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Steve Roach: Destination Beyond

img  Tobias Fischer

Never being able to settle down has provided Steve Roach with the defining inspiration for his work: Behind the undeniable satisfaction of completing a new album lies the immediate urge to exceed it. Mapping out one sonic territory inevitably leads to the discovery of an adjacent, even more alien and intriguing landscape. And a seemingly simple idea will branch out into a neural cobweb of potentials and possibilities. Destination Beyond is thus not just another title in a wildly proliferating discography. At least to Roach, it is a philosophy of life and a sonic siting of his status quo. Into his fourth decade as an artist, two core strands have formed in his oeuvre: Rhythmically charged mantras as well as epic, freely floating meditations on time and form. Like winding paths through Roach's imagination, these have, as on his widely acclaimed 2007 full-length Arc of Passion, occasionally intersected, creating feverish and ecstatic prisms of both architectural serenity and emotional immediacy. Although Destination Beyond outwardly appears to be following a similar trajectory, it isn't merely creating a a stylistic collision. It literally fuses these two poles to a degree that one can no longer be separated from the other.

It is a proposition expressing itself in a single composition of seventy-one minutes. Running through its entire length is a continuous soundscape composed of a deep drone in the key of c and sustained string-tones, which occasionally coalesce into theme-like lines and variations, with the motive being passed from lower to higher regions in what appear to be entirely intutive processes. Around the three-minute mark, anthemic sequencers slowly start washing over this glacial field of yearning. They are driven by a deep, monolithic bass running at half the speed of the other elements and eventually open up into a panorama of myriads of both extremely short and expansive patterns. With unfaltering inventivity, Roach keeps their inner tension and frictions simmering, narrowing down the riverbed to a playfully babbling brook in one moment, only to expand it into a sweeping stream in the other. Almost half-way into the piece, the rhythms suddenly ebb away again and Destination Beyond enters into a long passage of timeless drift. For thirteen minutes, the listener is alone with the slow oscillation of the opening soundscape, its unperturbed surface and inner calm suggesting a space of contemplation and silence. And yet, Roach's mesmerising milling-machines return for one last round of dreamy palpitations, before allowing the music to finally fade away in perfect piece.

While percussive passages and ambient sections seem to take turns, they are, in fact, clearly conceptualised as a coherent and indivisible texture. Rather than propelling the soundscape forwards like wind pushing clouds across a clear blue sky, his rhythms seem to work like a powerful dam, through which the music passes like sparkling water. Ever since the tour de force of Proof Positive, Roach has established his unique own style of sequencing and it is strikingly present here as well: Instead of developing his lines through adjustments in their melodic content, gradual shifts in accent, timbre and density reveal continually new structures within the same construct. Despite their imposing sonic wideness - spreading out across a four full octaves - these sequences suspend time, drawing the listener into the moment, rather than locking him into their movement and confronting him with equally seductive and threatening washes of sound, with metalically rattling and sweetly humming patterns buzzing from left to right like sonic fireflies. It is astounding that there doesn't seem to be a single moment of mechanical repetition within this framework, as Roach presents his audience with discretely varied juxtapositions in which rotating layers are taking the lead each time, creating entirely different sensations from what seem to be identical elements.

These fundamental layers literally feed off each other, pushing the piece's main melodic motive from truncated three-note lines to jubilant fountains of quints in the acmes of highest density, cooling off to a virtually dormant ocean of loose tones in the quiet, contemplative moments. Shortly before the first long stretch of quietude is terminated, this continuous field seems to respond to the renewed advent of rhythm by creating more expansive melodic shapes again, as though it were being brought back to life with a cosmic defibrillator. It is here that one realises the underlying principle of Destination Beyond: The sequences are animating the soundscape, changing its colour, rate of transformation and character. In their complete absence, the action consequently grinds to a halt, like a radio bravely trying to keep playing while its battery is fading, the music wobbling and deforming, before dying down to a whisper, quiet crackle and then, finally, complete silence. It would certainly not be far-fetched to consider this coming and going as a metaphor for the spiritual process of creation, the breath of life blowing through inanimate matter and moving it.

Of course, there is neither an end nor a beginning to this process, which is why it feels as though the album were merely a puny extract from processes spanning ages. Which is not to say that it were dissatisfying, but merely that satisfaction is to be derived from something other than a definable destination: Home is where the heart is and Roach has lost his on the back seat of a streetcar forever racing towards the horizon.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Steve Roach
Homepage: Projekt Records

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