The Ambient Expanse
by Hans Stoeve, Power Spot 89.7FM (Sydney, Australia)
Musical purists of an ambient nature take note. For those that like their ambience long and stratospheric, evoking images of the the timelessness and infinite vastness of space, for those that still believe that certain musics, especially space music, can take you on your own psycho-spiritual journeys, listen to this release. Conceived by Steve Roach, with contributions by all of the above. Each artist was asked to compose a track towards this project. Roach envisioned this as "a pure atmospheric music expressive of deep exploration and high optimism."
What he then did was gather a group of like-minded individuals and artists, and invite them to participate. Once the five pieces had been collected, Roach remixed them in his studio, adding his own unique sonic thumbprint. This music flows uninterrupted, and is incredibly healing to listen to, especially the piece by Vir Unis. I don't mean to sound wishy-washy or new agey when I say this, as I am a firm believer in the power of sound to heal, having explored this avenue for many years myself.
It's great to hear Patrick O'Hearn again, as it has been many years since I had last listened to anything he had done. His sound has certainly changed since the EL DORADO days, and his pieces are some of the finest on this recording, as are all.
Stephen Bacchus is pretty much a new discovery for me, but he has been around since the eighties composing ambient music. His sound, on this piece anyway, has a darker edge to it; there is more depth to it than the previous tracks. There is this spiraling pattern of sound created in the background, which draws the listener into a very deep state of relaxation and contemplation.
It would be fantastic to see visuals of space with this music. The inside cover of this is a shot, or maybe an airbrushed vision of deep space looking back on what I assume is the Earth, possibly a large body of water with the horizon visible in the distance. [Actually this is a computer-generated landscape. -ed.] I keep thinking that this is music for a busy world, and that this music makes us realize how precious life is. This really is an extraordinary sonic journey.
Vidna Obmana has of course worked with Steve Roach in the past. His contribution is not as "light" as the others. The piece "The Space In-between" is similar to Bacchus' in that it has more of a dark feel to it. It seems to move slower than the other pieces on offer, or maybe it's a case of me being in such a deep state of relaxation by the time this piece comes on, that for me everything has slowed down.
Steve Roach finishes it all up with the longest contribution at 18 minutes, entitled "The Eternal Expanse". Within the first minute you know that you are in the presence of a genius – those atmospheres he creates, that subliminal pulse, the sensation of being primordial, yet simultaneously in a very high state of spiritual awareness – a drifting sense of narrative, vastness unfolding, infinite possibilities. Roach has fine-tuned his technique over many years, and he is not only a pioneer in ambient sounds, but also a master of space music, as are the others on this release. His is a unique sound-world. I've often though to myself that he can turn this stuff out by the truckload, but listening to this makes me realize just how much work and thought has gone into this.
Listening to THE AMBIENT EXPANSE is about the experience of letting go, and to a degree of trusting yourself. It goes back to the fact that certain musics are intrinsically of a spiritual and healing nature. Consequently this reinforces my own belief that music like this has the power to change the listener through the act of listening. Well, let's just say this music has power. Roach's sound worlds are not in any way threatening. They are filled with the mysteries of life, and through the exploration of sound reaffirm the basic belief that life is incredibly precious. Roach's music in effect brings the listener back to Earth.
A magnificent release for all. Highly enjoyable and highyly recommended.