Time of the Earth
by Michael Otley, StarVox
June 10, 2002
One of ambient music's most prolific and intuitively talented artists, Steve Roach, presents his first DVD by transforming his music into a soundtrack for the visual works of collaborator Steve Lazur. While almost all of Steve Roach's soundtrack material for the DVD was previously released on various CD works and compilations, Steve Lazur's video photography of "the American West" gives the music new context.
The vast majority of the film is composed of desolate desert shots. Various angles, locations, and film speeds show the desert at all times of the day, but particularly under a blazing sun. The screen is filled with a sun-beaten lifeless dirt-brown color, relieved by shots of clouds rolling by through an infinite sky with the occasional sunrise or sunset and set appropriately with the music of course. A break from the brown rock and pale blue sky comes with "Begins Looking Skyward", as early morning dark purples and dark blues or pale purples color dried grasses.
With "Sound of Stone", the only track previously unreleased on CD, we hear manipulated drones and echoing rocks, followed quickly by the shimmering beauty of "This Life". At first "This Life" reminds me of the most atmospheric moments of a Stay Frightened song, until the slow walking bass enters. The bass caught me off guard, as it is atypical of Steve Roach to have such a structured bass progression, but it works here.
During "The Holy Dirt", the camera travels, generally forward through rock formations. This gives the impression of one traveling through the desert, which takes away from the removed and deserted feel predominant until now. The music itself is also more sympathetic and less desolate with almost upbeat pitched kettle-like drums as the bass of the piece. With "Merciful Eyes" returns the more desolate and more emotionally moving shots of desert and sky. A mostly still camera captures large hills, a partial eclipse, and the wind through the movements of clouds and bushes. The music becomes much more floating and stretched with the low-end removed.
In "The Eternal Expanse" we see water for the first time. After following a trail though dried canyons, snow-capped mountains in the distance foreshadow the terrific cascading and crushing waterfalls following only moments later. "The Return" (from Steve Roach's landmark DREAMTIME RETURN album) closes the quest at an ocean's beach. The final moments of the disc fade into enveloping and crashing ocean waves at sunset.
The DVD fits comfortably into the 'new age' category, as well as comfortably fitting into 'new age' homes and others. While some will sit and view this work like a wordless documentary of the American West Landscape set to the desert sounds of Steve Roach's music, others will use the DVD as background, for which it also works well. For those, 77 minutes at once might be taxing, but many will be drawn to the screen minutes at a time, especially with the more varied scenes toward the end of the disc.