by Johnny Black, Back On the Tracks
First in a new series of extended non-stop, slowly evolving electronic texture albums; lovely.
Having been smitten by electronic and ambient music since the early 70's, I first encountered Steve Roach via his 1984 album STRUCTURES FROM SILENCE, which still remains a favorite and is regularly dug out when I need to think.
More than any other ambient composer, including even Brian Eno, Roach excels in the creation of extended ambient atmospheres in which, to the unaccustomed ear, it might seem as if nothing at all is happening. The best comparison might be with a night spent somewhere in the wilderness by a city dweller. At first, the wilderness night seems still compared to the city's traffic noise, sirens and music blaring out of open windows, but it doesn't take long before a whole new world of sounds reveals itself, from crickets to wind in the trees, creaking branches and much more.
IMMERSION: ONE is the first in what Roach promises will be an ongoing series of long form, steady state "zones" created specifically as tone meditations to be played at low volumes in living spaces. You might prefer to think of it as the sonic equivalent of perfume or incense. Instead of boldly presenting big melodies, powerful rhythms or dramatic musical juxtapositions, Roach sets up an atmosphere and then helps it to gently unfold and evolve over the course of 73 minutes.
Don't expect to get up and dance, or even for that matter to tap your foot, because there is no beat. The piece fades in with a gentle harmonic curtain of intermixed drones until the presence of a pleasingly aimless whistling melody makes itself felt, not unlike the musical patterns produced by the vibrating strings of a wind harp. It's a beautifully melancholic sound and, as IMMERSION: ONE proceeds, it is joined by sounds that might be angels harmonizing, echoes drifting through vast caverns, gigantic zeppelins drifting overhead in pitch blackness, or anything else into which your imagination can transform them.
And, of course, that's the joy of this sort of music. Whereas the great classical works of Beethoven or Tchaikovsky virtually direct the listener's thoughts into particular directions, the best ambient music presents us with an opportunity to create our own interior universe in response to the sounds. About fifteen minutes into IMMERSION: ONE there's a snatch of melody with a definite hint of Erik Satie about it, but rather than being the heart of the piece, it's as if someone is whistling it far off in the distance, and the sound is being carried towards the listener by a playful zephyr. The same delicate melody recurs again several times, usually sounding as if it is the result of an accidental interplay of random harmonics, surfacing for a few seconds and then disappearing into the swell and fall of Roach's all-enveloping drones.
There is, however, absolutely no need to analyse IMMERSION: ONE in this kind of detail. It works equally well as a thin gauze of delicately interwoven ambient soundscapes with which to transform your living room, bedroom or headphone environment into your own personal drifting space.