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2014/06/22

Steve Roach

by John Bloner, Jr.

photo: Vortex Immersion Media, Inc.
Something weird happens each time I listen to Steve Roach's 1988 recording, Dreamtime Return, or any of his 70-plus recordings.

It's like someone has slipped a new disc into my CD player. The music changes, or should I say, it fundamentally changes me upon each encounter.

Roach is a master of ambient sound, creating mysterious worlds where we travel not only by ear, but by breath and pulse. His palette includes many electronic instruments (see image below), but their output is as organic as the air and earth.


Roach has taught me through his soundworlds how to listen, how to breathe, and respect our planet.  In The Dream Circle (listen to track below), I hear a soft cry of awe for our pale blue dot, as Carl Sagan referred to Earth. I explore the terrain of the innerzone, a landscape of the subconscious, picking my way slowly over its crags and hollows. This is headphone music. Don't dream and drive.

Random Collisions by Amalthea Films     Music: The Dream Circle by Steve Roach

In an interview with Michael Foster, editor of AmbientVisions.com, Roach says, "The willful intention in all my music is to create an opening which allows me to step out of everyday time and space into a place where I feel we are born to experience directly."  Since he taught himself to play the synthesizer at age 20, Roach has been opening portals into subterranean and ethereal landscapes ever since. 

From his studio in the Sonoran desert, he shapes sound-sculptures with both high-tech and low tech instruments, including stones and the low-pitch resonant sound of the didgeridoo, perhaps the world's oldest musical instrument (see photo below).

I listened again to his 2003 recording, Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces, on a Spring day with my living room windows wide open. It was a gorgeous day, alive with birdsong. While the first track of Disc 2 played, it was difficult to discern where the music left off and the sounds of the outside world began. When I heard the call of the wren, it fit so perfectly, it had to be on the recording.  Didn't it? 


Over a decade earlier, I was playing this same disc for the first time when my wife returned home to our living space awash in Roach's music. She remarked that she could hear a cricket in the house. I showed her my new acquisition and corrected her. The cricket, I explained, was a part of Roach's soundworld.  In fact, I could anticipate the places in the music where the insect would knit its moonlight melody, and used my finger like a conductor's baton to show where it would enter.

To end our mild debate, I paused the disc, fully expecting the house to fall silent. Instead, we heard this.


Roach's music is expansiveness. There is a sense of rising and falling and rising again. In his own words, it arrives from "that sigh--that expansive place where you breathe out and then you breathe back in."

Almathea Films has created a visual partner to Roach's sounds. Earlier in this essay, I had shared their interpretation of the piece, The Dream Circle.  For the following video, their cameras were turned on The Grampians, a national park in southeastern Australia and the meeting point of four of the country's Great Ranges. It's a fitting setting for the music, Eternal Expanse, from his 2002 record, Day Out of Time and a reminder of the importance of the Australian continent to Steve Roach and those like me who have taken many trips to the innerzone via his creations, Dreamtime Return, Soma, The Magnificent Void, Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces, Structures In Silence, and many more.

Primal Murmurs by Amalthea Films

Learn more about Steve Roach by visiting his website. If I had to pick one record to introduce someone to Steve Roach, that record would be Soma, his 1992 collaboration with Robert Rich. In this recording, tribal sounds meet ambient bliss. Over eight tracks, these music masters deliver soul-stirring work. Jim Brentholts of AllMusic.com writes, "It is deep stuff. The soundscape offer listeners the opportunity to pursue and achieve states of ecstasy."

Drink it in.

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