Steve Roach & Robert Logan: Biosonic

Steve Roach & Robert Logan: Second Nature

An interesting backstory accompanies these latest additions to Steve Roach's ever-swelling discography. When he was thirteen years old, the now twenty-eight-year-old Robert Logan was introduced to electronic music by his English father. A subsequent investigation brought the teenager to Roach's The Magnificent Void, a discovery that turned out to be life-changing. Logan's teacher father played a further role in this scenario when he sent drawings his students had made while listening to Roach's music to the composer and included in the package a CD of his son's ambient work. Impressed by what he heard, Roach—older by more than thirty years—contacted the young composer and subsequently engaged in an across-the-ocean correspondence that would grow into Biosonic, the first of two electronic music collaborations between them.

Four years trading sound files eventually led to a late-2015 visit by Logan to Roach's fabled Timehouse studio in Arizona to add finishing touches to the album, during which time something unexpected happened: the creation of an entire other album, Second Nature, one markedly different in spirit from the first. To say that his collaborative involvement with Logan had an invigorating effect on Roach might be inaccurate—as his recent solo releases show, he hardly needs outside stimulation to be productive—though one could say the partnership helped bring about a particularly energized collection. Certainly the seventy-minute Biosonic is infused with a kinetic drive conspicuously greater than the Roach norm, and that the recording stands apart from others in his catalogue is intimated by the H.R. Giger-esque imagery on its covers (the album's Cyborgian theme also is consistent with the kind of vision we associate with the Swiss artist/conceptualist).

In fact, it would be more correct to file Biosonic under electronica than ambient. In this wide-ranging, nine-track travelogue, pieces are powered by an aggressive mix of beats and melodies, and the album material often operates at an hyperactive, even frenetic level of electrically charged dynamism—not exactly the kind of thing we expect from Roach. The muscular rhythmic attack roaring through “Atrium” and “Biosense,” to cite two examples, might come as a surprise to listeners accustomed to his long-form ambient productions. That being said, certain earmarks of his style are evident, among them undercurrents of primal-futurism and a strong focus on textural richness, but there's no denying the presence of less characteristic traits such as ecstatic intensity and Dionysian wildness. It would appear that Logan has been instrumental in bringing such qualities to the fore. As far as gear is concerned, synthesizers (analog and digital), drum machines, sequencers, outboard processing, and field recordings were all deployed in the album's production, and in true Roach spirit the recording ends with a twenty-minute setting, “Amniotic Universe,” that's characteristically immersive and emblematic of the deep ambient style associated with the composer.

That closing Biosonic piece acts as a natural bridge to Second Nature, even if the second set's pitched at a quieter level than “Amniotic Universe.” Four settings are featured in this case, two relatively short and two long, the title track a thirty-two-minute epic. The production period for this companion release was short, three days to be precise, and the material veritably flowed from the duo as if by instinct. With Logan manning an electric grand piano and Roach on synthesizers, sequencers, live looping, and processing, the recording calls to mind the collaborative work done by Harold Budd and Eno decades ago. For slightly more than seventy minutes, warm, muted hues of piano blend with gauzy synthesizer textures in minimal tone paintings of peaceful, soul-cleansing character. The music shimmers incandescently in place for minutes on end, Logan ruminating unhurriedly and Roach tinting his partner's piano with synthetic colourations. It's all as subdued as one might imagine, with the closing “Mystic Drift” the one that most suggests a slow-motion swim in unconscious waters. For those with an appetite for time suspension in a musical form, Second Nature should prove a satisfying meal indeed; it's certainly a dramatically contrasting companion to its high-energy sibling.

May 2016