by Linda Kohanov, CD Review
Thousands of years ago, so the legend goes, the Australian aborigines flourished in a garden paradise of intense beauty and indescribable power. When searing droughts ravaged the continent, this "Dreamtime" came to an end. But the tribes kept their songs and rituals alive, painting mysterious visions on sandstone walls signposts for returning in spirit to this vital, sacred world. Throughout his sojourn into the mythological mind of the aborigines, Steve Roach demonstrates that electronic music's greatest potential may lie in bringing our most elusive dreams and ancient memories into focus through potent, highly imaginative soundscapes. In addition to the atmospheric harmonies and rhythms that literally engulf you for two hours, this elegantly packaged set is appropriately lined with pictures of primitive Dreamtime art.
As photographer David Stahl writes in the notes: "The ancient magic the initiated knew in the bush may already be lost, yet a different magic, a universal subconscious longing for Dreamtime return is firmly planted today in the mind of modern man and in his heart." That longing and that magic is eloquently expressed through Roach's ambitious score. At the core of the Los Angeles-based artist's compelling style is his uncanny ability to create the illusion of suspended time. Altered chords that breathe ever so slowly, floating textures, digitally sampled aboriginal timbres, and arresting special effects lead you through a gently unfolding maze of sonic dimensions that depict a sense of mystery and confrontation with the unknown.
In addition, Roach's rhythmic instincts are rooted in tribal aesthetics where drums are used for ceremonial purposes, their trancelike repititions urging listeners toward that same sense of timelessness the composer thrives on. The effect is mesmerizing, increasingly retrospective, often challenging, yet curiously comforting as if the primitive wisdom and renewed connection to nature this music conveys is something you were craving all along. Roach had some help in creating these carefully executed Dreamtime reflections. Robert Rich's gourd drums and dumbeck, Kevin Braheny's stirring electronic woodwind solo on "The Other Side," and the haunting sounds of various aboriginal artists recorded on location in Australia provide an additional level of artistry and poignancy. The sound quality fully supports this momentous project, from the softly whispered sighs of the composer's synthesizers and the fragile glimmers of Chuck Oken's rainstick to the powerful thunder of digital drums and the reinforcement of some of the lowest tones you've ever heard emanating from your speakers. This is without question Steve Roach's masterpiece, and one of the most significant new age releases to hit the market.