Author Topic: Steve Roach’s music: a discussion of his calmer releases  (Read 1598 times)


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Steve Roach’s music: a discussion of his calmer releases
« on: February 19, 2022, 08:21:04 PM »
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)
Slow Heat
Texture Maps
Live at Grace Cathedral
Immersion 4
New Life Dreaming
Low Volume Music
The Passing
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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Re: Steve Roach’s music: a discussion of his calmer releases
« Reply #1 on: March 09, 2022, 01:28:19 PM »
I like Roach's more meditative pieces best as well. But the fact that he experiments with so many different styles is part of why I hero-worship him. Even though I'm not drawn to the rhythmic work as much, I love the fact that he is so versatile with his approach to music.

My favorites:
- The Magnificent Void
- Midnight Moon
- New Life Dreaming
- Mystic Chords and Sacred Spaces
- The Dream Circle


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Re: Steve Roach’s music: a discussion of his calmer releases
« Reply #2 on: March 13, 2022, 03:14:34 AM »
It was hearing The Magnificent Void and On This Planet that really got me back into listening to music again after 17 years. I'd been given a CD (not electronic music) and thought that I'd better buy something to play it on.
   That led me to looking for music I used to listen to and what might be new and around in similar styles (about 1997). I was in what might be called a 'new age' shop when I saw TMV and OTP - they let me listen to them (sohard to do nowadays) and I was hooked. Though I would never put Steve in the New Age realm as a personal opinion.
   But then when I first listened to ambient music there was no 'range'of genres'

   To add to the lists:
   The immersion series
   Atmospheric Conditions
   Darkest Before Dawn
   The Long Night (With Kelly David)

One of my deep favourites is The Passing - I had always loved the short version so a whole CD is just bliss.....

I also like Possible Planet and Early Man a lot - relaxing but in a different way


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Re: Steve Roach’s music: a discussion of his calmer releases
« Reply #3 on: April 23, 2022, 11:46:40 AM »
I love his sequencer driven/rhythmic/tribal music nearly just as much.

Seems that most of my calmer favorites were mentioned.
One piece I always return to is "The Eternal Expanse". I believe it is one of his finest, purely ambient/textural pieces.
The Passing is beautiful. And of course MC&SS, especially disc 2 & 3.

Max Corbacho is great in this area as well. I love Arte Magnetica and Splendid Labyrinths.
Also, Jonn Serrie!


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Re: Steve Roach’s music: a discussion of his calmer releases
« Reply #4 on: June 24, 2022, 08:54:58 AM »
In this respect I think Amir Baghiri's work should be mentioned as well...