Arc of Passion
by Tobas Fischer, Tokafi
One of the main themes of modern literature in the 20th century was the position of the individual in society. Superficially speaking, many contemporary composers are seemingly concerned with a similar topic, namely the relating of their music with that of others around them. The big difference between the two, though, consists in the way the artist sees his or her external influences. In the case of prose, they were obstacles to be overcome. In music, they have turned into objects of reverence and the musician into a weaver of a carpet-like system of references. Quality today often means how expertly an album borrows from the huge, evergrowing sound pool, and not how much it contributes to it. This is why we need more albums like ARC OF PASSION.
The story to this double-CD already reveals a lot about what distinguishes it. ARC OF PASSION is the absolute opposite of a conscious intellectual effort. In fact, in a sense, its pieces are byproducts. Their creation falls into a time of intense, concentrated and deeply rewarding work, including performances at the Philadelphia Gathering concert, radio performances and a twelve-hour long non-stop gig in Arizona. While driving from San Francisco to Southern California, Steve Roach was listening back to three of the tracks from the Philadelphia Gathering and a relationship between them started to reveal itself. A few days later, on July 7th 2007, he recorded the material to ARC OF PASSION in a single day.
Both typical and headstrong
With some artists, the most important albums are also the most typical ones in their discography. With others, it is the headstrong works that stick out. ARC OF PASSION, interestingly enough, is both. This is why the album's title is so fitting in this respect: The arc stretches from the ambient aspect of Steve Roach's oeuvre to his more rhythmic side, from the golden feeling of puckering sequencer lines to digital pads and from enveloping softness to confrontational rawness. The title track then fuses these elements in a one hour long emotional landscape of fibrillating digital dots, hidden subsonic bass echoes, moments of intense, motionless stillness and a heartfelt string motive, which repeatedly errupts into passionate melodic outcries.
All of this is significant for several reasons. For one, it shows that Roach, despite a career of almost thirty years, is still capable of approaching his art from a both playful and spontaneous angle. It also demonstrates that in his world, the choice of equipment and musical forms of expression is in no way equal to the piece itself. The aforementioned title track could, on the merit of its sound and structure, easily be categorised as an outtake of the sessions to last year's PROOF POSITIVE. Yet, Roach bends the limits of his fabric and dances on its outer edge, where the fibres have turned into spindly threads, uncovering secrets where tracks like "Westwind" or "Adreno Stream" had already ended.
Personality instead of Perfection
And finally, the album is a perfect example for the notion that it is not necessarily perfection that brands an album as a classic, but rather personality. It is the way in which "Moment of Grace" gushes open with a dazzling sequence of wounded chords until it has run dry into a tonally fixed wildwater stream of melancholic harmonics and pulsating drones. It is how Roach keeps it alive by continually inflating its surface by his creative breath. It is how the title track uses the smallest of variations in its rhythmic surface to present its underlying theme in continually changing colors, and how that piece streams forth from "Moment of Grace" in a fluent gesture, only to then be interrupted at its most hypnotic moment at around the thirty-minute mark for a change of discs.
The latter is certainly a radical decision, but also one among many which make up the special appeal of ARC OF PASSION. Of course, the real Steve Roach fan will have his deja vus and moments of recognition. But other than the obvious return of the composer's natural character traits, the work exists for its own sake alone, a product of the pure will to create. It may be logical that someone with such a long career as Roach should find it easy to fall back on his own strengths instead of quoting others in a bid for wide acceptance. But the fact that this has become an exception of sorts makes this an important album, not only in terms of Roach's own discography but the experimental music landscape overall.