The Ambient Expanse, Body Electric
by Jeff Berkwits, Illinois Entertainer
For well over a decade, Steve Roach has been one of the preeminent practitioners of ambient music. He's particularly well-known for his adventurous aural excursions, and these two albums showcase his latest forays, with a variety of collaborators, into occasionally peculiar yet oftentimes extraordinary harmonic territory.
The pioneering player produced and mixed THE AMBIENT EXPANSE, which finds him joining with fellow atmospheric artists Patrick O'Hearn, Vidna Obmana, Stephen Bacchus, and Vir Unis to generate a single, 68-minute-long track. Though each section of the five-movement suite is performed by a different individual, Roach, who adds at least some processing to every selection (and is solely responsible for the concluding passage, dubbed "The Eternal Expanse"), manages to create a remarkably interesting package. "The 35th Parallel," written and primarily played by O'Hearn, is a soft yet surprisingly sensuous work, with gorgeous waves of sound that both relax and reinvigorate the listener, while Bacchus' "Point of Safety," which features synthesizer and sampler assistance from Roach, offers slightly darker but no less ethereal elements.
BODY ELECTRIC represents the Roach's more extensive, and in many respects more experimental, collaboration with Vir Unis. The initial composition, a rhythmic number titled "Born of Fire," clues listeners into the fact that this 10-tune album is much more kinetic than the typical meandrous Roach fare. Later cuts advance the same groove-oriented aesthetic with a few added adornments, including a whispery voice on "Pure Expansion" and a plethora of delicate, metaphysically meaningful components on "Homunculus Within."
Although the rather traditional elements of THE AMBIENT EXPANSE are somewhat more appealing than the occasionally too dynamic, "cyber-shamanistic" music of BODY ELECTRIC, both discs solidly represent the willingness of Roach and his companions to venture into insightful and frequently inspirational musical terrain.