May 10, 2016

Reflecting on Steve Roach’s Structures From Silence

An interview sheds some insight into the creation of the ambient classic.
Structures From Silence Remaster

Two years ago, Steve Roach’s landmark ambient classic Structures From Silence turned 30. The album is arguably my favorite ambient recording of all time, and one that I constantly find to be a relaxing, refreshing, and illuminating listening experience (read my review).

I recently came across this 2014 interview with Steve Roach regarding the album’s anniversary, which provides some background and insight into its creation, and considers the influence that Structures From Silence has had on the ambient genre.

One of albums extraordinary qualities is the sense of natural breath in the music; an organic quality not easily realised with synthesisers back in the day. These ‘breathing chords’ quickly become part of the DNA of Roach’s music over the following decades, as he sought to release his machines from their mechanical moorings.

He explains: “With an an acoustic instrument you have to be 100% there to make a sound. Traditional instruments draw from the physical body’s interaction. With synthesisers as the new instrument emerging in the 80’s it was clear to me that you could almost stop breathing, lose the body connection as part of the instrument interaction, sit sprawled out in a chair and still manage to play the instrument. So my entire waking and sleeping focus was to deepen this connection to the essence of sound, body and breath awareness. This was directly translated into the title track - playing with breath, the place in between the breath, the sigh. Just sitting in perfect stillness and playing that through the analog warmth of the Oberheim OB8 synth.”

I was particularly interested in the discussion of Structures From Silence’s relationship with “new age” music. You’ll frequently find Roach’s albums lumped in with the rest of the “new age” genre, something that Roach never intended.

New age publications and therapists in particular have praised it over the years, though Roach says it was never an audience he was consciously aware of. “I would say it struck a chord with people in general. The audience was and still is from many walks and backgrounds. I had no real awareness of a new age scene or audience at the time. I was steeped in desert and nature time, European electronic music, ECM Records, progressive music and so on.”

In any case, Structures From Silence is a sublime album, and one that truly shows off the genre’s ability to create all-encompassing soundscapes that are deeply emotional and transporting.


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