by Bill Binkelman, Wind and Wire
Long-time Steve Roach fans know that the artist's roots lay in Berlin school EM (before he migrated into his more recognizable drifting ambient persona). LIFE SEQUENCE is both a glance back and a glimpse forward from the "good old days." The dual nature of the album is because of the time span during which these songs were recorded; "Destination Horizon" (1988) and "Living the Dream" (1991) are older, while the other three pieces ("Sands of Time," "Sundial" and "Lightness of Being") are all recently composed works. The selection run from the short (under five minute long) "Lightness of Being" to the epic "Destination Horizon" (clocking in at twenty-seven plus minutes).
I found LIFE SEQUENCE to be a refreshing mixture of cutting edge Berlin-hybrid music (the opening hyperkinetic sequencer-meets-fractal groove of "Lightness of Being") with more atmospheric pieces, such as the wonderfully moody "Living the Dream." "Living..." layers sinister but warm cushions of synthesizers underneath twinkling sequenced notes in a slowly unwinding and steadily evolving soundscape. Even though this piece was recorded in 1991, it sounds vibrant and fresh. The juxtaposition of the languid undercurrent of synth washes counterpoints the percolating sequences making this a unique exercise in Berlin school music.
"Sundial" and "Sands of Time" are two recent collaborative efforts with Portland-based EM artist Paul Ellis. "Sundial" offers rapidly pulsing fractal/sequenced beats against a backdrop of assorted melodic textures, including what sounds like forlorn electric guitar and harp arpeggios. This is highly atmospheric music owing to the dense echo effect applied to the various melodic sounds. Darker drone-like shadings commingle with the beats and washes later on in the track. "Sands of Time" opens in classic Roach spacemusic fashion, with a long drawn out synthesizer washes, warmer than his usual noir-ish drones. The rhythmic elements in this song emerge very slowly, almost as if they were walking towards you from a great distance. When the sequences do overtake the piece, they do so amidst a flurry of jingly-jangly effects and thumping bass beats, but even so, this is not really a high energy number, being more atmospheric than overpowering in its intensity. Late in the track, things get spacy and trippy with elaborate pulsing cyber-ambient-EM noises and tones coming and going like micro-impulses coursing through a circuit board.
Trying to describe a single twenty-seven minute track is a Herculean task, so suffice it to say that "Destination Horizon" is a winner, once again combining spacemusic textures and melodic soundworlds with sequenced rhythms and notes and other elements of Berlin EM musicality. The music is vibrant, exciting, and invigorating yet also beautifully subdued in tone and never so thunderous or powerful as to detract from the flowing vibe that seems to permeate it throughout the entirety of its duration. At times, I was reminded of Robert Rich's Geometry, since he also combined a strong EM feel with warmer more "human" tonalities. Whether you will find twenty-seven unending minutes of this to be too much of a good thing will be a matter of personal preference. I seldom found myself tiring of it, though.
For those who have never experienced anything but the Steve Roach's deep dark ambience or his primal tribal soundscapes, LIFE SEQUENCE will be a revelation (provided they like Berlin school music, of course). LIFE SEQUENCE reveals that Roach deserves the accolades that are frequently laid at his feet. He is a special artist of uncommon talent encompassing a spectrum of musical styles. This CD gets a "highly recommended" from yours truly.