Well of Souls
by Thom Jurek, Detroit Metro Times
August 23, 1995
This double CD is an extension of the collaboration between composers Vidna Obmana and Steve Roach which began with the release of Obmana's THE SPIRITUAL BONDING which Roach produced and performed on. WELL OF SOULS is contemporary music that exists outside categories, and perhaps lies beyond the ability of our language to describe.
Roach and Obmana (Belgian composer Dirk Serries) have created a landscape of transformative sound with drums, shakers, samplers, synthesizers, voices, didgeridoos, and assorted other instruments and voices. It is music in the purest sense; it contains timbre, pitch and rhythm, but it's also much more, it is language itself. The eight thematically-linked pieces on WELL OF SOULS are a veritable sonic dreamscape that stretches time to the point of disappearance.
Inside it, lies a passageway to a collective, primal unconscious, where images are evoked, memories encountered and emotions aroused. This occurs through the composers' use of nebulous drones, and gorgeous passages of pure sonics drift where the boundaries between music, sound, listener, musician and outer and inner worlds blur; impression and texture become the hallmarks of expression and experience.
As a set, WELL OF SOULS begins at the doorway of the interior. Here, sound meets matter and makes permeable its resistances, allowing exchange and flow. On "In the Presence of Something," the drones and drums navigate the terrain. The music exists in a void that is equal parts emotion, unspeakable beauty and time immemorial. In her stunning poem that serves as the collection's liner notes, Linda Kohanov states: "There is no way to anticipate the benediction of that secret arrival. It's not like falling head first into a WELL OF SOULS. We are already surrounded by those waters."
On "In The Realm of Twilight-Outlands One," the soft, blurred shadows of the drift are everywhere present; sounds emanate seeminlgy at random, and the only thing anchoring listener and musician are subtly insistent rhythms, whispering through the mix.
On "Secret Arrival-Outlands Two," what seems like the sound of a door being opened repeatedly creates uneasy sensations; we've left the realm of music altogether for somewhere unlocatable. Past is present and present is future; all exchanges are fluid. It's a bit frightening, but all true discoveries are.
"The Gathering," closes disc one-at a full 24 minutes-and prepares us for the formlessness of disc two. It's ceremonial, not static; it flows constantly, shapeshifting in the ear of the listener making the hints of melody difficult to hold for more than a second or two, before getting lost in the beautiful ambiguity again Drones and rhythms caress each other seductively and whisper of what's to come.
Disc two emanates from and returns to silence. In the quiet, mountains become valleys, rivers become oceans, and nothing is what it seems. We encounter the composer's vision, here, more naked than nude, seeing and hearing everything in its state of origin and transformation.
The restraint Roach and Obmana use shows a resolve almost unmatched in contemporary music. The music is allowed to reveal itself and direction gets determined by its own movement. Images and memories come out of the ether and linger in a primordial shimmering darkness.
When we reach, "The Dwelling Place," which ends the set, we realize that something remarkable has happened. Varying textures and atmospheres create an ever widening territory for experiential contact with and the unknown. Individual instruments and electronics have longed ceased to matter and cannot be discerned.
What happens in WELL OF SOULS is an unequalled achievement, and nothing in ambient or space music an be compared to it. It is organic, graceful and nebulous; it approaches the realm of the sacred.