Roach, Steve - Light Fantastic

Year of Release: 1999
Label: Fathom
Catalog Number: 11094-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 58:32:00

Steve Roach is one of those prolific artists who seems to have a new release of some variety out every month. Light Fantastic is his latest, working with Vidna Obmana, Vir Unis, and Stefin Gordon.

This is more essay than review, since Steve Roach is so good at what he does that, like Tangerine Dream and many others who have been creating music for many years, the question becomes less about performance, or rather how well do they program, and more about effectiveness, what do they do with that programming skill. There are some acoustic drums here, but because the approach is so like everything else he's done, the only complaint is that they do sound like previous performances. At least on the surface. I like Steve Roach, if that hasn't been evident from my earlier reviews, and I like this lastest release.

The opening track, "Trip The Light" can be described as highly percussive with synth washes floating underneath - a description that can describe, structurally, anything else he's done. There is a certain quality to his playing which will bring to mind projects past, including the two Suspended Memories discs of a few years back. The urgency in the percussion here and the calming effect of the sonic washes give this album a very contrasted feel. This is a really great sounding album.

As is usual for this type of release, it evokes for me visual imagery. I'm not a technical person, so I have to rely on the visceral experience. And, obviously, my impressions are somewhat influenced by the album cover. I'd say more that it's a starting point, a context, from which to begin this journey.

In scribbling notes down for this review, I was struck by this sudden thought: what exactly is the "light fantastic"? Oh, sure, I've heard the phrase "Tripping the Light Fantastic," but I've never been sure what it really means, given that it's often used euphemistically. Anyway, one possibility for what Roach means here, aside from the the literal as depicted on the cover, is a religious experience. You know, the light at the end of the tunnel, the light we're supposed to be bathed in as we go up to heaven, that kind of light.

So, suppose that's the thesis. Here's the proof, so to speak. First, a glance at the track titles: "Trip The Light," "Breathing The Pulse," The Reflecting Chamber," Touch The Pearl," Realm Of Refraction," and "The Luminous Return."

"Trip The Light": Trip has numerous meanings on its own: turn on, a voyage, and, of course, a clumsy act. Of course, the first two are appropo for the thesis. By triggering the light, we begin this journey. This "light" is tripped in a burst of activity - brisk, acoustic drumming, suggesting so many things, all boiling down to an expenditure of energy. Soundscapes slowly emerge from behind the drums, like the sun peeking up over the horizon (Ah, sunrise; another fantastic display of light). The energy builds and builds as the drums are are matched, then slowly pushed back into the mix, while the sonicscapes take center stage.

We are entering a state of relaxation - of unconsiousness, whether by natural or artificial means (i.e., sleep or trauma). Awareness is muddy, sensations and sounds float by, as sensory input is running at frantic pace (more percussion, more varied than in track one, rounder), before a mental calmness slowly descends as synaptic activity regulates itself, and thought becomes more directed, more precise (emphasized by a harsh reedy sound that sounds like brushed drums, but may, in fact, be Gordon's tamboura).

"The Reflecting Chamber" is evocative with it's synth sounds that swirl around, varying in intensity...close your eyes: you're in a vertical, cylindrical chamber (limbo?). See the tall, polished steel walls illuminated by the slow motion light show going on - blues, reds, purples (again, the cover) undulate above your head. Sound swirls about your head like a satellite in orbit, while gentle, warm percussion invites you in, reassuringly - it's like a heartbeat speaking to you in morse code. Maybe this is your innerself - the light is the synaptic charges of your brain. In other words, you're "reflecting" upon yourself - that last moment of self-examination, that moment when your life passes before your eyes.

Soon, you are in total submersion ("Touch The Pearl"), the percussion is gone (your heartbeat stilled), as is the light (brain function ceasing), and you a hovering in mid-air, only to be slowly drawn upwards. Sure does sound like a relgious experience, doesn't it. The swell as the synths grow louder, stronger, more sustained than swirling - the sensations is being drawn up into a bright light.

So, by rights, "Realm Of Refraction" would be heaven, or what lies beyond mortal life. Refraction is defined as "the bending of ... a wave of light ... as it passes from one medium into another." Hmm-mmm. The liner notes give a longer, more directed definition.

Ah but, perhaps it isn't quite your time ("The Luminious Return") and thus you come back. But as whom? Or what? And to where? But whom/what/whereever is the case, it is coming back transformed.

Interestingly, if we go back to my thoughts earlier this year about a crisis of faith and how much music was reflecting (no pun) on that we can see how pervasive this idea is. And still wonder if it isn't because we are approaching the end of the millennium (2001 is just around the corner).

A visit to the Steve Roach website reveals this quote from the artist himself, reflecting on having completed the 2 disc retrospective Steve Roach: Dreaming ... Now, Then: A Retrospective 1982 - 1997:

"[I] thought a lot about where I was at this point in time, both in my life and my career, as well as the evolution of electronic based music that I love. Also, the big timeclock is getting ready to turn over, which has an undeniable impact, regardless of how cynical we might want to be about it. All these influences helped raise the bar another notch, in terms of what I felt I could accomplish with my next project, and how I could locate a new form of potency in the music. The result was Light Fantastic, and I feel this recording is a personal high point in my creative and personal life up to now, one for leaving this century with on a beautiful clear ray of sound."

Trip The Light (8:33) / Breathing The Pulse (5:24) / The Reflecting Chamber (7:05) / Touch The Pearl (9:23) / Realm Of Refraction (11:19) / The Luminous Return (16:48)

Steve Roach - analog and digital soundworlds, hybrid and fractal groove creation, acoustic percussion
Vidna Obmana - fujara sample food performance (3, 6)
Vir Unis - filter and fractal groove creation infusions
Stefin Gordon - 'tamboura (3, 6)

Moebius (1979) Now (1982)
Traveler (1983/1987)
Structures From Silence (1984/1987/2001)
Quiet Music 1 (1986)
Empetus (1986)
Quiet Music 2 (1986)
Quiet Music 3 (1986)
Starflight (multi-artist compilation) (1986)
Western Spaces (w/Kevin Braheny) (1987)
The Leaving Time (w/Michael Stearns) (1988)
Quiet Music (1988) Dreamtime Return (1988/2005)
Stormwarning (Live) (1989/1992/1999)
Desert Solitaire (w/Braheny and Stearns) (1989)
Strata (w/Robert Rich) (1990)
Australia: Sound Of The Earth (w/David Hudson and Sarah Hopkins) (1990)
Forgotten Gods (w/Jorge Reyes and Suso Saiz as Suspended Memories) (1992/1993)
World's Edge (1992)
Now/Traveler (1992)
Soma (w/Rich) (1992)
The Lost Pieces(1993/1995)
Ritual Ground (1993/2000)
Origins (1993)
The Dream Circle (1994/1999)
Earth Island (w/Reyes and Saiz, as Suspended Memories) (1994)
Artifacts (1994)
The Dreamer Descends (1995) Kiva (w/Stearns and Ron Sunsinger) (1995)
Well Of Souls (w/Obmana) (1995)
Amplexus: Collected Works (w/Thom Brennan and Vidna Obmana) (1995)
The Magnificient Void (1996)
Halcyon Days (w/Stephen Kent and Kenneth Newby) (1996)
Caverns Of Sirens (w/Obmana) (1997)
On This Planet (1997)
Slow Heat (1998)
Dust To Dust (w/Roger King) (1998)
Truth & Beauty: The Lost Pieces Volume Two (1999)
Atmospheric Conditions (1999)
Ascension Of Shadows - Meditations For The Millennium (w/Obmana) (1999)
Dreaming ... Now, Then: A Retrospective 1982 - 1997 (1999)
Body Electric (w/Vir Unis) (1999)
Quiet Music -- Complete Edition (1999 reissue)
Light Fantastic (w/Obmana, Unis, and Stefin Gordon) (1999)
The Ambient Expanse (w/ Patrick O'Hearn, Obmana, ...) (1999)
Vine ~ Bark and Spore (w/Jorge Reyes) (2000)
Early Man (2000/2001) Circles & Artifacts (2000) Live Archive (w/Vidna Obmana) (2000)
Midnight Moon (2000)
Serpent's Lair (2000)
Prayer's To The Protector (2000)
Blood Machine (2001)
Core (2001)
Streams & Currents (2001)
Pure Flow: Timeroom Editions Collection 1 (2001)
InnerZone (2002)
Trance Spirits (2002)
Day Out Of Time (2002)
Darkest Before Dawn (2002)
All Is Now (2002)
Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces (2003)
Space And Time: An Introduction To The Soundworlds Of Steve Roach (2003)
Texture Maps: The Lost Pieces Vol. 3 (2003)
Life Sequence (2003)
Spirit Dome (2004)
Fever Dreams (2004)
Mantram (2004)
Holding The Space: Fever Dreams II (2004)
Places Beyond: The Lost Pieces 4 (2004)
Possible Planet (2005)
New Life Dreaming (2005)
The Dreamtime Box (2005) (incl. remastered Dreamtime Return plus New Life Dreaming and Possible Planet)
Somewhere Else (2005)
Immersion: One (2006)
Immersion: Two (2006)
Kairos (2006)
Proof Positive (2006)
Storm Surge (2006)
Terraform (2006)
Arc Of Passion (2007)
Fever Dreams III (2007)
Immersion: Three (2007)
Stream Of Thought (2008)
Nada Terma (2008)
Empetus (2008)
Landmass (2008)
A Deeper Silence (2008)
The Memory Pool / Revealing the Secret (2008)
Destination Beyond (2009)
Steve Roach 2009 Box Set (2009)
Afterlight (2009)
Immersion: Four (2009)
Dynamic Stillness (2009)
Spirit Dome - Live Archive (2009)
Nightbloom (2010)
Sigh Of Ages (2010)
Dream Tracker (2010)
Truth & Beauty (2010)
Live At Grace Cathedral (2010)
Journey of One (2011)
Quiet Music: The Original 3-Hour Collection (2011)
Live At SoundQuest Fest (2011)
The Road Eternal (2011)
Immersion Five - Circadian Rhythms (2011)
Sounds From the Inbetween Box Set (2011)
The Desert Inbetween (2011)
Soul Tones (2012)
Tales From The Ultra Tribe (2012)
Stormwarning (Live) (2012)
Day Out of Time (2012)
Low Volume Music (2012)
Back To Life (2012)
Groove Immersion (2012)
Steve Roach 2012 Box Set (2012)
At The Edge Of Everything (2013)
Spiral Meditations (2013)
Live In Tucson 2000 (2013)
Live Transmission (2013)
Future Flows (2013)
Rasa Dance (2013)
Ultra Immersion Concert (2013)
The Ancestor Circle (2014)
Bloodmoon Rising Night 2 (2014)
The Delicate Beyond (2014)
The Delicate Forever (2014)
The Desert Collection (2014)
Structures From Silence (2014)
The Long Night (2014)
Skeleton Keys (2015)
Skeleton Keys (vinyl) (2015)
The Skeleton Collection 2005 - 2015 (2015)
Bloodmoon Rising Night 3 (2015)
Invisible (2015)
Monuments of Ecstasy (2015)

Space Dreaming (1987) (VID, oop)
Structures From Silence (1987) (VID, oop)
The Art And Vision Of James Hubbell (1989) (VID, oop)
Earth Dreaming (1989) (VID, oop)
Into The Soundcurrent: The Musical World Of Steve Roach (1997) (VID)
The Electric Body (1999) (VID, oop)
Time Of The Earth (2001) (DVD)
Borealis (2006) (DVD)
Kairos (2006) (DVD)
Day Out Of Time (2012)

Genre: Electronic

Origin US

Added: November 8th 1999
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 1136
Language: english


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