Hypnagogue Music Reviews

Steve Roach: Live Transmission

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In May 2013, two days after laying down a mind-bending set at the AmbiCon concert, Steve Roach brought a compressed version of his Timeroom studio into the intimate confines of the SomaFM.com offices and proceeded to knock out a two-hour voyage that was captured on the double-disc release Live Transmisson. Like many of Roach’s live sets, this one soars through a variety of soundscape styles, arcing from glittering space-pads to the deep, smoky caverns of the primal mind and on into pulsing analog equations. It’s not a “Best Of” kind of thing, it’s a revisiting of the worlds Roach has already electronically terraformed. What’s of real note here is the setting; this is a full-on, deep-immersion, no-release-until-it’s-over set, crafted in a minimal space. There’s a great picture of this event where you can see an analog synth propped up on a couch behind Roach. I know that a lot of electronic musicians make do with minimal gear, but the fact that Roach does so here without any sense of anything being missing or lacking, without it feeling non- or un-Roachian, makes it a great listen for me. Being the tribal ambient lover that I am, I go particularly deep during the stretch that starts with the bass-heavy rumbles of “Zone of Drones” and unfolds gorgeously into “Looking for Safety” from Dreamtime Return. That’s a nice nod to long-time listeners. From there he heads back toward the shadows with “Reflecting Chamber” from Light Fantastic, making use of samples of the fujara, a large Slovakian flute, from long-time collaborator Dirk Serries. Drum loops and long, spiraling pads fill out the familiar tribal feel. The 32-minute groove “Vortex Immersion” kicks off the second disc and ushers us into that gurgling, hands-on-knobs analog space Roach has been spending time in since Possible Planet. Here we shift from tribal rhythms to more complex grooves, the beats curling up out of misty constructs. “Westwind,” from Proof Positive, kicks that into overdrive, giving us that early-Roach flavor of hyperactive sequencers rapping over pads and electronic twiddle. The voyage closes with a relatively new piece, “Today,” a cleansing drift–as is standard with a Roach live set–to bring us gently back to our wakened state. Your breathing will come in line with Roach’s rise-and-fall structures.

Perhaps needless to say, this voyage runs deep. The blend of older tracks, recreated live in the moment, and fresh takes offers a panoramic look at who Roach is, musically, without feeling like he’s doing fan service. Any Roach live voyage is subject to mid-course changes and tweaks, so the familiarity also comes with an edge. Again, for me it’s the matter of a sizable sound and an engaging voyage carved out in a “this is where we are, this is what you get” setting that makes this memorable. This is one to leave looping.

Available from Projekt.

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