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Steve Roach / Michael Stearns — Beyond Earth & Sky
(Projekt 390, 2021, CD)
by Peter Thelen, Published 2021-11-07
It’s been many years — decades, in fact — since these two electronic music pioneers appeared together on a recording. Roach and Stearns used to be neighbors in the Los Angeles area in the late 70s when both were getting their start, before each took different paths out of the city, Stearns to New Mexico to concentrate more on soundtrack work, Roach to Arizona to continue his work, releaseing over 175 albums to date. In 1989 they teamed up with Kevin Braheny to record Desert Solitaire, and then again six years later with Ron Sunsinger to record Kiva, but the two had not collaborated (on a recrding, at least) since 1995, so with the album at hand, Beyond Earth & Sky, the reunion is long overdue. Throughout the listener is treated to their trademark floating ambient explorations, interspersed with shimmering gliss, heavy dronescapes, and sequenced elements, all the while with attention to melody and atmospherics. It’s hard to know whether Roach and Stearns were together in the studio when these seven tracks unfolded, or whether they were passing partially completed files through the ether, and though it sounds like it could easily be the former, I suspect the latter. But who knows? As one listens the possibilities keep the listener guessing. “Horizon Is Home” opens the set, staying fairly close to a pure floating ambient sound across its thirteen minute duration, graced by delicate glissando and subsonic swells, eventually joined by the steady percussive beat of hand drums. The focus of the piece keeps shifting, making it one of the most interesting tracks here. “Impelled” is a growing, breathing organism that sparkles with beauty as it slowly takes flight with powerful sequences driving, eventually subsiding int a flickering starlight, while “Primal Return” slowly opens the door to a cascade of dark growling subsonics as it proceeds. “Embrace the Infinite” follows, like the warm sun of a gentle spring morning. Taken as a whole, these seven pieces make for a powerful soundtrack that, while relaxing, won’t put the listener to sleep.
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