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 Steve Roach’s music: a discussion of his calmer releases

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SourceCodeX
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 20, 2022 5:12 am    Steve Roach’s music: a discussion of his calmer releases Reply with quoteBack to top

Ever since hearing his Structures from Silence — I have followed after his releases, reviewed his music, promoted his music, and bought his music. After Steve Roach’s NDE following a bad motorcycle accident — having heard some “music” during his NDE — Structures from Silence was composed as Roach was trying to recreate that beautiful “music” he heard. It’s release put Roach on the ambient music map. I have now become an ambient musician myself. Roach began using sequential notes similar to the arpeggios found in the Berlin school of synth music. But early on Roach tried atmospheric and beat less drones composing that began his signature sound which he pursued for decades — creating his own niche that soon many other electronic musicians followed after.

His stylings weren’t very stagnant however — with his soon trying a tribal, percussive, shamanic type of ancient origins sound. He released more sequenced and rhythmic pieces. My all-time rhythmic, Berlin school influenced favorite is his Empetus release — and that — for me was all I needed of that gestalt.

His atmospheric drones and soundscapes are still his strength — in my opinion — having immersed myself in his work for so many years.

My main goal of this article is to recommend his most meditative, calming and relaxing releases. Many of his immersive drones can sound machine-like, a bit metallic, with a tunnel hollow reverb quality, and even at times — threateningly looming over the listener in their overall development. It is okay of course as that is what Roach felt like creating. But for me — they were creating an edginess and tension that I don’t want in my ambience. The alien coldness and nonhuman dimensions some of his work seemed to echo is just too disturbing to this listener seeking to relax. Most importantly for me is the total lack of beats or rhythmic elements in an ambient piece. It must be pure soundscape like an abstract watercolor painting for the ear.

I typically put ambient recordings on and set my player to endless loop. That way it becomes an environment so to speak. Releases by Roach that create tension or an alien feeling realm do not comfort but pull me into a weird and distracting space. I don’t enjoy rhythmic or sequenced elements as they too are distracting and more mesmerizing than calming. This is all subjective of course but if this happens to me — I venture to assert the same will happen to other listeners. Oddly enough, my wife doesn’t like ambient music at all — saying it feels as if something is about to happen but never does.

Several factors will determine how relaxing a synthesizer driven ambient piece is. The synthesist has a myriad of waveforms to work with. Sine, Triangle, Sawtooth, and Pulse or Square are the four most commonly utilized synthesizer waveforms. Depending on what type of basic waveform is used and how it is further manipulated for each note played has a great deal to do with whether or not it is pleasant or irritating to hear.

Also, I find what octave the notes or chords are played in relating to middle C is also key (no pun intended). Typically, for me, higher octave notes and chords are not nearly as relaxing. A passage in an ambient composition being played in the middle to lower registers lends itself immediately to sounding more relaxed. Why this is so, I cannot explain. I believe it is a vibrational brainwave syncing thing.

Also key to ambient music is the ADSR settings on the synthesizer. I design ambient pad presets for various iOS based synth apps so I know a great deal about ADSR as well as BPM (beats per minute). “A” stands for attack which determines how quickly a note will sound after the keyboard note or chord is pressed down. “D” is decay or essentially how the note falls off so to speak. “S” is sustain and “R” is release. So ADSR combined with oscillator(s), modulation, reverb and many other factors will either make the sound calming or irritating or somewhere in between.

Musically speaking, there are a ways to play, to compose, like major or minor keys, diminished, atonal scales or diatonic and the list goes on and on.

Many synthesizer players prefer one model over the other to get “that sound” they want. I own five hardware synths and eleven soft synths on my iPad Air. They all have certain features that I enjoy. I even have synth apps that nearly perfectly recreate that hallowed Mellotron sound, made popular by many progressive rock bands. Some savvy keyboard players also use certain effects set between the synthesizer and their amps or DAW. All these other factors can help a composer create beautiful synthesizer pieces.

Not keyboards alone — but guitar, violin, EWI (electronic wind instrument), etc have all been used for ambient music. If you like — add field recordings to a piece for more environments to the music. Frankly, ocean surf, babbling brooks, wind, song birds has been done to death in ambient music. I find such a tad boring — but that is my taste. I must admit to using field recording in my most downloaded piece “Time Warps in Alternate Worlds”. But I have digressed enough.

So what ambient Roach releases do I recommend as the most calming, meditative and overall true mental massage? Here they are, not really listed in any order of best or worst. They aren’t meant to be in chronological order either.

For ambient music collectors or those seeking deeper peace via an aural method — find and purchase these releases by Steve Roach.

Structures from Silence (3CD edition)
Quiet Music (3CD edition)
Mercurius
Slow Heat
Texture Maps
Live at Grace Cathedral
Immersion 4
New Life Dreaming
Low Volume Music
The Passing
Stillpoint
A Deeper Silence


These are releases that are 100% relaxing for me. Many of his other releases feature pieces or portions that are very relaxing but the rest of the release fails to meet my calming “standards” as described above.

I know that for such a large discography this seems a short list but there you have it.

Other ambient musicians that have released excellent meditative releases are James Johnson, Max Corbacho and Phillip Wilkerson to mention a few. For the most continuous stream of very calming releases I highly recommend Jim Butler. He is the most prolific ambient creator I know. Lastly, I’d like to mention both IASOS and Dr. Jefferey Thompson as having released some incredibly calming and relaxation ambient works. I won’t mention specific releases by the above artists. With sites like Bandcamp, Spotify and YouTube — you can easily discover their best works.

I hope this brief discussion will help ambient music fans discover some new music guaranteed to calm your psyche.

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BruecknerAmbient
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 20, 2022 12:16 pm    (No subject) Reply with quoteBack to top

Thank You for this interesting discussion of Steve's work, and about the "mechanisms" of calming ambient.

Personally, while I love purely calming and / or meditative music (and agree that it needs some specific characteristics to "work"), I have to admit that unless I'm in this very specific mood, I prefer my ambient "spiced up" with those elements which apparently You rather find disturbing.

For example, one of Steve's albums which (at least from Your description) is a purely calm and unobstrusive release, "Shadow of Time", seems a tad boring to me and after a while when going on and on and on, doesn't do much for me (although any given ten minutes from it per se are enjoyable).

On the other hand, "Mystic Chords and Sacred Spaces" would be one of my go-to albums by Steve, perhaps even one of my favourites in this genre from any artist. I, for one, actually don't feel irritated by the "darker" or more mysterious elements there - rather, it's what I seek. It still puts me into a state of relaxation and immersion...

If I need something calmer and / or lighter that envelops me still more and that gives me this meditative aural surrounding, I play things like "Waiting for Cousteau" by J.M. Jarre (the track, not the whole album), or maybe "Thursday Afternoon" by Brian Eno, certain albums by Mathias Grassow or any of the sleep concerts by Robert Rich, for example. Or I play a recording of a tamboura playing just one note...

As for Steve's sequencer work, I found that his old, classic albums in that direction are not bad at all, however his more recent ones are much better still - in fact I enjoy them a lot, "Skeleton Keys" or "Tomorrow" are wonderful albums (in my book).


P.S. Just started to explore Your music on BC a bit and after reading Your article I was rather surprised when the first thing I played - "Driving in the Highlands of Scotland" - was no ambient at all...
Laughing

But I switched to "Primordial Lands Arised" in the meanwhile, and enjoy "WarInHeaven" quite a lot (...also because it indead has that slightly mysterios air which I like).

.

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SourceCodeX
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 20, 2022 1:36 pm    (No subject) Reply with quoteBack to top

Yes, I agree with you 100% that Steve offers many quality releases of very interesting compositions and it is indeed the mindset of the listener that can determine what is "calming" or a pleasure to experience.

Thanks for the listening suggestions.

I just discovered yesterday Jon Hopkins' Music for Psychedelic Therapy and it is wonderful. Highly recommended

And yes my latest release on BC is some throwback vintage guitar work from 1997 which I felt deserved to be heard by whoever likes such -- but now -- I am doing ambient music 100% and have actually bought many, many effects pedals to to turn my guitar into an ambient machine. If you ever watch Perry Frank or Chords of Orion on YouTube -- you will see what type pedals I now own.

My best release on BC for relaxing ambient and healing music is Rebirth https://sourcecodex.bandcamp.com/album/rebirth and I would suggest "Clouds Parting Soon" as a first listen. The track of mine that has received the highest amount of downloads, listens and purchases is "Time Warps in Alternate Worlds" from The Persistence of Ambience https://sourcecodex.bandcamp.com/album/the-persistence-of-ambience.

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 20, 2022 3:45 pm    (No subject) Reply with quoteBack to top

I also love the a lot of Steve's work from 1989 to now. Most of the 80s albums and some of these tribal/esoteric/didgeridoo things are not my cup of tea. I mostly listen to his music while while at work (daily job, not musical work) and it always sets a perfect relaxed mood for that. I am with Michael Brückner, the "Mystic Chords..."-album is one of his bests.

Apart from Steve's albums I got only very few ambient stuff in my collection. Stephen Parsick has some great (rhythmless) albums in his discography. Radiant Mind also has some nice ones. Latley I tried some albums from the Cryo Chamber label, but I didn't get really into them (maybe not dark enough for me...)

For my own project I also did some ambient stuff, but I never use any polyphonic synths for that (don't even have one, apart from Nord Wave 1+2 which I only use in the band). I prefer to work with organs, guitars, analogue synths and lots of effects to make ambient textures. The ambient album "Soil 3" (download only) is a good example for that, you can find that on my bandcamp site.

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 20, 2022 4:59 pm    (No subject) Reply with quoteBack to top

FYI: I am selling a lot of my Steve Roach collection as well as many other electronic releases. Some are quite rare and collectible. Here they are:
https://www.discogs.com/seller/SourceCodeX/profile

Unfortunately, I don’t ship internationally. There’s a workaround though to solve this problem. If you have a friend in the US — have them buy what you want. Then they can ship it to you. I have done this several time for international buyers selling items on Discogs and eBay. No risk for me this way.

I have tried selling internationally in the past and found it to be a huge hassle, cost prohibitive for buyers and no tracking info available typically. So buyer can report they never got it. They get a refund and I never see the item again and I lose money. So that’s why I don’t ship internationally. Sorry.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 23, 2022 6:02 pm    (No subject) Reply with quoteBack to top

I have what I like to call, Steve Roach Sundays!
On a Sunday AM, I will grab a cup of coffee, fire up the stereo, sit
in my sweet spot and listen to Steve Roach music.
I listen to, predominately his long form cds, many from the above list.
A big favorite is Darkest Before The Dawn.
Tis a good way to chill and listen to some good music too.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 09, 2023 8:19 am    (No subject) Reply with quoteBack to top

I played Steve's 'SIGH OF AGES' CD while driving in a snowstorm last week. It relaxed me
from driving into a ditch, and I found myself getting into the snow event.

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