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CD Feature/ Steve Roach: "Dreamtime Return"

img  Tobias

Hindsight is a beautiful thing. Now, almost twenty years after „Dreamtime Return“ was first published, reviewers have found an easy subject in how mistaken some of their colleagues had been by filing the classic double album with all the other electronic releases of its era. It is a phenomenon shared with that other long-undiscovered seminal work of the 80s, Manuel Göttsching's „E2-E4“, which hardly anyone even bothered to write about at the time and today feels equally at home in classical concert halls and techno clubs. Both share the fate of making their entrance slightly too early, of standing outside of musicological discussions and of having to build their own audience over years. And both have triumphed in the end: If noone is able to understand the initial negligence of the world, then that is because it has changed through the appreciation of these compositions.

Having said that, and despite the quite sizable amount of advocates the album did manage to gather around it right from the start, it is not that hard to discern why the critics were confused. „Dreamtime Return“ led the combination of electronic and mechanical instruments to an accesible plateau. It anticipated the symbiosis between progressive, experimental expressions and tribal elements. It used a highly contemporary form of sampling, indulged in the sequencer runs and digital drum derilations of the „Berlin School“ while taking them to new, concise horizon. And finally, it bathed in sweet oceans of harmonies, undulated asthmatically through haunting greyzones and created new templates for future generations of musicians while trying on the most diverse arrangements.

All of this came in the form of a two hour long concept work, based around a view of the world, which seemed to openly contradict the Western model and stemmed from a culture hundreds of thousands of years old and with an intuitive knowledge in danger of being lost. With the deadlines of the press looming and never enough time to get behind the real meaning of a work, the deeper message was probably never easy to formulate.

As with all classics, there are plenty of stories to „Dreamtime Return“ and the most important one is how its creative process, which had already started in 1985, was suddenly sped up when director David Stahl was driving through the desert to Mexico. As the heat was building up, Stahl was meditating on his current project, a movie on the Aboriginal concept of the „Dream Time“. It was during this drive that the radio program changed from middle of the road rock to a most uncommon soundscape, the warm and deep stream that was Steve Roach's „Structures from Silence“. Stahl decided to call him immediately, bringing Roach in contact with a continent which he had long felt a „compellable connection“ with.

The duo arrived in Australia only months later to „endless plateaus, gorges and sandstone escarpments which conceal the sacred and secular sites of times past“ (Roach), documenting their experiences on film („Art of the Dreamtime“) and in music. Roach would later build tracks around Aboriginal chant and invite Robert Rich and other percussionists and instrumentalists into the studio for improvisations and a decided, yet otherworldly rhythmic flow, but the finished record still bares a lot of the spontaneous sensation of being overwhelmed by the land and its people.

So much has been written about the music and yet they still carve out intense associations: The astral voyage of the brooding sequencer flight „Towards the Dream“, the gourd drum polybeats and didjeridu pulses of „Songline“, the melancholic echoes of „Truth in Passing“, the vastitude of „Looking for Safety“, which sounds as though Steve Roach were keeping his ear to the ground for thirty minutes in search of the earth's voice. ”Dreamtime Return“ is a continent itself, full of uncharted territory and filled with places at first alien and longing to be discovered. Just like changing sceneries are considered organic in the world surrounding us, they are no contradictions in this musical cosmos. And even if they were, all polarities melt in the engulfing drones of the closing embrace of „The Return“.

What strangely enough has not yet been mentioned is why the album is just as potent today as it was almost twenty years from now: To me , the explanation is simply: It seems to come from the same spiritual cycle it set out to discover. It is a work of expectation, of anticipation, of hope and of imagination, born in a place where symbols have universal meaning and where seconds are hours and hours are days. It was born in dreamtime itself.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Steve Roach
Homepage: Projekt Records

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