Streams & Currents
by John Darnielle, New Times L.A.
January 17, 2002
Like an evening in an immersion tank, Steve Roach's STREAMS & CURRENTS is something rather more easily experienced than described. Roach, a longtime fixture of the non-genre unfortunately saddled with the term new age, composes long, contemplative pieces in which very little movement takes place, making those few shifts that do occur all the more momentous. Here, everything's live, all terms being relative: Playing a guitar through various processors in his Tucson studio, Roach erects glacial sound-structures that don't fade into the background of whatever room they're playing in so much as they insinuate themselves into the nooks and crannies of the listener's consciousness. Listening to the 14-minute "Almost Touching" is like watching the moon rise; there's no audible inflection here, just the fluid trajectory of the piece's almost imperceptible development.
In place of normal compositional dynamics, STREAMS & CURRENTS offers a quiet but intense focus on the depth of the overall sounds in play. Much of the music in the New Age section of your local record store is little more than muted film soundtrack stuff, and you'd be better off eliminating the middleman and listening to the love theme from Spartacus. Roach is different, hunkering down with music's most basic elements and giving them ample room to breathe. It's the sort of music one could imagine as accompaniment for spelunking expeditions or deep-sea diving: slow, rich tones whose comings and goings occur unannounced, more felt than heard. Over repeated listenings, the album's six dreamlike pieces reveal subtle shadings and gradations of mood and texture. "Created for low volume continuous playback," reads the legend on the back of the CD case. Follow the directions, and you can't go far wrong.