by Hannah M.G. Shapero
This album is in the series of Roach's extended ambient works, which also includes the earlier QUIET MUSIC, DREAM CIRCLE, and SLOW HEAT, as well as the second CD from the WORLD'S EDGE album, "To the Threshold of Silence." Each one is a distillation of Roach's musical thought at the time, which is then stretched out into a long-playing piece designed not for concentrated listening but for setting a mood.
This newer album, ATMOSPHERIC CONDITIONS, is similar to his work during the period of ARTIFACTS, rather than his newer work. It is a great, expansive, reverb-drenched sound; when it is soft, it is like rustles and echoes in a vast cathedral-like space. Despite its title, I was not reminded of atmospheres or the outdoors at all; ATMOSPHERIC CONDITIONS evokes an inner, vaulted, perhaps even subterranean space filled with bats and birds and other invisible noisemakers, echoing endlessly through caves. Its first section builds, as Roach is fond of doing, to a "wall of sound" which then melts into non-tonal sounds reminiscent of insects (some of them borrowed from a little-known Roach piece called "Shard I" which appeared in the 1995 compilation SWARM OF DRONES). There is also an unusual influence of Robert Rich's style throughout this whole album; it's Desert Steve in an uncharacteristically wet and glurpy moment.
Sections 2 and 3 feature a melancholy flow of synthesizer drones, which later picks up a quiet synth-percussion rhythm as the piece progresses. This characteristic Roach rhythmic touch prevents the piece from getting too liquid and dreary. There is still a strong undertone of sadness and melancholy, which becomes more pervasive as the album goes on.
Sections 4 and 5 drift further into ominous and whispering drones, with hints of industrial grinds and clanks. This is some of Steve Roach's darkest ambient yet released – it is certainly not the music to put on if you wish to set a happy and serene mood. It is not the quiet mystery of THE DREAM CIRCLE nor the nocturnal warmth of SLOW HEAT. If you do not listen to this at the right time, it can turn your darkened urban apartment into a cavern of dread. But if you pick just the proper moment, it can take you into a place of somber mystery and wonder.