Life Sequence
by Bill Binkelman, Wind and Wire
April 2004


Long-time Steve Roach fans know that the artist's roots lay in Berlin school EM (before he migrated into his more recognizable drifting ambient persona). LIFE SEQUENCE is both a glance back and a glimpse forward from the "good old days." The dual nature of the album is because of the time span during which these songs were recorded; "Destination Horizon" (1988) and "Living the Dream" (1991) are older, while the other three pieces ("Sands of Time," "Sundial" and "Lightness of Being") are all recently composed works. The selection run from the short (under five minute long) "Lightness of Being" to the epic "Destination Horizon" (clocking in at twenty-seven plus minutes).

I found LIFE SEQUENCE to be a refreshing mixture of cutting edge Berlin-hybrid music (the opening hyperkinetic sequencer-meets-fractal groove of "Lightness of Being") with more atmospheric pieces, such as the wonderfully moody "Living the Dream." "Living..." layers sinister but warm cushions of synthesizers underneath twinkling sequenced notes in a slowly unwinding and steadily evolving soundscape. Even though this piece was recorded in 1991, it sounds vibrant and fresh. The juxtaposition of the languid undercurrent of synth washes counterpoints the percolating sequences making this a unique exercise in Berlin school music.

"Sundial" and "Sands of Time" are two recent collaborative efforts with Portland-based EM artist Paul Ellis. "Sundial" offers rapidly pulsing fractal/sequenced beats against a backdrop of assorted melodic textures, including what sounds like forlorn electric guitar and harp arpeggios. This is highly atmospheric music owing to the dense echo effect applied to the various melodic sounds. Darker drone-like shadings commingle with the beats and washes later on in the track. "Sands of Time" opens in classic Roach spacemusic fashion, with a long drawn out synthesizer washes, warmer than his usual noir-ish drones. The rhythmic elements in this song emerge very slowly, almost as if they were walking towards you from a great distance. When the sequences do overtake the piece, they do so amidst a flurry of jingly-jangly effects and thumping bass beats, but even so, this is not really a high energy number, being more atmospheric than overpowering in its intensity. Late in the track, things get spacy and trippy with elaborate pulsing cyber-ambient-EM noises and tones coming and going like micro-impulses coursing through a circuit board.

Trying to describe a single twenty-seven minute track is a Herculean task, so suffice it to say that "Destination Horizon" is a winner, once again combining spacemusic textures and melodic soundworlds with sequenced rhythms and notes and other elements of Berlin EM musicality. The music is vibrant, exciting, and invigorating yet also beautifully subdued in tone and never so thunderous or powerful as to detract from the flowing vibe that seems to permeate it throughout the entirety of its duration. At times, I was reminded of Robert Rich's Geometry, since he also combined a strong EM feel with warmer more "human" tonalities. Whether you will find twenty-seven unending minutes of this to be too much of a good thing will be a matter of personal preference. I seldom found myself tiring of it, though.

For those who have never experienced anything but the Steve Roach's deep dark ambience or his primal tribal soundscapes, LIFE SEQUENCE will be a revelation (provided they like Berlin school music, of course). LIFE SEQUENCE reveals that Roach deserves the accolades that are frequently laid at his feet. He is a special artist of uncommon talent encompassing a spectrum of musical styles. This CD gets a "highly recommended" from yours truly.


Life Sequence

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Life Sequence
Steve Roach
2003 Timeroom Editions 12 (CD)
Reviewed by Ambient Musings, Electroambient Space, e|i magazine, Guts of Darkness, Ping Things, Sonic Curiosity, Star's End, Synth Music Direct, Wind and Wire, Wind and Wire

A chronicle of new and classic unreleased pure electronic sequencer-driven pieces filled with beauty and emotion. Spiraling melodic sequences, floating majestic textures along with thematic and melodic contributions from guest synthesist Paul Ellis all add up to a set of music that is filled with optimism and passion from start to conclusion.

"Steve has really produced what must be the first CD that mixes sequencers and space-music, but manages to have all the atmosphere of classic cosmic music despite the fact that he uses rhythmic 'devices'. It somehow all blends seamlessly and the one simply adds to the other when, in the hands of so many others, it would be just a mix of two styles at odds with each other. A superb CD and yet another winner, for me the best one so far that combines electronic rhythms as well as the soundscaping." -- Andy Garibaldi, CD Services Scotland

From the liner notes...

LIFE SEQUENCE is a chronicle of new and personally significant unreleased pieces. Since the release of CORE and my recent purely atmospheric projects, I felt the growing urge to re-visit my electronic "roots" in analog sequencer style music. The fact that I had moved away from this sound for awhile made reconnecting with it much like finding an old friend inside myself.

While the pieces presented here were recorded over a fifteen year period, they share a similar feeling: that of embracing life's movement toward the unknown with excitement and anticipation. The first two pieces described below were created during especially significant moments of transition in my own life's sequence.

"Destination Horizon" was originally recorded live for the first Echoes Living Room Concert series in 1989. It was also the last piece created at The Timeroom in Venice, California just before for leaving for a second trip to Australia and returning to a new life in Tucson, Arizona. "Living the Dream" was recorded live in the Tucson Timeroom just before leaving the U.S. for my first European tour in 1991.

"Sands of Time" and "Sundial" are recent collaborations with electronic artist Paul Ellis. These pieces grew out of our live rehearsal sessions for a 2002 Portland concert. His appreciation of this style of music and my earlier work in this direction was an inspiration. The opening track, "Lightness of Being" created in 2003, holds for me an unbroken feeling that is connected to the early impulses that drew me to a form of music I still feel close to my heart.
 
1. Lightness of BeingMP34:56 
2. Living the DreamMP316:56 
3. SundialMP39:27 
4. Sands of TimeMP315:03 
5. Destination HorizonMP327:12 
 
-  Sands of Time LiveMP317:55 

3, 4 with Paul Ellis; "Sands of Time Live" is an Internet bonus, not on the CD, recorded live June 29, 2002 in Portland



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