For New Age listeners who wish to stray from the beaten track, an encounter with electronica artist, ambient composer, and record producer Steve Roach brings its own unique rewards. In an atmosphere that often blends percussion and didjeridoo, he creates melodious music in Native American tradition and lays a foundation for sound expansion. Like his bent for making music with a bicycle, Roach is impossibly unpredictable and very possibly better for it. With his dozens of albums and collaborative efforts, he is well received by audiences and critics alike and is praised for imbuing techno music with an uncharacteristic lyrical quality.
Born in 1955, Californian Steve Roach hails from Aboriginal ancestry. He is an amateur motorbike racer who became hooked on electronic music after self-experimentation with the synthesizer in the mid-1970s. After teaching himself to play, Roach seized the new medium at a time that was ripe for the dawn of electronica.
With the release of his 1982 debut album, Now, Roach lost sight of all sense of aural boundaries—or so it seemed. By the time he released his second album, Structures of Silence on Fortuna in 1984, his sound had evolved far beyond the confines of what was then regarded as contemporary electronica. Through his original interpretations of the new media he brought a new sense and meaning to music. The album, with its title track and its two accompanying works, “Reflections in Suspension” and “Quiet Friend,” remains a favorite of yoga enthusiasts. For Roach it set the path of a musical course that he would ultimately follow into unknown frontiers.
The album Empetus followed in 1986, as did a three-volume set called Quiet Music —both from Fortuna. The expressive, New Age style of Roach’s work was by that time becoming clear. Roach’s next album evolved from an excursion to the Australian outback in 1987. The trip was taken at the invitation of director David Stahl, who brought Roach on location for the filming of a documentary. The film, called Art of Dreamtime, dealt with Aboriginal rock art. The resulting album by Roach is called Dreamtime Return. Already a work in progress when the film crew departed for Australia, Dreamtime Return was enhanced with taped bird calls from the Australian canyons. One track, called “Red Twilight with the Old Ones,” features the singing of native chanters. Hailed as a landmark recording, the two-disc album was released in 1988. Excerpts from the album were featured on the soundtrack for Stahl’s documentary.
In 1989 Roach went into a collaboration with David Torn and former Santana drummer Michael Shrieve for a double album called Leaving Time. A solo album, Desert Solitaire, appeared on Fortuna that year. Western Spaces and Stormwarning were released in 1990, on Chameleon and Soundquest respectively. During that era Roach relied heavily on an E-mu Emax sampler to create sounds.
During his trip to Australia with Stahl in the late 1980s, Roach had learned to make and play his own didjeridoo. He developed an affinity for the instrument, becoming hooked on the “didjeri,” like a child with a new toy. This fascination persisted, and he set out to explore the full expression of the instrument’s sound by means of a new album. When he sought funding for the album, an Australian artist and entrepreneur, Ulli Hansen, came forward to assist. With Hansen’s backing, Roach’s idea materialized.
The finished work, called Australia: Sound of the Earth, featured Roach and Australian native David Hudson, both performing on didjeridoo. Prior to beginning work on the album, Roach returned to Australia, where he traveled the continent by bus in what was ultimately an exhausting trip. His following of listeners who were attracted to his deeply ambient styles had grown steadily for over a decade. He now captured a new audience with the first inklings of what would evolve into tribal ambient electronica.
During the production of his didjeridoo album, Roach had moved to Tucson, Arizona, where he set up a recording studio called Timeroom. In 1991, while preparing for the release of Australia: Sound of the Earth, Hudson paid him a visit. During that visit Roach produced an album, called Woolunda, featuring Hudson exclusively on didjeridoo improvisations. Roach also founded a didjeridoo trio, called Suspended Memories, and produced an award-winning album for that group.
Born on January 1, 1955, in CA; married Cindy, 1991.
Began experimenting with synthesizers, mid-1970s; released debut album, Now, 1982; released Structures of Silence, 1984; released landmark double album Dream-time Return, 1988; with Robert Rich, released Strata, which stayed in top ten of Billboard’s New Age chart for six months, 1991; released Magnificent Void to sterling reviews, 1996; established Timeroom Studio, 1998; collaborated with Kevin Braheny, Vidna Obmana, Jorge Reyes, Robert Rich, Michael Stearns, Vir Unis.
Addresses: Office— Steve Roach Productions, 8987 Tanque Verde Rd., #309-PMB 227, Tucson, AZ 85749-9399, phone: (520) 760-0004, fax: (520) 760-0551, e-mail: [email protected]. Website —Steve Roach Official Website: http://www.steveroach.com.
Roach collaborated next with so-called sound sculptor Robert Rich on an album called Strata. After its release in 1991, Strata settled into the Billboard New Age top ten for six months. Roach was listed among the top ten artists by the magazine that year. He contributed to an encore album by Rich, called SOMA, which was also rated highly by critics.
Two new albums—Origins and Artifacts —appeared in 1993 and 1994 respectively, featuring Roach on did-jeridoo. By the time he recorded Artifacts he had begun experimentation also with an unusual new sound, which he featured on that album. He created this new music by plucking the spokes of a spinning bicycle wheel. The technique, according to Roach, was inspired when he was stranded in the desert one day with a flat tire on his Cannondale Super V bike. The Artifacts album, as a result, earned for Roach a rare music review in Sports Illustrated magazine. He earned modest recognition for pedaling the bike as well and finished in fifth place at the veteran men’s class of the Arizona Cannondale Cup series in 1995.
With the release of Magnificent Void in 1996, Roach increased his legitimacy in the musical mainstream by the sheer breadth of reviews. From Wired to Time magazines, critics gave generous kudos. In 1998 he established his own label, named for his studio, Timeroom, through which he produces and records his own mixes. He offers production and creative consulting services also.
Roach blends his time in the recording studio with an active tour schedule, preferring smaller, intimate audiences over extravagant venues. He is known for selecting concert backdrops that reflect the mood of his music, having performed inside lava caves in the Canary Islands and in volcano craters in Mexico.
His collaborations at the turn of the century have included recordings with ambient composer Vir Unis (John Strate-Hootman) on Body Electric for the Projekt label in 1999, and on Blood Machine for Green House Music in 2001. Earlier, in 1997, Roach featured Vidna Obmana on Cavern of Sirens, and he worked with Obmana again in 2002 on Innerzone. Both albums were released on Projekt.
Roach’s film work includes music and sound design for Stephen King’s Night Flyerin 1997 and for Pitch Black with Vin Diesel in 2000.
Structures from Silence, Fortuna, 1984; reissued, Projekt, 2001.
Empetus, Fortuna, 1986.
Quiet Music (three volumes), Fortuna, 1986.
Dreamtime, Fortuna, 1988.
(With Michael Shrieve & David Torn) The Leaving Time (double album), 1989.
Desert Solitaire, Fortuna, 1989.
Western Spaces, Chameleon, 1990.
Stormwaming, Soundquest, 1990.
Australia: Sound of the Earth, Fortuna, 1991.
(With Robert Rich) Strata, Hearts of Space, 1991.
World’s Edge, Fortuna, 1992.
Now/Traveler, Fortuna, 1992.
Origins, Fortuna, 1993.
Suspended Memories: Forgotten Gods, Hearts of Space, 1993.
Artifacts (includes bike music), Fortuna, 1994.
Suspended Memories: Earth Island, Hearts of Space, 1994.
Well of Souls, Projekt, 1995.
Kiva, Fathom/Hearts of Space, 1995.
Magnificent Void, Fathom/Hearts of Space, 1996.
(With Stephen Kent & Kenneth Newby) Halcyon Days, Fathom, 1996.
Amplexus, Projekt, 1997.
Lost plexus, Projekt, 1997.
On This Planet, Fathom, 1997.
(With Vidna Obmana) Cavern of Sirens, Projekt, 1997.
(With Roger King) Dust to Dust, Projekt, 1998.
Slow Heat, Timeroom, 1998.
Quiet Music, Celestial, 1999.
Light Fantastic, Fathom, 1999.
Dreaming… Now, Then: A Retrospective, Celestial, 1999.
Ascension of Shadows, Projekt, 1999.
(With Vir Unis) Body Electric, Projekt, 1999.
Ambient Expense, Fathom, 1999.
Solitaire: Ritual Ground, Projekt, 2000.
The Serpent’s Lair, 2000.
Midnight Moon, Projekt, 2000.
Live Archive, Groove, 2000.
Early Man, Projekt, 2001.
(With Vir Unis) Blood Machine, Green House Music, 2001.
Core, Timeroom, 2001.
Lost Pieces, Vol. 2: Truth & Beauty, Timeroom, 2001.
Pure Flow, Timeroom, 2001.
Streams & Currents, Projekt, 2002.
(With Vidna Obmana) Innerzone, Projekt, 2002.
Trance Spirits, Projekt, 2002.
Billboard, October 12, 1996, p. 93; March 1, 1997, p. 59; April 18, 1998, p. 64; March 25, 2000, p. 42; June 2, 2001, p. 33.
Down Beat, January 1994, p. 50; October 1995, p. 62; October 1995, p. 62.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 21, 2000.
Sports Illustrated, August 21, 1995, p. 12.
“Steve Roach,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (November 16, 2002).
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