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  • Writer's pictureSylvain Lupari

Steve Roach Sanctuary of Desire (2023)

A trip back in time with the presence of mind to change the color of the sounds, to update the effect of the sequences

CD1 68:52

1 Lucent 31:21

2 Departing Raven 16:02

3 Night Flower 9:35

4 Before I Leave 11:51

CD2 83:58

5 Sanctuary of Desire 25:39

6 The Elegance of Motion 29:12

7 Integration Being 7:20

8 Currents of Desire 12:24

9 Before . . . After 9:20

(2CD/DDL 152:50) (V.F.)

(Ambient Pacific School)

It seems ages since I reviewed a Steve Roach album. And it's not because the Arizona sound modulator is taking it easy. No, he's still as prolific as Stephen King can be behind his keyboard. Since the excellent What Remains, our friend Steve has released 2 live albums, Church of the Heavenly Rest - New York City and Alive in the City of Angels 2023. He also produces a monthly studio and/or live album for his Steve Roach Exclusive subscribers. And there are some nice little nuggets in the albums offered on this site. And on the subject of new studio releases, Roach made a purely ambient album at the beginning of the year, Rest of Life. And in between all these releases, the Arizonan musician-synthesist has found the time to make another gem that strikes the right balance between his meditative music territories and those a little more focused on the Pacific School model. SANCTUARY OF DESIRE plunges us between the meditative depths of his Immersion series, Structures from Silence and even Quiet Music, and the rhythms of Skeleton Key and earlier sequenced beats albums. A must for fans of the genre! For Steve Roach fans!

The first CD is one of serenity. And it starts with the very long Lucent, which juxtaposes the colors of its slow, enveloping movements right from the start. The texture is sewn into drones that are both heavy and light. The contrast in tonalities creates a delicious balance between Dark Ambient and the meditative esoteric genre of the first part of SANCTUARY OF DESIRE. Steve Roach's musical waves coalesce into a slow maelstrom where distant misty jets, like discreet threads of absent voices, melt into the mass of slow, humming winged movements of a giant Accipitriformes whose prey is the heaviness of our eyelids. This long, meditative 32-minute river is built on the repetition of layers whose subtle misty sprays are hummed with hues that sometimes whistle delicately in this ocean of suspended waves of sound. At times, I feel certain that the caress of sound that grazes my ears is the equivalent of that of an absent friend living in my memories. Redundant? Hmm...you have to listen carefully before judging, since there's a slight shift in the color of the timbres, in the range of the layers and in their emotional dimension. As far as I'm concerned, it's very conducive to relaxation, Roach's goal, and to sleep. Since the only times I've listened to this Lucent without falling asleep were for the purposes of this review. So, how do you describe 69 minutes of meditative and/or anesthetizing music on this first CD without rephrasing the same statements as its music? A difficult task! And it'll be the same for the minimalist rhythms on CD2. But if it can be, Departing Raven is even slower. The movement spreads its buzzing wings with the majesty of a stork's flight in hyper-slow motion. The anaesthetizing layers overlap over a distance of 16 minutes, blending the extremes of its anaesthetizing whirrings with synth layers of diaphanous mists. Night Flower is more linear. Its waves undulate with more distance between each, letting that spectral hum texture dragging in a more tenebrous ambient vision. Here again, our friend Steve plays on the nuances in these hummings, which at times whisper like a sibylline incantation. It was here that the nature of the sounds caught my ears, with this blend of human voices melting into the mass of drones. There's something very esoteric - I'd even say occult - about this fascinating silent prayer. Before I Leave invites us to slowly slide into the rhythmic phases of the second CD, with an ambience woven into the darker. At least, that's the impression given by the bright echo of the arpeggios. Steve drops them into a harmonic vision that stretches its spell. And they tinkle, they resonate with an incandescent glow in the resonances of those muffled explosions and shadows that float with ululations hummed faintly by a choir of absent voices. Before I Leave is a musical spell whispered by a piano that appears from nowhere, timidly replacing the keyboard, even dancing limply with the latter's tunes in these drones and misty winds that give a more musical texture to a dark ambient music haunted by a more industrial vision.

Remember Currents of Compassion that opens What Remains? Well, Steve has drawn on this inexhaustible rhythmic structure to give it more velocity, and tied these loops, which flutter vividly more than they roll endlessly here, to the first 4 structures on CD 2 of SANCTUARY OF DESIRE. And we remain fascinated, magnetized for the next 75 minutes, Before .... After is an ambient meditative ode. The title-track opens with guttural breaths, translucent filaments and drones that swirl into a slow mass of sound that waltzes over a distance of 3 minutes. Sounds sounding like breathlessness and/or quavering make up the rhythmic barrier that rises to counter this tenebrous introduction. This backbone will be the cornerstone of the rhythms on the second CD. The rhythm is already as agitated as a swarm of big butterflies fluttering in a slowly swaying vertical tube! Like if in a shamanic trance, gesticulating on the spot. The synth blades swoop down like winds of prey to trap the rhythm in its stationary motion. Steve Roach then deploys a whole arsenal of sounds and rhythmic elements in this long Sanctuary of Desire that could conjure up memories as far back as the Traveler and Empetus albums. One line of bass sequences dominates the rhythm with contracted pulses that mark time, while another line harmonizes its flow with a swarm of stationary sequences that flicker as nervously as the overlapping breaths born of the rhythmic barrier. These 2 rhythmic structures are juxtaposed in a spasmodic choreography that misty synth jets caress like the wings of a single-seater skimming the dance of a tribe in trance. The second part offers a kind of lull as Roach nuances the velocity and plays on the modulations of the rhythm, which unfolds with a jerky sequencer texture. This phase is more spasmodic, highlighting the floating synth harmonies that are like the rays of a sunset covering a tumultuous day. Bass chords add a dramatic dimension to this rhythmic approach, which is now cut into jerks and quietly submits its last beats to this envelope still dominated by this swarm of sequences that flicker as fast as a tiny tornado about to give up the ghost. The Elegance of Motion offers a superb rhythm of which the analog tone transports us to the frontiers of the excellent Skeleton Key. The bass shadows add a deliciously dark texture to this wonderful track. The rhythm is built on a structure of limpid sequences that roll in loops with inflections in its minimalist vision. Pulsating basslines frame this delicately hopping backbone, along with discreet metallic elytra rattling and organic, rattlesnake-like percussive effects. Simply hypnotic and spellbinding! The more musical, orchestral layers counterbalance this dark textural aspect with slow movements from which translucent filaments emerge, a little like azure blades in a panorama of contrasts. Contrasts that are also to be found in the rhythm and tonality of the sequences, as well as in the fluctuation of their flow. A great track where its rhythm is as magnetizing as Steve Roach's finest moments of ambient melody. Like Sanctuary of Desire, Integration Being highlights this frenetic membrane with a spherical flight of a core of sequences that tread water in a drifting circular tube. This texture of stationary rhythm rises and falls in a vision as melodic as rhythmic. A succession of bass sequences relativizes this nervous movement, a little like in The Elegance of Motion, with beats that diminish force and impact, as much as the layers of voices that encircle and hem in its rhythmic activity. This bass, beating as slowly as a living body in hibernation, activates the movement of Currents of Desire. Twisted synth effects contort themselves into the Aeolian chants that abound on this Steve Roach double album. The rhythm, as frenetic and stationary as ever, gets under way as early as the second minute. It always draws these narrow, short circles that roll along tirelessly, weaving this bewitching spasmodic texture that always rests tenderly on a slower movement of the sequencer. Like in Before I Leave, arpeggios fall sparingly on this rhythmic framework derived from the concept of the long title-track, while Linda Kohanov crumbles the roars and rustles of her violin and viola. Before . . . After takes us back to the ambient dimensions of SANCTUARY OF DESIRE, with floating drones that give us the sensation of drifting into an immensity of sound delicately adorned by luminous arpeggios. Their glassy tinkling fractures a vague melody scattered between these layers of anaesthetizing mist and the discreet vocal layers that envelop the secrets of this beautiful meditative track.

So ends SANCTUARY OF DESIRE, another musical and sonic magic trick from Steve Roach, who year after year finds a way to seduce with recurring themes that he remodulates and updates with as much passion and emotion as he did at the dawn of the 80's. A return to the past? Yes, it is! But with the presence of mind to change the color of the sounds, update the effect of the sequences and harmonize these new contrasts into an electronic symphony of unparalleled richness.

Sylvain Lupari (November 9th, 2023) *****

Available at Projekt Records Bandcamp

(NB: Texts in blue are links you can click on)

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