Light Fantastic
by Brian Parnham

A couple of days ago, I received two parcels of mail. One was an envelope from a college in West Hartford, CT. In it were two general admission tickets to a Steve Roach concert to be held on November 9. The other parcel, a priority mail box, contained the new CD by the aforementioned artist, LIGHT FANTASTIC, a dual CD retrospective and THE MINDFOLD a new product, offered on the Roach web site, designed to be worn to block out all light with one's eyes wide open.

That evening I sat in my studio, seated in perfect sonic phase with my Event monitors, which were in turn fed by my digital mixing console, which was fed digital direct from my CD-R. In short, it was the closest representation that I could create to the actual artist's studio in Tucson, Arizona.

Press 'Play' and hold on the Mindfold is over my eyes all is dark Now... Trip the Light. Rather than slowly melt into a sonic world that would be unfolded, Roach brings in an initial groove almost immediately and ponders it for almost two full minutes, letting me settle in and reset my own internal metronome to the sound, before introducing the first electronic synth sweep. He is quietly building layers to it and the texture is layering. It's a very light texture, though, almost transparent.

I creep my hand along the edge of the mixing console until I feel the volume knob and tweak it up a notch... The sound is still building and expanding. The pace is very fast, almost hyper-fast. This speed is contrasted with the slow, morphing sounds of the synth textures. The two work very well and actually compliment each other. There is a certain 'Ying' and 'Yang' taste to it.

I feel like I am being launched into space and am approaching escape velocity. The synth textures are razor sharp. Again, turn up the volume... 'What about the guy next door?' 'Forget him'.... Again, turn up the volume. The studio is really pumping and moving or so it seems, as I am effectively blinded with my eyes wide open wearing the Mindfold. No matter how loud the volume is turned up, there is absolutely no 'ear-fry' to me the sign of a superbly produced album.

I have no previous knowledge of the tracking or the titles of the tracks. I sense the track change as things mellow down slightly, just enough time to breathe and notice my accelerated heart rate... Breathing the Pulse. The tempo is still up as I work into the next track. There seems to be a lot of activity stereo right. This activity goes on for some time rhythms within rhythms, spinning together, interweaving, then splaying apart. I am questioning whether I am in fact in phase with my speakers... But, no... 'Just wait,' something tells me inside 'you know what he's up to'. Spatial effects become very apparent, and my brain is hearing and seeing the sound in three, perhaps more dimensions.

Then, out of nowhere, the sound emerges... it sounds like a sitar that was recorded into a two can and string telephone. The sound sweeps across the field and, essentially, becomes boss, signing it's own song over the rhythms and the now background synth textures.

Towards the end of the piece, the spatial conversations in stereo right sweep to stereo left and then mellow down in their own place.

Things quiet a bit. There is another group of rhythms forming in the extremities of the sound field. Each side is working its own way, but still complementing the other, almost as if there is a rhythmic conversation going on. The rhythms are brought together in an apparent mono field and then split apart again and again. It's containment, expansion and back again and again. I am sensing a house of mirrors which are reflecting the sound. I am in The Reflecting Chamber.

A purely organic rhythm emerges from below a real stranger in these parts at the moment. But the beat strengthens and comes into the forefront. Then, for a moment, my spine tweaks and goose bumps overcome me. It is a 'lifelike' rhythm and my own body responds as such. I feel my body and mind fall into a familiar groove. It's a planetary approach. Eyes wide open in the darkness, I can see the planet from my spatial viewpoint. It is pure ecstasy without the artificial mindfood normally associated with such journeys. By the track's end, I am grounded and safe.

I awake the next morning in dewey grass about to Touch the Pearls upon the tip of each blade. I look up towards the sky as a blazing giant fireball is rising over the horizon. Cicadas in the form of electronic textures sing their late summer song. A very wispy super fast rhythm comes to life. I look back to the ground and witness the microcosmic world of ants. They are operating at full speed and always seem to know where they are going. I watch them swarm together and move their way over the land, carrying pieces of leaves or their own larvae. I cannot concentrate on a single ant, as they are just swarming over the ground. An entirely different world than my own, but the pace is the same. The fast pace is finally quieted down, as the fireball disappears below the horizon again and there is a moment of rest.

I enter into the Realm of Refraction quietly, still recovering from the first hyper paced half of the album. Synth textures create an electronic webbing in such a way that I can see and pull apart the individual components into strands. Each strand has it's own color, taste and message. Occasional sonic fragments would orbit the stereo field, opening a gate to a rhythm that takes me out to the world's edge. Inside of these fractal gates orbits another arpeggiated texture, which seems to revolve on an axis that spans from the northwest to the southeast. I am sailing on this entrancing sound, approaching the edge of this planet that I am dwelling.

The immersion begins to pass by, although the fractal infusions continue to occasionally expose themselves. The tide begins to change and I feel myself move onto a slightly different, though peculiarly familiar, path. I possess a feeling of reflection, a Luminous Return, for my journey. A mellow beat hums along and I am able to breathe and ponder what I had just experienced. This was a real breathing space, a final moment for solemn contemplation. Deja Vu hints to me, as emotions, sounds and textures from the journey whisper and remind me not to forget to reflect, but don't look back....

With LIGHT FANTASTIC, Steve Roach steers way clear from doing what most other artists fall into trying to out-do themselves; in this case referring to his award winning release ON THIS PLANET. Rather, he brings fresh ideas and interpretations with each new concept he comes up with and masterfully composes these ideas into each release. LIGHT FANTASTIC is never confrontational, never dark. It is pure bliss... and Light.

Light Fantastic

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CD  $15.00 
ON SALE, $12.00 
Light Fantastic
Steve Roach
1999 Hearts of Space 11094 (CD)
Reviewed by Brian Parnham, various listener comments, Gary Andrews, Billboard, L.A. Weekly, Muze, Progressive World, RhythmUS, SCI FI Magazine, Wind and Wire

LIGHT FANTASTIC does much to subvert one's expectations of musical structure, while remaining unabashedly beautiful throughout. Roach's soundworlds have never sounded more rich and full of light. On the other hand, the complexity of the 'fractal grooves' allows the hybrid percussion to assume what would be the melodic content of a given piece. The rhythms are as willful and intricate as an African drumming group or drum 'n' bass track, continually morphing from one pattern into another, describing animated moiré patterns in sound.
1. Trip the LightMP38:34 
2. Breathing the PulseMP35:25 
3. The Reflecting ChamberMP37:05 
4. Touch the PearlMP39:24 
5. Realm of RefractionMP311:20 
6. The Luminous ReturnMP316:48 
-  Light Fantastic (medley)MP3 

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