A New Favorite From Steve Roach – Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces

I’ve been spending the past few weeks building and exploring an archive of ambient music veteran, Steve Roach’s vast catalog. So far I have his first 161 major album releases, but Roach has at least 199 credited to his name, 18 of which were released this year alone, so it’s quite an undertaking.

I researched various forum discussions, ambient charts, and album reviews to determine the best point of ingress for such a large discography. Steve Roach is best-known for two particular albums – Structures From Silence from 1984 and Dreamtime Return first issued in 1988. These are Berlin-Schoolesque tribal ambient records which I enjoyed but I was more interested in exploring something along the lines of beatless freeform drones so I dug deeper. I queued up the more noteworthy of his collaborations, namely those produced with fellow-ambient-guru, Robert Rich. This included both Strata and Soma from 1990 and 1992 respectively and both issued on the Hearts of Space label. I also surveyed a number of multi-disc box sets Roach had issued for a sampling of multi-hour-long mixes as soundbeds for sleep.

Initially, because I had queued these albums in the chronology by which they were originally issued, the first several hours of content were rendered inaudible. This was due to the overall mastering volume of the albums increasing as the decades progressed, in line with the loudness war and trends in mastering. Because of this, as I’d set my amplifier volume so that the loudest selections didn’t disturb my rest, for the first few nights I didn’t actually hear some of the albums in the playlist. I decided to repurpose the list as a soundscape for my work day where I could adjust the volume as needed and give the releases proper attention. I’m so glad that I did!

That’s how I discovered the majesty of Roach’s Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces 4CD box set from 2003. Parts one and two of this set were simultaneously issued as separate 2CD releases but they are far-better experienced in the Complete Edition box set. The set clocks in at a total runtime of just over 4 hours and 55 minutes, and is wonderful for both sleep and as a background soundscape for productivity. I’ve been playing the set on repeat daily and nightly for the past week and really enjoying it. 

I researched the details of the release and compiled a few remarks highlighting the merits of the set, where I found others had described its qualities far better than I ever could. I found some information on the Projeckt record label’s website as well as a dedicated discussion thread on headfi dot org.

The official press release for part one of the album from the official Bandcamp page states:

Moving into the majestic realm of pure, non-rhythmic electro-acoustic soundworlds, Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces is a stunning 2-CD release marking a new milestone in Roach’s history as a true artist of sound. His landmark statements – including Dreamtime Return, Magnificent Void and Structures from Silence – are all parts of the uninterrupted flow building to this release. After a recent run of rhythmically fused CDs, Roach moves into awe-inspiring sonic immersion, delving into a spiritual dimension of sound. Nearly 5 years in the making, this release offers a listening experience beyond entertainment and pop culture appeals, creating a new sense of ‘ambient orchestration’ through a constantly shifting flow of sounds and textures that enters a sacred realm of music.

And ambient music guru, John Dilberto of Echoes – The Nightly Music Soundscape radio program wrote upon its release:

After dark descents into the abyss on The Magnificent Void and Midnight Moon, Steve Roach lightens up the textures a bit on Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces . The mood harkens back to his influential 1984 release, Structures From Silence, but the atmospheres are more textured and layered while melody is virtually non-existent. And while Structures had a slow motion pulse, Mystic Chords hangs rhythm free. It floats in a space of richly detailed, but minutely shifting sound constructs that owe more to Gyorgy Ligeti and Mark Rothko than early Roach touchstones like Klaus Schulze and Salvador Dali. Roach is creating a free fall through space, less rooted in the pulsing techno-tribal sound of his 1990s music, and more ecstatic in its evocations of something beyond. He carries you to groaning turgid depths, then lifts you as electric guitar glides and synthesizers gurgle, shudder, and swell in an Aurora Borealis of sound.

I was also glad to see that Stephen Hill of Hearts of Space radio offered a few words on the album as well. He said:

Abandoning all conventional notions of music as melody, harmony and rhythm, Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces allows the listener blissful hours on the high frontier between deep listening music and the spirituality of pure sound.

By any measure, Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces is a masterwork from an ambient virtuoso with a career spanning four decades of musical composition. The box set is an instant favorite for focused or background activity. Curious listeners can check out the Hearts of Space broadcast #665 which originally broadcast on May 30, 2003 and was dedicated to showcasing highlights from this release.

I look forward to exploring the rest of my Steve Roach archive and acquiring the 18 releases he’s issued this year for further listening. 

Innerspace Labs’ Year-End Large Library Catalog

With Thanksgiving off from work and the whole day to myself it felt like the perfect opportunity to run some metrics on my archive to provide me with some valuable insight as to the development of my larger libraries just in time to close out the year. 

And it couldn’t have come a more fitting time, as I’ve been filled with inspiration and have been actively expanding my archive thanks to the magnificent ambient soundscapes showcased on the syndicated radio program, Hearts of Space

I maintain a complete broadcast archive of every transmission of the program since 1983 – over 1200 hours of ambient space music. These tone poems accompany me for eight hours every day at the office, and all through the night as I sleep. (For someone as hyperproductive as I am, this music is a godsend as it helps to quiet my overactive mind.)

Captivated by these contemporary instrumental works, I’ve spent the last few months compiling complete discographic archives of the artists featured on the program, many of whom have over one hundred albums in their respective catalogs spanning the history of ambient and space music. It’s a labor of love, and infinitely rewarding as I enjoy the company of their music all throughout my waking and restful hours.

I had previously compiled a digital archive of all official and unofficial Tangerine Dream releases, including the Tangerine Tree live recording archive totaling 298 discs of electronic ambient music. 

Soon thereafter I assembled a complete discography of the 45 releases by modern classical composer Harold Budd. I’ve loved his soft-pedal technique ever since I first heard his collaborations with Brian Eno.

Inspired by the Hearts of Space program I continued this effort by building a lossless library of the 72 releases by veteran ambient composer, Robert Rich. Rich has been featured on 84 transmissions of Hearts of Space and is a staple figure of the genre.

From there I built an archive of the 161-album catalog of his collaborator and Hearts of Space favorite artist, Steve Roach. Roach’s recordings are informed by his impressions of environment, perception, flow, and space and are considered to be highly influential in the genre of new age music.

Next I compiled a complete 100-album discography of the late master of Tibetan singing bowls, Klaus Wiese. Wiese played tamboura on Popol Vuh’s classic Hosianna Mantra and Seligpreisung LPs and is considered by some as one of the great ambient and space music artists.

I then secured a 149-disc library of the German dark ambient / drone ambient musician, Mathias Grassow. His Wikipedia entry notes that “[his] music often has a meditative and emotional and spiritual context, which induces deep feelings of introspection in listeners.”

I did the very same for the Berlin minimalist composer Andrea Porcu, who performs under the moniker Music For Sleep, and for UK experimental artist 36 (a project of Dennis Huddleston), and for other prominent figures of the genre. 

These explorations directly resulted in a number of physical media investments like the Hearts of Space first transmission LP limited to 500 copies worldwide, Robert Rich’s Premonitions 4LP box set (also limited to 500 copies), and the limited edition Nighthawks / Translucence / Drift Music autographed vinyl box set comprising the complete collaborations of Harold Budd and John Foxx.

I last published a feature on my playlist projects five years ago so it seemed like a good idea to recalculate the number of albums and total runtimes for the artists and record labels representing the largest segments of my library as a means of both organizing large sets of data and to serve as a reminder of catalogs I still need to explore in full. And while the former project from 2015 included large-scale genre maps I thought that this time it would be more productive to focus on specific artists, producers, and record labels specializing in a particular sound to highlight large libraries in my archive.

So that tabulation is consistent and equally weighted across various collections, I’ve calculated totals based on the total number of discs, so that a 30-disc box set weighs accurately against a single-disc release.

I factored collections of greater than 20 albums as being eligible large libraries. I was going to render a set of graphs of the results as I did with large playlists in 2015, but given the sheer number of eligible sets I felt that the data is most clearly expressed in a basic table. This list of approximately one hundred artists accounts for roughly 1% of the artists in my library, but over 75% of the total albums cataloged.

Here are the results, organized from largest to smallest libraries. I’ll divide the results into three categorical sets – first complete artist / record label discographies, followed by libraries of old time radio broadcasts, and close with box sets of audiobooks.

Here are the discographies:

Largest Discographic Archives by Artist / Record Label:# of Discs
Hearts of Space Radio Broadcast Archive1232
The Progressive-Kraut-Psych-Avant garde Rock Collection (Vols I-VIII)753
Underworld600
The World’s Greatest Jazz Collection500
Psybient DVD Packs Map317
Tangerine Dream and Tangerine Tree Live Archive298
Big Band Music Digital Archive259
FAX +49-69450464 Catalog (Pete Namlook)254
The KLF / Kopyright Liberation Front / JAMS / Justified Ancients of Mu Mu / The Timelords189
Steve Roach161
Ninja Tune Records154
Mathais Grassow149
Future Sounds of London & Amorphous Androgynous141
Lemon Jelly137
Keith Jarrett135
Max & Dima: Sapovnela Studio Sessions131
Throbbing Gristle131
111 Years of Deutsche Grammophon111
Miles Davis109
Daft Punk104
Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno100
Flea Market Funk: Funky Soul & Rare Groove100
Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention100
Hit the Brakes DJ Series100
Klaus Wiese100
RYM Top 100 Downtempo / Trip Hop LPs100
Sigur Ros100
Nurse With Wound99
Franz Liszt97
Thelonious Sphere Monk97
Good Looking Records: Archive of LTJ Bukem’s Intelligent D’n’B Label94
Deuter89
Franklin Mint’s 100 Greatest Recordings of all Time88
Vangelis87
Richard D. James / Aphex Twin86
Karlheinz Stockhausen86
Jimmy Smith85
Klaus Schulze81
Ravi Shankar81
Ludwig Van Beethoven80
Sun Ra and the Arkestra74
John Cage73
2manyDJS / Radio Soulwax72
Robert Rich72
They Might Be Giants72
Café del Mar71
Peter Gabriel68
Philip Glass68
Ornette Coleman66
Mike Oldfield65
Muslimgauze63
Tom Waits63
The Orb63
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers62
Spacemind Psybient Mix Series62
Cornelius60
Attention K-Mart Shoppers: K-Mart Corporate Muzak (1973-1992)58
DJ Food & Solid Steel Radio Sets58
Porcupine Tree58
Parliament / Funkadelic57
Ambient Music Guide Podcast (2015-2019) by Mike G55
Cocteau Twins52
Herbie Hancock52
Ash Ra Tempel / Manuel Göttsching50
Early Experimental Electronic Music (1940-1976)50
Bill Laswell49
Early Moog & Synthesizer Library48
Jimmy McGriff48
Harold Budd45
Ryuichi Sakamoto44
Duke Ellington42
Bob Marley & The Wailers40
Captain Beefheart40
DJ Prestige39
Fela Kuti: The King of Afrobeat39
Enya37
John Fahey36
Fluke35
Low35
Arvo Pärt33
Electronic Supper Club33
Robert Fripp33
Charles Mingus32
Jah Wobble31
Moog Indigo: Classic Albums of Space Age Bachelor Pad Music31
Claude Debussy30
John Coltrane30
The Flaming Lips30
Chant Ambrosien: Sacred Music From the Middle Ages to the 20th Century29
Music For Sleep (Andrea Porcu)29
Kruder & Dorfmeister28
Moondog28
Cabaret Voltaire26
William Basinski26
Son House: Walkin’ Blues (The Complete Recordings)25
Top 25 Psybient Ultimae Records Releases25
Autechre24
36 (Ambient Composer Dennis Huddleston)22
Biosphere21

And the Old Time Radio series:

Old Time Radio:# of Discs
Dragnet298
The Adventures of Superman171
The Goon Show168
X Minus One (1955-1973)122
CBS Radio Mystery Theater: The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes83
BBC Radio: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes79
The Shadow (1937-1954)75
The Complete Sherlock Holmes Audiobooks60
Flash Gordon26
Orson Welles Mercury Theater 193820

And Audiobooks:

Audiobooks:# of Discs
Ray Bradbury425
Isaac Asimov348
Douglas Adams268
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle207
Philip K Dick124
HP Lovecraft (Dark Adventure Radio Theatre Complete Programs)17

The next libraries I intend to collect are Conny Plank’s 122-release extended discography, Dieter Moebius’ 65-album map, Hans-Joachim Roedelius’ 115-release catalog, and the 126 releases by Klaus Schulze, Pete Namlook, and Tetsu Inoue.

This new data will prove to be immeasurably useful for my annual reports and as a mental bookmark of large libraries I’ll continue to explore throughout my work days and subliminally while I sleep each night. And I have exciting new listening equipment arriving in the weeks ahead which will further enhance my sonic experience so stay tuned for an exciting feature to kick off the year 2020!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.