Arc of Passion
by Darren Bergstein, Signal to Noise
Existential tone vendor, synth music's reigning chaostician – such characterizations give meaning to the brand, yet the hasty tossing about of too many labels only dilutes the caliber of Steve Roach's luminescent constructions. For sheer breadth of imagination and profundity of sound design, his formidable back catalog is beyond reproach in its consistent quality, a feat made that much more remarkable by the fact that Roach has deftly traversed the banks of minimalism and maximalism so effectively. With an abundance of raw materials, he has created works staggeringly beautiful in their austerity (STRUCTURES FROM SILENCE, QUIET MUSIC), darkly strange and wondrous (THE MAGNIFICENT VOID), and often ferociously ritualized by cultures exotically topographic (DREAMTIME RETURN, MYSTIC CHORDS & SACRED SPACES, EARLY MAN). He illustrates many of his breathtaking mesas with either a sharply chosen economy of means or a vivid riot of primary colors; regardless, much like the maxim of Pauline Oliveros, his music is optimized for deep listening.
Though ARC OF PASSION formally ushers in the new year, it is in fact the ideal copy to summarize an intense period of activity that saw Roach releasing a fistful of music (the two-disc FEVER DREAMS III and the third part of his ongoing Immersion series, a three-disc magnum opus), and blitzing the psyches of those fortunate souls witnessing his 2007 flurry of live performances. Culled from one of those in-person events – in front of 80 gathered at southern California's prime boutique for electronic gear, Analogue Haven – ARC OF PASSION is another two-disc powerhouse, a music that travels across a suite of endless, windswept vistas, electrically-interwoven crescendos and mortal isolationism. There is a tense emotional undercurrent that pervades the triad of pieces here, soldered into a symphony of drones by the titular recording's galvanic force. "Moment of Grace" is an expansive preface of sorts, as Roach filters and sweeps his faders along a blinding horizon of white light, the tones swelling in pitch as if arising out of the breaths of deepest ocean. He coaxes the ear along gradually until the undulating sequencers of the album's namesake prickle the air and assume shape, coiling about like writhing serpents. It is here that Roach lets loose the entirety of his arsenal's effects, allowing glistening curlicues to impact the surface, ripple out, and re-enter the whirling atmosphere as they cycle once again. Germanic influences notwithstanding, Roach has so mastered how to weave a sequencer fabric, how to alternate and mix any number of disparate sounds and then reintegrate them back into the matrix that the hoary template has in fact become the contemporary norm. It's startling stuff, and when he picks up the pace on disc two, the shifts in time, though subtle, course through variant, episodic micro-events whose calibrated sprites truly unveil themselves during subsequent exposures. By the time "Views Beyond" is revealed, a 21-minute sojourn into spooky twilight zones and Lovecraftian foreboding (which should proffer new directions for exploration), it's a satisfying, if ominous, conclusion – such is the agony and the ecstasy Roach cultivates when he raids his Arc.