Over the course of four full-length CDs, Steve Roach‘s Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces (Projekt, 2003) extends itself beyond the traditional realm of music. The sheer mass of sound — in terms of length as well as depth — is a challenge for listeners hung up on such arcane concerns as “song” or, for that matter, “melody.” Roach refutes such preconceptions with a ritual hum that will resonate in the body cavity and the imagination as much as it will in the ear.
These four CDs are the result of Roach’s long-running communion with his computer, which is no less a tool in his ambient toolbox than are his deeply echoing electric guitar or his pulsing, aboriginal didgeridoo. For more than 20 years, Roach has probed sounds for their essence, recording over 50 solo and collaborative albums in the process. Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces was made on a computer, but it is not computer music, per se. It is indifferent to the metronomic synchronization inherent in most digital media. Instead, Roach pulls pure cloudstuff from his sonic source material, sounds that never quite begin or end, but just float and flow.
The album alternates between existential epiphanies and industrial dread, and it’s a triumph of widescreen ambient music that defies the listener’s sense of proportion and scale. At a low volume, it’s an aural scent, a background flavor; played loud, though, it’s a whole other world, reproduced with detail and precision. Despite this otherworldly aura, at times figments from our world surface, as with the birdsong that enlivens the track “Wren and Raven.”