Steve Roach is a unique figure in the contemporary ambient music. His albums consistently push the boundaries and theories about music itself by taking ambient music to places and locations that even Brian Eno himself never thought of. By recording on exotic locations in Australia and US he offers much more than music by allowing the ambient of these exotic places to come to expression. His last work is collaboration with Robert Fripp (King Crimson) titled as “Trance Spirits” and is topping the charts for instrumental music, which was one of the reasons for making an interview with this artist.
When a person listens to your records one can notice that it can’t be described by using the usual pop music vocabulary. I think that the most appropriate term would be sound sculpturing or an “ongoing process”. In the past due to the limited vocabulary it was described as New Age music. How would you describe the music you create?
SR: The willful intention in all my music is to create an opening which allows me to step out of everyday time and space into a place I feel we are born to experience directly. Many of our current social structures and material concerns shut down the opening or build a complex array of plumbing to run through it. In anycase, these soundworlds offer a place where the bondage of western time is removed and the direct experience of the feeling of an expanded state of awareness is encouraged. Of course the soundworlds I choose to create and live within are the ones my nervous system responds to, and people aren’t necessarily going to respond to them in the same way but over the years its seems these many common points that we all share with in the human experience that my music reflects. I often refer to the words “visceral” and “being in the sound current” when describing my work.This is a prime area where I feel the measure of all my work… in the body, the vessel for spirit. So for me to create these sounds and rhythms and utilize my own body as the reflecting chamber is my direct way of living in the sound current that occurs naturally when the juices are flowing. From the feedback I receive this is something I know receptive listeners are feeling as well.
Tapping into the creative process at this direct level simply feels like a birthright.
#2 Also, do you think that by labelling it into a category the music is somewhat at a loss?
SR: Absolutely, the music suffers and potential new listeners miss out if a too hip to live journalists has an axe to grind or personal agenda about a kind of music they don’t understand or appreciate. It just seems a pity how an art form that is really just a few decades old has had to deal with so much misunderstanding on some levels.
As for the “ New Age” I feel the idea of new age culture as a separate popular entity and catch all term was more obvious in the 80’s and 90’s. Now much of this “culture” appears to have integrated into the mainstream awareness, the increased awareness of health, eastern ideology merging with west, yoga, shamanism and so on… I see it as a good thing. I see that the pop aspect of it have always been a problem in terms of the superficial qualities that make the cynical faction of the media focus towards. I personally felt my music reach at lot of people who were eager to hear something new when the NA tag was placed upon it, also a lot of misinformed reviews occurred by people that I could tell never listen to the music, just going on hear say. Beyond that, the real pure qualities of the so called new age helped to shift in awareness towards a music that is really about defying categories. I just make the music I am driven towards hearing, after that the categories game seems to be a some part of human nature. Out side of interviews its not something I ponder.
In many interviews you pointed out the German musical scene from the 70s like Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schultze, etc as some of your early influences. In what way did they influence you and do you see yourself as part of that tradition?
SR: 25 years ago the music of the so called German school and so on was a significant part of my search for new sounds and exploring new artistic philosophies. It was helpful in opening the door to other possibilities. As I started to explore my own inner musical impulses and my connection to my own environment I would leave much that world behind in the early 1980’s. It is safe to say the influences of this era could be traced within the deeper fabric of today’s work. Popul Vuh, Klaus Schulze, Ash Ra Temple, that was all quite exotic for young guy in Southern California in the mid 70’s who was not interested in the Beach Boys and American pop music at that time in the US. Another important early phase was my love for the minimalism school, Glass, Reich and Riley in the 80’s. I have some great concert memories of being front row centre for Philip Glass ensembles Einstein “On The Beach” “Glass Works” and so on. Same with Steve Reich, Music for 18 musicians, Drumming, Octet and so on. This music was something I was quite drawn towards especially in the live setting even more than listening on records at the time. It was rare for me the listen to Philip Glass at home but I was always ready for the concerts. On the other had the early Berlin School, TD, Schulze, Ash Ra, Can was something that I listened to often and was quite taken by because of the surreal and textural nature combined with the primal power of the sequencing has always been intoxicating and mind opening for me. Naturally the common these between these different schools was the repetition either by the constant movement of live players or sequencer driven trance, I wanted to experience all of it at a deep level.
Do you remember the first recording that made an impact on you?
SR: That would have to be Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour. As a yongerster the sense of music creating another world was a strong memory that I still have. This was long before Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze, years later Timewind would be a significant opening for of a new door for me…
#4 How did your interest in electronic music evolve?
SR: Its been a long, wonderful and strange trip indeed. When I set out to live the creative life as a sound sculptor it was a different time to say the least. In the mid 70’s this music was still being born, especially in the states. There were almost no labels, no real radio support, a few underground magazines like Eurock and Synapse, the latter of which I also wrote for, but compared to today with the internet as the hub of all things it was the dark ages. One can only imagine trying to hook up with like-minded people or get your music to people beyond your immediate reach. It was also an incredibly exciting time with impending changes in the air. The frontier of consciousness expanding music was clearly growing and this impetus was spawning many new instruments and small companies that often came and went as fast as they appeared. I set out to do electronic music against many odds but my passion to live in the sound current was all that mattered, and this is what drove me through all the highs and lows and beyond the naysayers.
At that time only a handful of people around me knew what I was talking about when I would start on these born-again tirades about the “music of the future”. There really was a feeling of being a part of something significant in a historic sense. To witness all these changes and to meet and work with many of the people helping to bring all this together in such a short time was nothing short of fantastic.
It was just 20 years ago that getting your music onto an LP or a cassette run was a major accomplishment. Then there were the tasks of gathering names from underground sources and mailing packages and letters to each and every one. It was a grassroots effort where I felt like every cassette or LP sent out was like a personal connection. My obsession to live these soundworlds just keeps feeding the fire more everyday.
The music you create has a strong awareness of its surroundings i.e. it reflects the ambient in which it was created, especially the deserts. One can feel the heat of the desert and the presence of the desert itself and you have also recorded in desert locations in Australia and Arizona. In what way does the desert inspire you and your work?
SR: The desert is my home in the truest sense of the word. I have never found any other environment that feeds me like this place. The long distance views, the extreme and often subtle displays of life, death and the display of time in motion are constant. By immersing myself in this environment and taking cues from its rhythms, its extremes of heat and cold, its profound moments of silence and the effect these things have on my own body and psyche, I find the music will often compose itself when I return to the studio. The idea is to not represent the desert in a literal -musical way, but to tap into the invisible, primordial source that expresses itself most eloquently through the desert, to let that force influence my work. These feelings would be difficult to capture in words, and if I were to try to plan a composition around them in some intellectual way, I would be sure to fail. It is a matter of responding to each and every moment authentically, instinctually and at a visceral level.