by Tobias Fischer, Tokafi
Steve Roach is not your typical 70's musician, and this is not your average 70's album. Yet it has a clear retro feeling to it. It all starts with the dry and poignant remark printed on the first page of this double-fold out Digipak filled with neuronal imagery and shattering sci-fi spinal cord graphics: "Created mostly on analog modular and real analog synths with lots of knobs". To be clear about things right from the start: PROOF POSITIVE is a sequencer album.
This will not come as a direct shock to all Roach fans, as he has always allowed his music to be infused by a rhytmical pulse and, unlike many of his fellow travellers from the pioneering days, never put aside the old equipment entirely. Which is why this is definitely not a step back, but merely the most consequential in a string of releases which have combined analog sound creation with the most modern sampling and software technology.
What does give PROOF POSITIVE that "old school" vibe is the immediately recognizable "musical" way in which he utilizes his sequencers. While techno and acid (both scenes have embraced Steve as a sort of father figure) have purposely de-humanized the trademark machine of the early days of electronics, turning it into a "tool" rather than an instrument, Roach plays his babies like someone would play a trumpet, a trombone or a piano. Minimal changes in accent, subtle shifts in pattern, the congenial juxtaposing of melodic lines to create an entirely new sensation. No computer in the world could acchieve the same result with this precision, accuracy and flair.
If, upon casual listening, the album sounds almost too smooth on the surface, then that only adds to the praise. You'll discover the deeper structures later. Of course, the idea becomes clearest in the two long pieces opening and closing the record, when the beat is somehow always present, even when it has faded to a faint whisper. But the more compact tracks, such as the three-minute "Essential Occurence" are of equal inner wideness, with spaceous string textures running underneath the tonal current.
The fact that all of this was mainly improvised over endless solo jam sessions in the studio only adds to the 70's feeling mentioned in the first paragraph. If there is one aspect which doesn't fit the picture (besides the irredescently polished sound), it must be that these pieces all follow the rules of decay, starting at their peak and then slowly disintegrating from there, lending them an air of melancholy. But then again, Steve Roach never claimed to be a disciple of "flower power" anyway.
Steve Roach was so kind as to respond to this review with some interesting information on the album's genesis. This is what he mailed us:
"Just wanted to mention these pieces were not created in a flurry of endless jam sessions. It was kind of a strange occurrence, but there was no excess or leftovers from this period of time when these were recorded, over about a 6-month span. I would sit down, fire up the studio, carve up the sounds while dialing up the sequences, and record it in the same time that it takes you to hear the piece. Done. No other takes, just live to the DAW (digital audio workstation), in a sense like taking a photo and moving on. In my mind it's not really an improv; I think of them as spontaneous compositions. On a few pieces I came back and added a few understated elements, but I really felt adding anything to these pieces was was like tacking on an unconnected element to a painting, sculpture or photograph that was created in a single session and hence, complete."