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CD Feature/ Steve Roach: "Fever Dreams I-III"

img  Tobias

In a way, music is not that different from an equity fund: How much you invest in it will decide what you are going to get in return. Driven by this logic, Steve Roach’s discography has been indelibly marked by big releases of awe-inspiring dimensions: “Dreamtime Return”, “World’s Edge” and “Well of Souls” (with Vidna Obmana) were double albums, “Quiet Music” constituted a tryptich, while “Mystic Chords and Sacred Spaces” stretched to a majestic box set of four CDs. And yet, in terms of conceptual ambitions, the “Fever Dreams” project may well constitute his most daring effort yet.

Of course, one could argue that ever since Roach inaugurated the Timeroom imprint as his personal channel of communicating with his audience on a one to one-basis without having to heed the skewed logics of record company release policies, all of his records have been part of a single, interconnected body of work, a dimly glowing quilt of sound meticulously sewn and stitched together in a dream-like trance outside of time and space. And then, of course, there’s the ongoing line of “Immersion” zones, to which he has already dedicated a full five discs.

There is a subtle, but majorly important difference between aforementioned publications and “Fever Dreams”, however. While “Immersion” and “Quiet Music” were scored from a particular compositional perspective and with very concrete ideas on form and sound in mind, “Roach conceived Fever Dreams” as a veritable trilogy, implying a continuous narrative and a long-term development of motives.

Which is why the first chapter of the series, released in 2004, can be regarded as a classical overture, already introducing some of the themes and setting a mood, while still working as a composition in its own right: Disparate atmospherics and loose strains of undulating string resonance lead the listener straight into a multilayered groove of razorsharp rattlesnake-hisses and laid-back shakers, before Patrick O’Hearn’s deep Dub-bass comes sliding in seductively at the three-minute mark, propelling “Wicked Dream” on with a subcutaneous sexuality. 

The conscious dissolution of the polarity between feelings of security and alienation is clearly apparent in these very first moments and was to be continued over the next parts. While “Fever Pulse” and “Moved Beyond” are prismatic visions of shimmering brightness and confounding chordal complexity – derived from counterpointing and collaging initially unrelated guitar drones into obliquely opaque textures – the spiritual core of the record manifests itself on “Tantra Mantra”, a potentially infinite plain caressed by Roach’s suggestive harmonies and the pulse of Byron Metcalf’s discreetly insistent Frame Drums.

While the spatiousness of the first installation still lends it a weightless ambiance, “Fever Dreams II” is increasingly marked by delirating states in between different worlds. Accompanied by a short extract from Stanislav Grof’s book on holotropic states, “Psychology of the Future”, the album has a more poignant approach, with pieces mostly clocking in at the eight minute mark on average and offering clear melodic arches, powerfully psychedelic beats and Jennifer Grais’distinct Native American chant on the two interrelated tracks “Opening the Space” and “Heart's Core”. 

While “Fever Dreams II” eschews the languid liniarity and floating borders of its predecessor, replacing them with more demonstrative delineations, it manages to deepen the trance by infusing its audience with a sense of hypnotic estrangement. There are moments of petrifying plasticity here, both in the short segments seaguing two subsequent pieces (a breath of wind caressing a bell upon a fog-swept field at the end of “Energy Well”, for example) and in the slowed-down shrapnell tectonics of “Metamorphic”. By the time 21-minute dreamstate “Holding the Space” kicks in, replete with delicate hihats and streaks of rattle flowmarks buzzing from the left to the right of the stereo image gradually concretising into a seductive groove, the listener is already beyond wordly categories.

All elements are brought to a climactic conclusion on “Fever Dreams III”. Opening with the sleepwalking legato sequencer footsteps and cyclical neonlight-melodies of “Electro Erotic”, the album flows straight into the surreal magnetism of pivotal piece "MetaSense”, all subsequent tracks feeding from its delayed acid impulses, minimal hihat-pattern and onomatopoetic organ swells. The two first tracks are finally fused and reconsiled in a sensual symbiosis on the romantic fantasy of “Moonshroud”, before “Fever Dreams III” reluctantly grinds to a halt in a muted scream of muffled drums and underworldly echoes.

The notion of mutual correlation and of different themes being cloned with minute variations or entering beweildering genetic transmutations is essential to all three volumes: Returning sheets of sound are played against each other to form new permutations and even single, recognisable notes wander like fen lights from one track to the other. The most drastic example of this approach is the return of “Tantra Mantra” on Disc two of “Fever Dreams III”, which recapitulates the original composition, reducing it to the essence of drums and atmospheres while stretching its fabric to a staggering 72 minutes. 

Spending time with and in these albums means taking a leave from quotidian life. There is a permanent rhythmic pulse beating underneath these harmonically transfigured textures, but thanks to a technique of deep layering, which draws the listener away from the percussive pulp and towards a core of whispering nebulas, the beats are all but cancelling themselves out. In this process of shifting perspectives, you are starting to discover inherent connections and relations – even where there are none. 

Comparing and analysing the music will probably lead one to the conclusion that the meticulously planned architecture of “Fever Dreams”may rather be the result of a subconsciously stimulated mind than a tangible and strictly formulated script. This should not slight its acchievement in any way, however. Creating the impulse of going this far in its audience and of gladly investing this much is what distinguishes the series and makes it stand out among Steve Roach’s huge, interrelated body of work in the new millennium.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Steve Roach

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