Steve Roach (born February 16, 1955, in La Mesa, California, USA) is an American ambient musician and composer. Originally a Motocross racer, at the age of 20, Roach taught himself to play the synthesizer after being inspired by the music of Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, and Vangelis. His debut album Now appeared in 1982, followed by Structures from Silence in 1984; in 1988, he released his acclaimed Quiet Music series, along with what has been described by critics as his masterpiece: the double-album Dreamtime Return.
A California native, Roach lives in the Sonoran desert just outside Tucson, Arizona, to be closer to this long-standing source of inspiration. Like the stark, red-rock landscapes of Australia, the American Southwest has long provided Roach with the experiential and psychological richness that imbues his work with the power and serenity of nature, rather than the confining musical standards of popular culture and the urban textures of concrete, metal and glass. In this environment he has flourished with an uncanny ability to move between serene endless horizons of sound and intensely dynamic rhythmic forms, then morph this energy into an organic-electronic stew on the next project.
As a pioneering cornerstone of ambient-atmospheric/space-new-age music, the internationally recognized artist Steve Roach has dedicated nearly three decades to exploring myriad soundworlds that connect with a timeless source of inspiration, from the expansive, time-suspending spaces reflecting his spiritual home in Arizona to the fire breathing, rhythmic-shamanic expressions woven from all things electric and organic, Roach has earned his position in the global pantheon of major new music artists through a long list of groundbreaking recordings fueled by his prolific nature and uncompromising approach.
Roach stands on his own unique ground and brings into form a kind of recognition through sound that speaks of the ages in a language understood by people across many cultures and continents. It’s this primordial recognition in the sound that creates a bridge out of everyday reality and returns to a larger scope of the wonder and awe of life’s ebb and flow. The core of this innovative world of sound has been nourished by years of intense live concerts in many extraordinary settings worldwide, directly enhancing the emotive, cinematic, soul-stirring depth of his music.
Inspired early on by regular soul-searching trips to the Southern California deserts and mountains, along with the discovery of German synth icons Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream and the European electronic music of the 70’s, Steve started his musical explorations directly on synthesizers in 1978. He made his recording debut with the album NOW (Fortuna) in 1982. Two years later he created one of the most pivotal albums of his early career, STRUCTURES FROM SILENCE (Fortuna/Projekt) which was one of the landmark ambient releases of the 80’s, presenting a new sound for its time which lives on today; the fourth edition was released in 2001. This album contained three long tracks of reflective, intimate timbres, and cascading lush harmonic waves. Roach enhanced the listener’s awareness and sense of their physical surroundings by capturing the influence of his experiences with deep meditations and the infusion of slow breath and silence into soundscape. Soon after this release had established itself in the 80’s new music landscape, QUIET MUSIC (Fortuna) was released to further accolades, including praise from minimal master Harold Budd. The passion of this young artist was well under way.
Alongside his laser beam-like focus as a solo artist, as a collaborator and producer over the years Roach has worked with some of the world’s finest electronic/ambient artists including Robert Rich, Vidna Obmana, Michael Stearns, Jorge Reyes, Suso Saiz, Michael Shrieve, Stephen Kent, Kenneth Newby and Australian aboriginal didgeridoo virtuoso David Hudson.
Recognized worldwide as one of the leading innovators of contemporary electronic music, his body of work is approaching 75 solo and collaborative releases since 1981, including the 1997 award-winning live-studio masterpiece ON THIS PLANET (Fathom), 1998’s critically acclaimed THE MAGNIFICENT VOID (Fathom), the time-traveling EARLY MAN (Projekt) and a number of albums that are considered classics of the genre, most notably the ground-breaking double CD DREAMTIME RETURN (Fortuna, 1988). Many of Roach’s early works have stood the test of time, drawing a new generation of fans who are only beginning to discover the vast territory of sonic innovation of this uncompromising artist. In a 2002 poll of national music professionals by New Age Voice magazine, selecting the “25 Most Influential Ambient Albums of All Time”, Steve Roach was honored with two classic recordings in the top 5: DREAMTIME RETURN was #2, and STRUCTURES FROM SILENCE was #4.
Roach’s music often shape-shifts into many forms, from serene sound meditations to what is described by critic Dwight Loop as “techno-tribal music for the global village”, blending the visceral sounds he designs on synthesizers and samplers with the primordial rhythms of ethnic percussion and other exotic instruments, including the Australian didgeridoo. He studied these traditional techniques and made his own instrument with aboriginal didgeridoo master David Hudson during two extended trips to the Australian outback in the late 1980’s. Roach also scored the music for a PBS documentary on the rock art of the Dreamtime (the foundation of aboriginal mythology) and recorded several Australian artists for the influential release AUSTRALIA: SOUND OF THE EARTH (Fortuna, 1990). Roach went on to produce Hudson’s solo works WOOLUNDA (Celestial Harmonies, 1993), the first-ever compact disc recording of solo didgeridoo music, and RAINBOW SERPENT (Celestial Harmonies, 1994), which features Hudson in an expanded role as percussionist as well as didgeridoo virtuoso. The 1998 Roach/Hudson collaboration GUNYAL (Celestial Harmonies) is a visceral collection of dreamtime soundworlds combining powerful didgeridoo playing and surreal textures. Perhaps the pinnacle of Roach’s tribal, organic electronic period that started with DREAMTIME RETURN has to be ORIGINS and its companion release ARTIFACTS. These two releases can be compared to nothing else in Roach’s catalog, and clearly the years of his immersion in the primal mind of Australia’s influence is in full bloom on these recordings.
In recent years, Roach collaborated with Tibetan monk Thupten Pema Lama, blending solo chants with a subtle complement of soundscapes created in reverence to these offerings. He also produced two recordings for the African group Takadja, whose first album produced by Roach received a Juno Award, Canada’s Grammy, for best World Music recording. Roach’s music has been featured in a number of films including Heat (starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro) Pitch Black (starring Vin Diesel), and 187 (starring Samuel L. Jackson). His talent for creating atmosphere-drenched textures and surreal soundworlds has also led to increasing recognition of his work among film composers such as Graeme Revell and Brian Keane, who brought Roach on board as a sound designer for several film and television projects.
Roach’s numerous artistic collaborations include two releases with Suspended Memories: the award-winning EARTH ISLAND and the group’s enthusiastically-received debut FORGOTTEN GODS (Hearts of Space, 1993). In 1988, Roach teamed up with former Santana drummer Michael Shrieve on THE LEAVING TIME (BMG). Two sonic essays of the American Southwest, WESTERN SPACES (1987, reissued on Fortuna in 1990) and DESERT SOLITAIRE (Fortuna, 1989), were highly successful group projects with artists Kevin Braheny, Thom Brennan and Michael Stearns. With Robert Rich, he created two classic releases for Hearts of Space beginning with STRATA (1990), which hit the Top 10 on Billboard’s New Age chart and gained Roach recognition among the magazine’s Top 10 artists for that year. The duo’s sensuous follow-up SOMA (1992) received a four-star rating in Downbeat magazine. According to the magazine, listening to Roach’s music is like following “a reliable musical muse into a dark, hypnotic realm that wafts of mysticism instead of marketing.” But then again, Roach has always followed his instincts rather than any preconceived notions of what would sell. It’s this uncompromising approach that has been rewarded with a steadily growing audience worldwide.
His collaborations with long time collaborator Belgian artist Vidna Obmana include WELL OF SOULS (1995, Projekt) which according to the Detroit Metro Times is “an unequaled achievement, and nothing in ambient or space music can be compared to it.” The 1997 Roach/Obmana follow-up, CAVERN OF SIRENS (Projekt) continues to push the boundaries forward. After worldwide concerts, a live CD and a 3-CD box set, the duo created their most chilling merging of surreal acoustic-electric soundscapes yet, INNERZONE (Projekt, 2002). This album was featured in a live performance in Philadelphia.
Even his most challenging and esoteric albums have garnered consistently enthusiastic reviews and commercial success. THE MAGNIFICENT VOID (1996, Fathom) proved to be an overwhelming critical success, inspiring the most colorful and creative descriptions of his music to date from publications as diverse as Time, Wired, and Option. Poet/journalist Thom Jurek characterized the album as “an entirely new path of musical exploration; it is a benchmark for an already prodigious and celebrated career… younger innovators in the techno and ambient worlds revere Roach’s contributions and are amazed at his ability to stay years ahead of the curve. With THE MAGNIFICENT VOID, Roach ups the ante once again.” Alan E. Rapp of Wired went one step further, declaring “Roach gives us not new music, but new ears with which to hear.” Chris Meloche of the Detroit Metro Times felt listening to the VOID was “like watching the clouds roll across the sky, except you’re doing it while lying at the bottom of a swimming pool.” Daniel Buckley of the Tucson Citizen thought it “resembles after-tones of the big bang, as matter is sent chaotically writhing through the expanses of space,” and Option’s Bill Tilland heard “the rush of subterranean magma, the slow grinding of tectonic plates, and the natural resonance of massive granite boulders.”
In 1998 Roach started his own label, Timeroom Editions, as a complement to his online presence and extensive web site. The 11 Timeroom Editions releases include CORE (2001), self-described as a “molten blast of pure energy and impulsive forms with a feeling of unwinding the source directly off the spool, uninterrupted”. The most recent ALL IS NOW (2002), a 2-CD live set which has been acknowledged as the best representation of Roach’s live concerts to date. DARKEST BEFORE DAWN (2002) was released at the same time as ALL IS NOW and represents a polar opposite world to the live experience: a deep zone-world of glacial movement on the night side of some distant planet. This prolific artist’s momentum reached a high point in 2000 with no less than seven releases, plus concerts in both the U.S. and Europe, and his third AFIM award for LIGHT FANTASTIC (Fathom) in the Electronic/Ambient category.
After a long history of recording for the Fortuna and Fathom labels in the 80’s and 90’s, Roach moved on to establish a solid partnership – and the beginning of a continuous string of successful and innovative CD’s – with Projekt including four pivotal releases with Vidna Obmana, the modern electronic BODY ELECTRIC (1999) with newcomer Vir Unis, and a fascinating twist of a project called DUST TO DUST (1998) with guitarist Roger King; this Western-ambient sound painted a picture of ghost towns, “the lost and found dreams of the restless souls driven to go West, circa 1899.” Around this time yet another chapter began in Steve’s world of sound, MIDNIGHT MOON (2000) and STREAMS & CURRENTS (2001), both introspective meditations of late-night moods created entirely on processed and looped electric guitar. This represented a significant new sound and direction in his atmospheric work. In February 2001, a release that could be best described as “sonic archeology” found its way out into the world; in EARLY MAN, Pulse magazine’s John Diliberto noted “Roach’s hallucinogenic soundworld harkens back to electro-acoustic abstractions Karlheinz Stockhausen” and described “a hole ripped in time immersing you in the deep”. Roach describes it as day in the life of early man: “I set out to capture the textures, sounds, climate and movement of a day in the life of a distant relative”. Projekt also released the epic 2 CD shamaninc-electronic THE SERPENT’S LAIR with Arizona-based percussionist Byron Metcalf. This shamanic landscape of acoustic trance-driven percussion mixed with hybrid electronic grooves and other worldly soundscapes gives the entire album “the pallor of an extended hallucinogenic experience”, wrote Vision Quest. This acoustic percussion-soundscape driven direction was explored further in 2002 on TRANCE SPIRITS with percussionist Jeffery Fayman and featuring King Crimson legend Robert Fripp.
As one of the few electronic-based artists performing live consistently for over 20 years, Roach’s engagements have taken him from concert halls and unique venues in the United States, Canada, and Europe, to lava caves in the Canary Islands and volcanic craters in Mexico. These exotic settings and the experiences there in have helped him further shape his iconoclastic world of sound, a sonic vision that thrives in a sphere of ritualistic intensity beyond categories, national boundaries, cultural barriers, and quite often, time itself. — from www.steveroach.com
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