Jazziz Magazine, February 1995 - by Mark Burbey
To visit Steve Roach at his home and studio in Tucson, Arizona is to visit the very source of his inspiration. The saguaro-dotted vastness of the surrounding desert is an energizing dreamscape, lonely and desolate yet teeming with spirits.
It was here that his symbiotic teaming with Jorge Reyes and Suso Saiz as Suspended Memories found its connective tissue, and it was here that the acclaimed Forgotten Gods album and portions of their second offering, Earth Island (both on Hearts of Space), were recorded.
Prior to its release, Roach likened some of Forgotten Gods to "a third disc to World's Edge," [his then-current double solo album] "but with a guitarist [Saiz] and with more Mexican, pre-Hispanic percussion and flutes [Reyes]." Earth Island goes much further toward melding the disparate styles and cultures of the three musicians.
Roach attributes the richer blend to the fact that it was recorded in a different setting. "With Forgotten Gods," Roach explains, "we had a very concentrated time in my home, in my one-room studio at the time, and with Earth Island we'd just come off a tour in Spain, so we were in a really heightened state of creativity from that whole experience. We were in a 24-track, digital studio in Madrid with an automated board and all that stuff which, for the way I work, is not so impressive to me in the long run. I prefer my studio, but, at the same time, being in an unfamiliar setting brought out something else in the music. I don't know exactly how to explain it, but the music itself is probably more involved; we had more tracks to work with and the compositions are more layered sonically. There are many different angles that you can kind of move in on, whereas I think Forgotten Gods has a more raw, on-the-edge, live performance feel to it."
A self-taught musician who has gone from performing in record stores in his early days to performing in international venues (including concerts in volcanic caves and craters in the Canary Islands and Mexico City, where he first met and played with Saiz and Reyes), Roach combines electronics and aboriginal acoustics to create a unique kind of atmospheric music that is variously unsettling, absorbing and transporting. His floating synths create icy, transcendental drifts into darkness. His organic electronics not only place the listener within the circle of ritual, it thrusts them into the fire.
With more than 20 releases to his credit, World's Edge, Origins and the just-released Artifacts represent his most fearless excursions into the heart of darkness. "(Darkness) is absolutely an element in the concept," Roach said, "and I think feeling comfortable with the shadows is something that's vital. Contrast and shadow is completely important in everything. It's really about forms coming into light from the unconscious. With World's Edge, I thought, 'Man, this is pushing it,' but I felt like, 'There's no question, I've just got to keep going in this direction.' This is being honest to the creative process. When I kept listening and feeling into the concept and the mood and the theme of this album, the whole idea was to just hold it and go deeper."
Continually shifting between the eerie and the sublime, this is not new age music, despite its being relegated to that section in your local record store. The standard notion that accessibility depends on traditional beats and predictable structures is especially specious in light of the way Roach's music sinks beneath the skin and immediately into soul and psyche. "There's a sense of longing in my music that I think has been there from the very beginning," Roach says. "It's often unresolved, and it's a longing that's kind of melancholy, but at the same time, very poignant; these are the feelings I really strive for."
Origins and Artifacts are no less products of emotion and instinct. "I would say that the organic quality is increasing, and the fact that I'm playing a majority of the instruments the percussion instruments and a variety of different ocarinas and the didgeridoos and my voice. I'm really interested in hearing what's deep inside the music and finding the appropriate instrument or sound that can bring that to life. A lot of times, I'm taking the instrument itself and sampling it, mutating it, blurring the whole line between its acoustic origin and its new-found digitally-bound life; putting those two together is really where the magic is, where the alchemy is in the music."
Whether in collaboration or solo, Roach remains true to his uncompromising vision. Unfortunately, he also remains in the quandary of being erroneously linked with the fading new age market, though there are signs that the techno-trance / ambient crowd is beginning to branch out and take notice, and Hearts of Space has encouragingly launched its new Fathom label, devoted to the darker, deeper brand of music that has been a part of its catalog for over ten years.
When asked if he would ever consider tailoring his music to attract a wider audience, Roach replied, "No, I don't even know how I would do that. I can't even think in that way. It's not like I feel that as I evolve as an artist I need to homogenize my music to get more people to come to it. I just feel that the vision is stronger and the desire is more intense than ever to go deeper into the center of the music. So that takes care of itself. If it's a financial situation, I'll do other things to get by. But I haven't had to do other things for several years. I create my music and perform concerts and produce other like-minded musicians and manage to maintain a simple lifestyle by doing that. I just think that's the reward of sticking to my guns: I'm able to have his time to develop my music and my craft, and I think that there's some justice in the world, who knows? [Laughs] Because I'm able to do that and live where I want to live, and pretty much create my own reality."