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  • Writer's pictureSylvain Lupari

STEVE ROACH: Live at Grace Cathedral (2010)

Updated: Feb 12, 2022

A live album with pieces of his best last ambient albums

CD I 43:21

1 Embracing the Space 43:21

CD II 73:08

1 Merging with Grace 73:08

(DDL 116:29) (V.F.)


Steve Roach's universe is still amazing. The man likes to challenge the magic of sounds with recordings where the spiritual presence is the premise of his inspirations. Recorded in concert, in the mythical Grace Cathedral of San Francisco on June 29, 2007, LIVE AT GRACE CATHEDRAL wants to be the witness of the risks he likes to take. With its architectural curves that guide all the sound reverberations, this is the ideal place to structure the modulations and oscillations of an ambient music where the slow and morphic synth strata follow the architectural sinuosity of this old cathedral. To capture all the dimension and depth of his music, the American synth wizard proceeds with a very direct recording, with microphones suspended in the heights of Grace Cathedral. In doing so, the murmurs of a crowd hypnotized by the oblong synth flights add a spectral dimension to his music

Soft ghostly layers open Embracing the Space. Delicately intertwining synth layers form a peaceful musical maelstrom that increases in intensity by the sheer strength of its sonic expanse. Roach is a master of lifeless music, and the curves of Grace Cathedral beautifully sculpt the reverberating sinuosity of its sonic arches. Even in suspension and reflection mode, his music seeps through with a divine emotion that follows the modulations of his synth. It's a peaceful return to the roots of The Magnificent Void and the quietude of the sublime Structures from Silence. Laying down his music with all his creative assets, Steve takes advantage of the passivity of his works to modulate infinite musical possibilities. Discreet, the angelic voices that wrap themselves around the morphic strata of the 2nd part add a spectral dimension that suits well the relevance of his environment. The strength of the Californian synthesist lies in his ability to modulate his long ambient works. Thus, after the slow immersion of the first two parts of Embracing the Space, we dive into a sonic labyrinth with multiple tribal breaths. Nuanced breaths, which drag their echoes among sinuous strata, recalling the prosaic universe of Serpent's Liar and Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces.

Sonic strangeness, reverberating waves with sinister breaths, the opening of Merging with Grace seems to be born from the abyssal depths of a hellish world rather than from the curves of a pious cathedral. Majestically, Roach adds a subtle crystallinity of sound that shimmers in a diagram of plasma fusion. But the tone remains dark and very penetrating, even with the whispers of a crowd stunned by this immense veil of sound that engulfs every living thing. We are in the depths of Possible Planet and heavily we slide towards more musical layers which insufflate a heavy spirituality to increase its modular intensity with powerful synth impulses which abound among the only latent percussions that we find on this double opus. A discreet dynamism reappears on the 3rd part Merging with Grace with its strange jerky movements that resemble spasmodic sequences from a tribal universe under a cloud of strata as melodious as worrying. Intense and melodious Roach guides us through these sonorous meanders with a thousand sonorous subtleties with a magic touch, so much the emotion filters this ambient Mass which quietly dies out with a seizing 4th part where the reverberating power of the strata copulates with the serenity of a synth giving birth to its last breaths. A cross between Chronos, Dynamic Stillness and Immersion.

As far as I'm concerned, Steve Roach remains the reference concerning the so-called ambient and/or meditative music. He is one of the only artists in this field to create an emotion through his slow modulations which, for many ears, seem abstract. And yet, if you listen closely, you can hear and perceive the intensity of a solitary man who is driven by an existential quest. LIVE AT GRACE CATHEDRAL is one of his best moments of atmospheric music. There are plenty of references to titanic works such as Suspended Memories, Arc of Passion, Dynamic Stillness, Landmass, The Magnificent Void, the Immersion series and the unique Structures from Silence. Fans of the genre will love it!

Sylvain Lupari (May 5th, 2010) *****

Available at Timeroom Direct Bandcamp

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