAN and ATMOSPHERIC CONDITIONS (on Projekt and Timeroom Editions, respectively) as perhaps the standout examples of this new approach. After listening to this, it seems natural for Roach to work with guitar ambience virtuoso Jeff Pearce... only time will tell if this comes to pass.