Steve Roach: Emotions Revealed

I don't possess every recording Steve Roach has issued—it would be hard to imagine such a thing even being possible, given the magnitude of his output—but I do have enough to be able to identify Emotions Revealed as my favourite, at least insofar as pure listening pleasure is concerned. And that's a funny thing because as it turns out the album's two long-form tracks were not only recorded four decades ago but lost for much of that time. Emotions Revealed is very much one of those releases that wouldn't have seen the light of day had Roach not discovered them by accident in mid-2015.

There are many reasons why Emotions Revealed is so appealing. There's the stark contrast, first of all, between its twenty-five-minute settings, with the first a high-intensity exploration reminiscent of the sequencer-heavy style associated with German electronic music of the ‘70s and the second an introspective piece whose quiet serenity emits a power of an entirely different kind. Another thing that enhances the recording's appeal is the absence of the ethno-tribal dimension that's played a part in Roach's recent recordings.

The opening title track, which he recorded in 1983 at the early Timeroom in Culver City, California, was re-discovered after Roach was contacted by the Austrian label Vinyl on Demand with the request for a bonus track to include on a vinyl issue of his 1982 solo cassette NOW. That in turn prompted Roach to sift through the hundreds of tapes in his archives whereupon the cassette containing “Emotion Revealed” was found. Listening to it anew, Roach was instantly transported back to the time of its creation and, we're guessing, struck by the vitality and energy of the material's purity of expression. Sonically, it's a mesmerizing piece of music that first uses synthesizers and a vibraphone-like instrument to establish a hypnotic melodic foundation and then layers an extended, impassioned synthesizer solo on top of it. It's the latter element in particular that accounts for the emotional quality of the piece, especially when the part sounds like something Roach executed live in the studio.

As stated, “Firelight,” which he created in 1982 in that same Timeroom for an environmental art installation by artist Rita Yokoi titled The Grounding Place, is wholly different in character. Recorded on a Teac four-track reel-to-reel, the piece represents Roach's first experience in creating sound material for an environmental setting, as the music was incorporated into the installation design as a continuous loop. Though the original four-track tape had gone missing after many moves, he found a high-quality metal master cassette containing “Firelight” in archived material his mother had stored in a closet in the San Diego house where he grew up. Whereas “Emotion Revealed” is characterized by kinetic animation, “Firelight” embraces stillness, encourages contemplation, and—the heat of its title notwithstanding—exudes an oft-icy quality that would make it sound perfectly at home on a 2016 Glacial Movements release. Alternating between tones both muted and gleaming and rarely rising above the level of a murmur, Roach's elegantly atmospheric setting exhales gently as it scales its melodic peaks and valleys.

Emotions Revealed presents dramatically contrasting sides of the composer, both settings magnificent for different reasons and well worth tracking down. Don't be surprised if you find this one moving to the forefront of your Roach collection.

March 2016