Steve Roach >>> The Shaman of Electronic Music
BY // Nenad Georgievski
COURTESY // Blesok
Steve Roach is a unique figure in the contemporary ambient music. His albums consistently push the boundaries and theories about music itself by taking ambient music to places and locations that even Brian Eno himself never thought of. By recording on exotic locations in Australia and US he offers much more than music by allowing the ambient of these exotic places to come to expression. His last work is collaboration with Robert Fripp (King Crimson) titled as “Trance Spirits” and is topping the charts for instrumental music, which was one of the reasons for making an interview with this artist.
When a person listens to your records one can notice that it can’t be described by using the usual pop music vocabulary. I think that the most appropriate term would be sound sculpturing or an “ongoing process”. In the past due to the limited vocabulary it was described as New Age music. How would you describe the music you create?
SR: 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 I feel we are born to experience directly. Many of our current social structures and material concerns shut down the opening or build a complex array of plumbing to run through it. In anycase, these soundworlds offer a place where the bondage of western time is removed and the direct experience of the feeling of an expanded state of awareness is encouraged. Of course the soundworlds I choose to create and live within are the ones my nervous system responds to, and people aren’t necessarily going to respond to them in the same way but over the years its seems these many common points that we all share with in the human experience that my music reflects. I often refer to the words “visceral” and “being in the sound current” when describing my work.This is a prime area where I feel the measure of all my work… in the body, the vessel for spirit. So for me to create these sounds and rhythms and utilize my own body as the reflecting chamber is my direct way of living in the sound current that occurs naturally when the juices are flowing. From the feedback I receive this is something I know receptive listeners are feeling as well.
Also, do you think that by labelling it into a category the music is somewhat at a loss?
SR: Absolutely, the music suffers and potential new listeners miss out if a too hip to live journalists has an axe to grind or personal agenda about a kind of music they don’t understand or appreciate. It just seems a pity how an art form that is really just a few decades old has had to deal with so much misunderstanding on some levels.
As for the “ New Age” I feel the idea of new age culture as a separate popular entity and catch all term was more obvious in the 80′s and 90′s. Now much of this “culture” appears to have integrated into the mainstream awareness, the increased awareness of health, eastern ideology merging with west, yoga, shamanism and so on… I see it as a good thing. I see that the pop aspect of it have always been a problem in terms of the superficial qualities that make the cynical faction of the media focus towards. I personally felt my music reach at lot of people who were eager to hear something new when the NA tag was placed upon it, also a lot of misinformed reviews occurred by people that I could tell never listen to the music, just going on hear say. Beyond that, the real pure qualities of the so called new age helped to shift in awareness towards a music that is really about defyingcategories. I just make the music I am driven towards hearing, after that the categories game seems to be a some part of human nature. Out side of interviews its not something I ponder.
Do you remember the first recording that made an impact on you?
SR: That would have to be Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour. As a yongerster the sense of music creating another world was a strong memory that I still have. This was long before Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze, years later Timewind would be a significant opening for of a new door for me…
Also, while recording these albums you collaborated with Australian aborigines (Australia) as well as North American Indians (Kiva). Can you describe the process of creation of these two records? Can these records be considered to be World music records or you don’t feel comfortable with this term?
SR: Dreamtime Return was certainly a culmination of my deepest desires and aspirations up to that point. It’s where I feel came into my own as an artist. It was really an initiation for me on many levels including the connection to my own sound that I was constantly searching out. Most of all, it was a time of intensive personal growth and understanding. Also with the music, I felt that I’d left a lot of the European influences behind at that point, integrating them as well. This is when the relationship to my own land in which I’d grown up became really clear to me, starting with Western Spaces. Also the feeling of a sonic and spiritual bridge between the Southwest and the Australian outback was awakening. I spent a lot of time Joshua Tree outside of L.A. in the desert region. I grew up in the Southern California Deserts, Anza Borrego and others. So all of that was there for me to connect to in a deeply personal way. I was feeling a sense of spiritual expansion, out from beyond the desert I grew up in and was inspired by, to a much larger, less familiar landscape. This is when the Dreamtime concept started to unfold, Around this time I also saw the film by Peter Weir, The Last Wave, and hearing the first didgeridoo. That introduced me to at least a white filmmaker’ version of certain mystical aspects of the Dreamtime and Aboriginal culture in it’s own obviously diluted way. But still, it was a significant step in my growing fascination with Australia for many years. I had a friend who moved to Australia in the 60′s and came back with great stories of this faraway place that captivated me. It was alive in my subconscious for years. In the mid 80′s I was starting to work on preliminary pieces for Dreamtime Return, just gathering different impressions with no idea that I would be going to Australia. I really hadn’t thought about it much more than just fascination about the worlds out there, that you can travel to in your imagination Knowing I was working on this project, the owner of Fortuna Records at the time, Ethan Edgecomb, sent me a book “Archaeology of the Dreamtime”, about the time I was starting to get deeper into the project, around 1986. Probably within a month of receiving that book and reading it – which was from more of a anthropological point of view of the Australians Aboriginals in the Cape York area ( of Australia) – I received a phone call from a filmmaker who was working on a film called the Art of the Dreamtime. Using that very same book as a reference, he was producing a documentary for PBS and planning an expedition to that very same remote area in Cape York with a film crew from a university. One thing led to another, and I became the musician / composer on that expedition. They took care of everything for me so I was one of the crew members. It was just an unbelievable turn of events. The filmmaker said he first heard my music when he was traveling to Mexico through Texas and Structures from Silence was playing on the radio late at night across the desert. I remember him say at that he felt like he was in a Stanley Kubrick film. The feeling of synchronicity was overwhelming at times. Along with being in those remote Aboriginal sites for weeks, the entire project brought up so much in me that went way beyond music. Being at these sites, sleeping on the same dirt as the ancient people of the land and listening to pieces on headphones that I’d already created back in the Time before I ever imagined I would go to Australia was unforgettable.
So it was a tremendous opening for me as an artist, as a human being, and as a person who really listens with their ear to the ground very closely. That to me was a direct experience of how magical things can happen when you listen with your heart and mind. They continue to spiral out unfolding with a natural order. I feel the uninterrupted connection still reverberating from that point – the understanding that I came to during the 2 years of making Dreamtime Return. By 1989 I was back
in Australia for a second adventure that led to the project, Australia – Sound of the Earth.
It’s was directly after this second trip to Australia that I moved to Tucson and started a new life with my wife Linda Kohanov.
Kiva was created from a more traditional project point of view, We brought ourselves together after several weeks of pre-preparation. Ron Sunsinger was the one reasonable for gathering the indigenous sources. Once we met up we created our own Kiva, sacred space environment and continued to create the flow of the music. During the week we also recorded our own ceremonial performances in a fantastic limestone cave near Santa Fe, New Mexico, We then took these back the studio and continued to weave these into the mix. Both of these recordings are good examples why it so difficult to try and categorizes the end result as simply world music, at a loss for a term, really sine its often more than music as it enter into the realm of sacred sounds and elusive ancestral moments captured on the recording.
Do you travel the globe to study the sounds, instruments and rhythms; or is it more of an inner journey?
SR: At this point its more inner and by way for remote research, exploring and experimenting within the studio with new instruments and musicians that play unique instruments.
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