Pick of the Week

Sight and Sound

When trying to put a label on composer and performer Steve Roach's music, an intrepid cataloger will not have an easy time. On the local musician's Web site (steveroach.com), the terms ambient, atmospheric and electronic are used to describe his work.

Roach says ambient music "... is more environmental and can become part of your living space." Sometimes heard in the background on television shows and in movies, the genre is defined by Wikipedia as "... music that would envelop the listener without drawing attention to itself ... characterized by integration of electronic, electric and acoustic musical instruments."

Integration is an appropriate term used to describe Roach's music. His atmospheric pieces "... create a sense of expansion. ... It's what one would feel when looking up into space," he explains. And his electronic music blends rhythmic and tribal elements to create a dynamic sound.

With the use of items ranging from synthesizers, rocks and seeds to the didgeridoo, Roach's music comes in many forms. But whether it's serene music or "techno-tribal," there is one common theme throughout.

"In my style of music, it's a common occurrence to have an uninterrupted flow," says Roach. His latest CD release, Immersion: Two, contains one piece entitled "Artifact Ghost" and runs for 73 minutes. Because of its continuous, flowing nature, the piece "can play for two days, and you never grow tired of it," says Roach. And he elegantly suggests "it adds the perfect blend of incense to your living space."

Roach began creating his blend of ambient, atmospheric and electronic music in the late '70s. According to his Web site, Roach's Dreamtime Return and Structures From Silence albums were voted in the "25 Most Influential Ambient Albums of All Time" in a 2002 poll conducted by the now-defunct New Age Voice magazine. His music has also been featured in the films Heat, Pitch Black and 187. He started his own label, Timeroom Editions, in 1998. Roach has 18 releases on the label, all his own work.

Roach's latest DVD, Kairos: The Meeting of Time and Destiny, combines music and visuals. "I've been using visuals in music for 20 years," he says. "This original project started in 2000 at a concert in Golden Gate Park. ... It was in a more raw form. I started adding more visuals from other artists. I was able to shape it into a concise and dynamic (form)."

Kairos, produced and edited by Tucson-based video and music producer Roger King, contains eight continuous tracks of music and the work of five light, film and digital artists: Lynn Augstein, Steve Lazur, Steven Rooke, John Vega and John Wadsworth. The visuals range from nature scenes to computer animation. Reviewer Phil Derby from Electroambient Space writes, "The mind-altering visuals are like having your own laser light show at home."

The music fuses meditative, rhythmic and environmental sounds. One moment, you may hear a clap of thunder, and moments later, an electronic beat. Afterward, you hear expansive sounds that could be characterized as space music--like the music you might hear at a planetarium. The term "space music" was coined by radio producers Stephen Hill and Anna Hill.

With such a wide array of sounds on the DVD (you can see and hear clips on Roach's Web site), it's easy to understand why he says he works like a visual painter. A piece of visual art is not created in one sitting. And neither are Roach's creations. He will work on different angles, coming back to a piece many times.

But Roach does not look at time in a common fashion. The DVD's complete title, Kairos: The Meeting of Time and Destiny, is named after a purpose of Roach's music: "to alter the sense of day-to-day time and move from a nonlinear sense of time."

In this meeting of time and destiny, one can experience a nonordinary sense of reality. Roach says it's a place where many things are possible. "It's the recognition of a moment in the present and responding to that, drawing from that creatively. ... In my DVD, I share a sense of that with people."

Roach says he is personally inspired by the Sonoran Desert. After living in Los Angeles for 12 years, he moved to Tucson in 1990. He says he fell in love with the area the day he arrived. Reminiscing about the feelings he had as a child visiting the desert in California, Roach says he feels like he is home here.

Fans of Roach's work know about his love of the desert and come from far and wide to see him perform here. He says at least 100 people travel from different parts of the country to see him in Tucson. Last year's concert at The Muse sold out. Perhaps in regard to ticket buying and Roach's Meeting of Time and Destiny, it's appropriate to say time is of the essence.

Steve Roach presents a concert of soundscapes set to visuals from his new DVD, Kairos: The Meeting of Time and Destiny, at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 23. The show will be held at the Berger Performing Arts Center, 1200 W. Speedway Blvd. Tickets are $20, available in advance at Hear's Music and at steveroach.com. Tickets will also be available at the door.