Steve Roach and Kevin Braheny – Western Spaces

This 1987 release was inspired by the landscapes of the American Southwest. Both Roach and Braheny enjoy the freedom and wildness of the California wilderness, especially the Mohave Desert. This inspired the music on CD, which has become a classic ambient space album.

Western Spaces opens with a Roach track, “The Breathing Stone”. This track is a rhythmic sequenced track; it combines drum machine, sequenced synth bells, and synth strings. Roach treats his drum machine in unique ways, adding deep reverberation to give the effect of drums being played in a cavernous space. The piece is relatively static; the drums and sequencer repeat through most of the piece, while the synths play washes of strings.

“Desert Walkabout” is a Braheny track, and emphasizes more of an acoustic texture. The track begins with ambient electronic sounds that are a little like the sound of wind. Braheny plays pan pipes and kalimba, along with the Steiner Electronic Woodwind Instrument that is a standard part of his sound. Braneny uses the EWI effectively, breathing life into the synthesized sound so that it has the expressiveness of a well-played violin. Braheny’s tracks tend to be more melodic, and have more of an orchestral feel than the Roach tracks.

“Desert Prayer” is a joint composition between Roach and Braheny. On this track, Roach provides synth string pad support for the solo improvisations of Braheny on the Steiner EWI and on electric piano.

“In the Heat of Venus” is one of the darkest pieces on the CD. This is a Steve Roach piece with Thom Brennan. It combines synth string washes with eerie electronic ambient noises and several interlocking sequences. This ambient trance music is hypnotic and beautiful.

The final track, “Western Spaces” sums up the album. It’s dark ambient music that has a very slow, breath-like pulse. The synths shimmer evoking the refraction of light through heat on the desert. This sounds primarily like a Roach track, but Braheny adds some subtle EWI melodies.

This CD was originally released on Innovative Communications, and included compositions of Richard Burmer. Burmer’s tracks have a luminous quality and more of a serene feel, and contrast nicely with the darker Roach and Braheny pieces. Note that the new release removes those compositions and replaces them with “New Moon at Forbidden Mesa”, and “Slow Turning”. This change may disappoint some fans of the original CD, but makes the CD a nice match for a companion release, Desert Solitaire.

Western Spaces is a classic ambient space release, and one of the early highlights of Roach’s career.

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