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CD Feature/ Steve Roach: "Fever Dreams III"

img  Tobias

Everything has a beginning and an end, I remarked in the closing paragraph of my review of Steve Roach’s latest “Immersion” contribution and this makes for a nice way to start a look at “Fever Dreams III”. For the third installment of the series, initially scheduled for release in 2004 and then postponed for a full three years, effectively closes this chapter in Roach’s oeuvre with a double disc set that brings his total output over the last six months to five CDs. A staggering amount for most artists, but nothing but a number for a man who has long left the typical paths laid out by the music industry – in terms of distribution, output and, as the record at hand once again proves, music.

Steve Roach could certainly have made things easier for himself by simply repeating the formula of “Dreamtime Return”, which marked his breakthrough in 1988, forever. Noone would have complained or denounced him as conservative for it, either: There was still enough uncharted territory were that album came from for a couple of releases more, as he went on to demonstrate himself with “New Life Dreaming” and “Possible Planet”, albeit more than a decade later. Instead, he split his pieces down to their atoms, building entirely autonomous worlds from what seemed to be mere textures. “Fever Dreams III” shows just how far he is willing to go with this approach.

On disc one, he presents eight tracks, some of which are the most concise of the series. While there is a strong focus on spookey atmospheres and hauntingly swelling chord clusters, a rhythmic current is running through all of them, be it in the form of razorsharp hihats, majestically rolling frame drums or growling bass lines. Despite their general concentration on a few select elements, the first seventy minutes are highly versatile as a whole, taking one from seductive eroticism and open trance states to disentangled ambiences. The darkly brooding “Phantom Fever Rising” then marks the bridge between this collection of readily accesible compositions and the seventy-two minutes of “Melted Mantra”, which makes up the complete flipside. Drummer Byron Metcalf, the only steady “Fever Dreams” factor besides Roach, joins in for an opaque memory of the piece “Tantra Mantra” from volume one and the duo come rising up from complete silence to a pervasive groove filled with sturdy strokes, smeared-out harmonies and myriads of rustling and bubbling sounds. For its entire duration, this setting remains unaltered, as the musicians stay within the dictates of their self-chosen pulse, only allowing Metcalf to finally fade away slowly, leaving the last minutes to Roach and his intertwined webs.

It has become a custom to classify tracks like this one as “hypnotic” because of their fundamentally repetitve nature, but despite its meditative character, it is anything but certain that this was really one of the intentions. Everything on “Fever Dreams III” instead points at a different interpretation, closely connected to Steve’s interest in shamanism, Möbius structures and “the places in between”:

To perceive music as something of direct relevance to our lives again, we must learn to let go of the notion of it existing in a sphere of its own, the abstract world of the arts. By violating all generally accepted rules associated to development, Roach has managed to destroy the idea of these tracks constituting “compositions” made up of concepts like melodies, harmonies, an arrangement and a tension arch and offered a chance to regard them as a part of our environment, as natural as birds singing in your garden. A counterpoint to Eno’s principles, this is “Conscious Ambient”, which wants to be played at regular volume levels and does not regard its audience as mere “listeners” or “objects for acoustic irradiation”, but as creative“participants” building their own impressions by spending a short period of their lives within the music’s shell.

To get back from where we started: In this case, the end really is the beginning of something new.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Steve Roach

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