by Mark Morton, Wind and Wire
Steve Roach's "lost pieces" series of releases has a reputation for high quality and TEXTURE MAPS will keep that reputation intact. Indeed, fans of Roach's "atmospheric" style should consider this an essential addition to the collection. Additionally, almost half the recording is devoted to pieces made just before or after recording MYSTIC CHORDS & SACRED SPACES, so fans of that magnum opus will desire to obtain this set as well.
The collection opens with "Gray and Purple", recorded in 1987 during the DREAMTIME RETURN sessions. Roach believes that the origin of the "contrasting harmonic climates" of his later work is found here. Rather than the peaceful consonance of QUIET MUSIC or the mysterious mystic chords of DREAMTIME RETURN, "Gray and Purple" features expanded harmonies, and polytonality (different harmonies superimposed on each other). Here, the tones are played on synthesizers and allowed to drift into each other in a languid fashion, creating a mysterious, brooding contemplative atmosphere. The impression is of outer quiet and inner assessment. The "atmosphere" created is very effective and deep.
The second piece, "Artifact Ghost" is a short excerpt from a 90 minute atmosphere, parts of which were used on ARTIFACTS. Synths and samplers appear to be the main sound generators. Here, the sole intention is to create a sound landscape and all thoughts of tonality, poly or otherwise, are discarded. For me, it evokes images of a still desert night with mysterious shapes barely perceptible at the limits of vision. Rather than sounding ugly or atonal, it manages to sound ethereal. I hope the full 90 minutes will be available someday.
The next three pieces (referred to as "Spiral Triptych") are considered by Roach to be preludes to MYSTIC CHORDS & SACRED SPACES. They begin sounding a lot like the previous piece, but soon begin to morph into low sounding calls and responses formulated on some distant planet. The musical language focuses on interacting musical lines, with long releases and held notes combining with shorter and more modulated tones to create a denser atmosphere than the first 2 pieces. The beginning here appears to use heavy filtering to create a "submerged" sort of feel, like foghorns at the bottom of the ocean. The harmony created by the intersection of the multiple strands of sound is again, nontonal, accidental without sounding aleatoric. Halfway through, the piece becomes quieter as a prelude to a shift to the kind of tonality prevalent on MYSTIC CHORDS & SACRED SPACES. The final piece of the trio begins with the type of beautiful harmony that would not be out of place on QUIET MUSIC. Now the listener feels as though he is out of the submerged depths and in a well lit area of the galaxy, traveling serenely to an unknown destination. The pieces have an excellent flow to them, were enjoyed by me and will most likely appeal to those who appreciated MYSTIC CHORDS & SACRED SPACES.
The next, relatively short piece, "Bottomless 2" is from the same period that produced THE MAGNIFICENT VOID. Here, long sustained harmonic intervals are gradually modulated into something else, with much of the recognizable pitch content being altered or destroyed in the process. But the sound is reassuring rather than threatening. Again, it sounds as though synths were the main source of this piece. Quiet and serene without sounding serene, the piece is suggestive of the calm that is necessary for inner self-examination.
The final two pieces, "Quiet Sun "and "Soul Light" were created directly after MYSTIC CHORDS & SACRED SPACES. To my ears, these pieces sound so similar to parts 3 and 4 of MYSTIC CHORDS & SACRED SPACES that they could easily be considered an extension of that piece. They begin with intertwining intervallic strands that sound like acoustic spirals and gradually return to deep space atmospheres, subtly morphing all the while. The final minutes sparkle in a special way, as slow sounds combine with faster ones to produce a twinkling atmosphere that gradually fades In addition to being excellent closers to this fine collection, theses pieces bode well for Roach's future direction.
Interestingly, the pieces on this CD flow into each other, without pause, and despite the fact that they were created over a span of 16 years, have a seamless continuity that means that one would have to read Steve's liner notes to become aware of that fact.
This collection is essential for those who enjoy the atmospheric side of ambient music (Roach, Rich, Vir Unis, etc.) and a fine close to an excellent year for the artist.