On This Planet
by David J Opdyke, AmbiEntrance
The newest from ambient master Steve Roach captures the essence of his live concerts while avoiding the usual live-recording problems by refining and performing the works in his Timeroom studio. As a result, the sound quality is impeccably clear. And, I'm certainly grateful there's no annoying crowd chatter to contend with. (Can't you hear it... "Rooooooach!"... "Didge solo!"... "Wow! Great peyote!") The hype about this release is all focused on the intensity – and it does occasionally get fairly intense, but it's not as if it's 1200 bpm techno-Roach or anything. It's still quite ambient, and a great disc, at that.
The first four tracks blend together as one. "Heart of the Tempest" opens dynamically with a reverberating crack of thunder, from which various levels of floating tones evolve. The atmosphere billows slowly, cloud-like. After Linda Kohanov's (Roach's wife) muted words, the air begins to stir more malevolently. With another thunderclap, we're into "Journey of One", which bustles quickly along on a shifting, somehow watery rhythm. Roach himself intones the long, quasi-tribalistic wails that are heard here. Again the track blends seamlessly...
...to a quieter zone; "The Nexus Place" is the lengthiest (7:05) of these four parts. Softer swells rise and fall while earthy percussion beats out a slower, methodical tattoo. Another direct segue, and "Trilobite" is born. The disc's shortest piece at 3:33, it is beatless and spacious, quietly closing the first section with its subtle serenity.
The six remaining pieces also fuse into one long work. "Void Memory 4" is made of similar, but darker, sounds. Beneath the drones and occasional swoosh, a mid-tempo rhythm quietly dwells until giving way to deep synth waves and interstellar keening. A subtle shift in space alerts us to the fact that we've passed into "Cloud Watching with the Toolmaker". The waft and wane of the soundwaves is accented with assorted rattlings and an ancient, slowly clattering beat. Yet again, the tracks merge, becoming...
"The Ecstasy of Travel". While it shares the cloud-swell electronics of its predecessor, the tribal rhythm section picks up pace considerably. Strange and ghostly vocal whisps slip through the atmosphere. Midway through, the beat drops out, while voices, then void, burble to the forefront. Another unnoticeable transformation, and we're in the next track. Steve and Linda both contribute their voices to "Remember It Now" (no, it's not the equivalent of an ambient "I Got You, Babe"). They each quietly speak a few phrases over the music, in a brief interlude. The rest of the piece follows the interplay of gently undulating synth and electronic rhythm. It quietens toward the end, floating without percussion, until tiny ceramic patterings begin, announcing the approach of...
"A Darker Star", a piece which actually was recorded live, "with a few brush strokes added later". The tappings (and various other percussive clinks, dings, shakes and rattles) mingle with low tones and a slow, monstrously respiratory "breathing". A growling presence (didge, I presume?) makes itself known. Eventually, things smooth out into another plane of space, the wormhole to "On This Planet". The title track, in its 14 minutes, builds from the quietly droning entry. Additional players contribute instrumentation to this final outing; Bass guitar from Patrick O'Hearn, pulse bass by Roger King and bandir, darbuka and baglama by Omar Faruk Tekbilek. All is ultimately enveloped in a calmly swirling vortex, while the sounds of earthly thunder rumble in the distance. Despite the hype, ON THIS PLANET is fairly low-key, which I'm certainly not complaining about. Whether "Space" nuts or "Tribal" enthusiasts, Roach fans should find quite alot to like here, as healthy doses of both flavors are delivered in this package. One definite Thumb!