Just when you thought it was safe to venture out onto the techno / tribal / ambient dance floor, here comes a new supergroup, as legendary spacemusic composer Steve Roach teams up with Stephen Kent and Kenneth Newby of Trance Mission. Halcyon Days is their first collaboration, a meeting of the minds fueled by high desert ambience and a natural affinity for psychoactive sounds.
With two world-class didgeridoo players in the studio, it's no surprise that this Australian tree trumpet has a major role. Kent's earthy rhythms and the animistic outcries make the music come vibrantly alive. Add Roach and Newby's electronic textures, and Newby's array of Indonesian instruments, and you have a gene-splicing of ancient and contemporary sources from aboriginal to electronic. With its massive doses of trancey percussion, monster drones, and exotic instruments, Halcyon Days is serious sonic ritual led by three stalwarts of the Archaic Revival.
Notes by Thom Jurek
In considering the title of Halcyon Days, the landmark collaboration between Steve Roach, Stephen Kent, and Kenneth Newby, note these definitions:
Webster goes on to explain the Greek origin of the word, dating from 1350-1400 B.C. Alcyon refers to the kingfisher bird of classical legend who would nest on the waters after they were calmed by the gods for a period of two weeks each year during winter.
This final definition relates to the circumstances in which the trio came together to make this recording over two weeks surrounding the Christmas holiday in 1995. These three men, whose lives could at the best of times be described as hectic and turbulent, found a period of grace and calm under the Sonoran desert sunshine while the rest of the nation was deluged with snow and freezing temperatures.
With only this short block of time held in common, the trio gathered with their families at Roach's Arizona home and studio, The Timeroom. There was no predetermined composing or recording strategy. They allowed their various musical influences free rein in the studio and in discussions over long walks in the desert and evening meals together. Sounds from Mexico, Indonesia, Australia and Africa were woven through electroacoustic soundscapes of hybrid trance rhythms and samples, colored and shaded by washes of shamanic textures.
In their respective aesthetics, each musician is intimately familiar with the ways in which history, spirit, myth, lore and origin, operate and inform the many levels of the world of sound. To realize the project the artists employed myriad percussion instruments, keyboards, didgeridoos, and studio atmospherics such as "amphibious dreamings," "sampler shapeshifting" and "Max Objects," as well as the seeming cooperation of the divine, breathing its blessings upon the winter desert.
This halcyon journey is both a recording of events that surrounded the three collaborators ("First Day," "Slow Walk at Stone Wash," and "Riding The Atlas,") and an aural, metaphoric, iconographic one as well ("Rainfrog Dreaming," "Snake Brothers," "Calyx Revelation" and "Kingfisher Flight.") The title track begins the journey, opening the gateway of rhythm toward the meshed landscapes of the primitive within. We can discern the various elements at work, but they seem unfathomable until given context by the ambiguous strategies employed by the collective. They speak from the depths as they enter them, unflinching, curious, and full of awe.
Halcyon Days explores via the extensive, diverse instrumental talents of Roach, Newby and Kent, the essential nature of sound itself: not merely what it is, but what it is created from, and in turn, what it creates. Looking under a forever shifting rhythmic surface, this recording, in a similar manner to Roach's other collaborations, Suspended Memories, Forgotten Gods and Earth Island, reveals the elemental and mystical spaces which swirl endlessly in the fluid textures of the sonic universe. This is music that names and erases itself while simultaneously naming its other. It reverses its body and logic, always searching for the elusive center where things previously thought to be oppositional converge. It conjures images, shapes and states of light and darkness, temporally bringing them to the fore while acknowledging their evolutional transience.
The eight selections which make up the album emerged from the aether of the trio's collective creative potential. Each day's work sculpted yet another structure from the depths of pure improvisational invention. The results are intense and flowing; they bend and twist without breaking because of a unanimity of purpose. Each musician contributed by listening, executing and reacting to fissures and walls in the aural atmosphere. Goals were never defined, they were discovered-in the place where silence and energy exchange faces. Their fluid sonics bear witness to the psychic body upon which they are inscribed, then rise up and out from its surface for the listener, adding a new depth and dimension to the encounter of "hearing music." The worlds created here mirror what lies inside the opaque, endless heart of sound itself.
Here, in the halcyon days of this trio's two weeks journeying together under the blessing of the gods, we experience the mystery of prolific collaboration, and the fruit of pure musical convergence.
Thom Jurek is the senior editor of the Metro Times in Detroit. He is the author of two collection of poems, DUB and MEMORY BAGS. He contributes articles on music and culture to a varlety of magazines and journals worldwide. He is currently at work on a long-term book length poetic project; it is being composed to and inspired by Steve Roach's entire recorded catalogue.
About the Artists
Steve Roach has been for over two decades on the forefront of electroacoustic composition and performance. He has issued over 20 recordings under his own name and in collaboration with artists such as Michael Shrieve, Robert Rich, Suzo Saiz, Vidna Obmana and Jorge Reyes as well as producing works by others including Newby. His most recent recording on the Fathom label, The Magnficent Void, has been almost universally hailed as being at the very edge of contemporary ambient music.
Multi-instrumentalists Kenneth Newby and Stephen Kent are both mainstays in me San Francsco experimental tribal music scene popularized by the City of Tribes label. They are both members of Trance Mission as well as Lights In a Fat City, and Beasts of Paradise. Kenneth has had his own solo recording, Ecology Of Souls issued on Fathom, while Stephen has released a solo on City of Tribes.