by Darren Bergstein, i/e No. 5, Fall 1993
Steve Roach remains one of the most astute practitioners of technological ritualist music on the ever-burgeoning, ever-changing electronic vista. For those of you who didn't partake of his interview in the very first issue of this magazine, here's a short re-cap: Dreamtime Return may now be recognized as his first masterpiece, World's Edge his sinuous transitional epic but Origins might be received as his magnum opus. Roach's new album expertly grafts together the numerous tribal paradigms he has so far established, in both collaboration and solo, in such a way that it is impossible not to acknowledge the scope of his primordially-incensed music. It is also difficult not to be moved by the latent power behind his sonic creations, and hence rationalize the inescapable conclusion that amongst his 'contemporaries,' Roach has few peers. He fills in the few missing pieces below.
So, what have you been up to since we last spoke? Tell us about Origins.
It feels like the progression since World's Edge, Soma, Suspended Memories and many concerts with Suso and Jorge have all gelled into the sound which is heard on Origins. For me, it's a very exciting album for the simple fact that never before have I played so many instruments together beyond synths. Everything from didjeridu, rocks and handpercussions, to string-drums, Indian bellsthat was necessary to create a journey backwards and forwards in time.
One of my first observations about the record was the downplay of synths and electronics in favor of the sundry acoustics, which seem to have been brought to the forefront.
Yeah, but that's not to say that the electronics have taken any less of a stance in terms of the compositions and their place in the tapestry. At this particular point in my music, exploring and experimenting, seeking new sounds and timbres, the samplers are certainly responsible for introducing acoustic elements into the music, but the fact is that after a while you run off the pavement. You just want to pick instruments up, drawing out the subtlety and nuance through something so basic.
Your many releases from the last few years certainly indicate a move into more reflective organic environments.
That's true, and I feel that on this record it's really coming into focus. World's Edge was a large step in that direction and on this album I felt such a fluid, natural feeling as I was creating the music. I felt at home with all these acoustics in the same way I arrived at that feeling with electronics. Over the years of finding my through the labyrinth of programming and bringing the subtlety into the electronic sounds, working with the acoustic stuff is really a nice breath of fresh air. You can take a lot of the techniques that seem quite daunting at times, and apply them to more direct playing. The combination and the melding of the two was so constant and vital that I can't really remember where the acoustic ended and the electric began. The accessibility of having all the instruments at my reach is really what it has evolved to, and at the same time wanting to say something that's timeless and outside of any particular musical trend or influence. Again, it's being really honest to my own musical impulse, like a natural shedding of the skin revealing the new. The most important thing I think in shaping the music on the entire recording was producing and recording David Hudson's solo didjeridu CD the sound of the didj has drawn me deeper into it. Some of the drones out of a Moog or ARP synth are similar to the tones produced by a didj when its played in that particular style. One brought me to the other and vice versa. The week with David was a really intense time of focusing on the didj; I've been basically obsessed with playing this thing. Each album has a certain relationship to a point in your life; experiences are synthesized and digested beyond what you can recognize. At the same time, my interest in the pure experience of immersing yourself in sound is why I do what I do. I feel that the tribal ideas have been imbedded in my music from the beginning. The intention of what I do and the way I approach it is in that spirit; whatever form the music takes will always evolve and change into unpredictable areas, in terms of whatever life has to offer. For now, I just want to continue to explore these instruments and play them with a freedom at its most liberating. The didj was really important to the subsance of Origins. When I connected to it, it was a really intense experience, living and feeling this level of sound. In isolating these feelings and vibrations, you arrive at a kind of animal spirit. I'd start every day playing the didj, doing the didj workshops and it was an important catalyst, this pipe that is plugging right into the soundcurrent. This 40,000 year-old instrument is being rediscovered and its ancient voice is being heard at a time when it represents the true sound of the earth. A lot of the didj pieces that were recorded for the album were really spontaneous, from many different times of the day, and different physical and mental states.
Origins rests on a bed of expansive synth chords and adjunct rhythms patently similar to the sounds heard on both your solo records and recent collaborations. In many respects, the album is an epitome of regions explored from Dreamtime Return onward. Does there exist the danger of stylistic repetition in your work?
Well, there's a certain way that you approach what you do. I think that any artist has a concern about repeating themselves and at the same time there's the aspect of knowing that you have a voice and that voice is growing, changing, expanding. To re-invent that voice each time is not what I'm interested in. I'm interested in the language that I'm learning to speak, and what I'm creating out of my own process. I'm interested in using the vocabulary of those languages in different contexts, with different musicians, improvising together. All these things keep it growing.
You've reached a level of personal artistic satisfaction and achievement with Origins, then?
I feel like it's certainly fufilled a lot of those desires in me, yet...l couldn't imagine doing this record two years ago, say.
The photo on the back of the CD paints you as a latter-day, 20th-century technological shaman. Is that a fair assessment?
Both myself and a lot of the other musicians working in this area are really wanting to step outside of the safety of the social and political spheres through different means. Certainly there's a psychedelic experience involved there, too. I think the thing with a lot of this techno-trance/'70s sequencer/retroambient stuff (and I don't mean this negatively), is that a lot of these folks are rediscovering the music from the Berlin school, and are realizing its potential, like those of us who heard it when it first came out. And as time goes along, the stuff comes around again. Just about anything is going to see a re-surgence if you wait long enough. But a lot of the guys talking about this stuff...most of them using this flippant 'psychedelicspeak,' a spin-off of the whole Mondo magazine crowd...I mean, take these guys out into the desert and give them a good dose of mushrooms and come back in a day and see what's left! (laughs). Throughout the making of this album, some isolated moments were peak experiences that were vital to me as an individual. It's a highly romantic image to think of the shaman, and the 'cave,' but the cave is really the dark unconscious of your own mind. I always keep looking forward; and that is the healthiest attitude I try to maintain.