Steve Roach – World’s Edge

This 1992 release is complex ambient music at its best. The music has a mystery and edge about it, even a little uneasiness. The double-cd collection of dark ambient music is one of the finest works Roach has released, and is a classic piece of ambient electronic music. 

The cover of World’s Edge shows lightning striking behind some massive stone. The effect is of some primordial landscape far away from civilization, possibly far away in time. On World’s Edge, Roach’s music conveys a similar effect through sound.

World’s Edge seems to represent a turning point in Roach’s output. Roach had long been inspired by the vastness of Western Spaces. His music often incorporated acoustic treatments that gave the effect of the music living within cavernous spaces. He was also using noise elements more prominently, and the sounds he used were becoming more and more clangourous, with complex cymbal-like sonorities becoming prominent.

World’s Edge was the first solo CD that Roach released after moving into the Tucson desert. In this setting, his studio looks out onto a wild natural landscape, and his music seems inspired by his new location. He lets go of the tonal sequences that propelled his early music, and instead emphasizes windlike washes of sound. “Undershadow” has the synth string washes that have been part of his style for years, but they sound less tonal. On several of the tracks, Roach uses sampled vocals that sound a little like harmonic singing.

The first CD is a collection of shorter pieces, ranging from about three to ten minutes. The second CD is one long track, “To The Threshold Of Silence.” The overall sound of World’s Edge is dark ambient, in the line of Eno’s Ambient 4: on Land. Roach uses sounds more for their ambient sound than for harmony or melody. Many of the sounds are eerie, and add an edge to the music.

The first CD is like an introduction to Roach’s mature ambient style. It contrasts dark ambient pieces with more rhythmic pieces with an ethnic influence. On tracks like “The Call”, he puts an emphasis on traditional ethnic percussion. Roach, along with guest musicians Guy Thouin and Robin Horn, give the many of the tracks rhythmic percussive drive, playing didjeridu, dumbek and tablas.

The second CD is one hour long dark ambient track, “To The Threshold Of Silence”. If you compare it to something like Structures from Silence from ten years earlier, the differences are striking. His music is still quiet and subtle, but it has become much more complex. He makes significant use of metal non-pitched percussion, and electronic sounds with similar complex sounds. These tend to blur the tonal center of music that is otherwise based on sequenced drones.

Of the music on “World’s Edge”, Roach writes:

“I’ve always enjoyed the metaphor of coming to the edge of an abyss and jumping off…While working on this music, I was also thinking a lot about the disappearance of aborignal cultures, a tragedy on many levels…I wanted to find and convey a primordial voice through all this modern technology, go to the edge in a shamanic sense and bring back sounds that carry inspiration and power.”

On World’s Edge, Steve Roach succeeds in creating music with primitive dark ambience that conveys a sense of mystery and wonder.

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