Roach Burn

Steve Roach is a central figure on my own music. Between the support of Projekt, his own web site, and Bandcamp, the innovative ambient composer, player, producer, is–somehow–able to create lots of new music every year. His Bandcamp releases may be previewed in full at Bandcamp.

It’s Mostly All About Documentation

Two thirds of the live recordings of Wilco, available at their online store.

When the three volumes of Russell Sanjek’s American Popular Music and Its Business appeared in 1988, I waited for the interlibrary loan came through–I was in Vermont at the time–and then I was set for the task. I skimmed huge chunks of it and bore down on the last two volume, covering the modern music business.

When done, a single reflection dominated by sense of their history: it was almost a complete history but, strangely, their account so underplayed the development of the modern distribution system that it fell down just because of that single deficit. The major label distribution system allowed the labels to sell hundreds of thousands of units on Tuesday release days. It allowed for a deep integration with the ordering systems of large retailers. That system had its heyday from around 1970-2005, and it paralleled the rise of the chain record store. (My last stint in the music business was spent as a manager for a chain between 1995-2000.) By the end of the 2011, with the implosion of Borders Books and Music, the multi-outlet music specialist had instantly become a memory.

Because the giant pipelines and the attending policies of the major label system so favored chain outlets, also by the end of the first decade of the 21st century, most of the independent record stores in the U.S. had gone out of business.

The age of distribution lasted thirty-five years. In 1988, when Sanjek’s epic three volume history was published, the biggest issue in the music business was consolidation, retail price wars, MTV, and, the extraordinary costs involved in rolling the dice in hopes of positioning an artist to sell big numbers and make a profit. The business at the time was also a plantation and anybody who paid close attention to the predicament of music artists understood that the rise of the modern distribution system went hand in hand with all the dishonorable tactics record labels used to manage risk by hiding sales, cooking books, and shifting revenues from the artist’s side of the ledge to their own.

Here in Cleveland, the music departments at Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, are laughable ghosts of the old chain departments with their 15,000-50,000+ titles. Incidentally, Cleveland is home to roughly a dozen independent record stores, and two very small chains. The latter specialize in used entertainment media. 

I buy my music as digital downloads from iTunes, Amazon and eMusic. Every now and then, less than ten times a year, I buy a compact disc. And, I’m resourceful about checking out streams and downloads for the purpose of auditioning music. The internet cleary constitutes the biggest free record store ever, and this was not a revolution Russell Sanjek could have anticipated.

What accounts for the volume of new music that grows every year? Think about this awesome and awesomely weird fact.

Wilco recording music in the comfort of their living room.

The Age of Documentation 2005 – ongoing

Because of the internet, distribution has been democratized. The incentive to primarily invest in pushing a single release every year has collapsed outside what’s left of the major label record business. The situation of independent labels (I would assume) is mostly precarious; stuck as they are between the challenging business and risk models of the big labels and the minimalist experiments of the do-it-yourself market space.

But, I’m guessing, really. The one feature of the 21st century music business I’m sure about is that the age of distribution has morphed into the Age of Documentation. Because the costs involved in being prolific have shrunk so rapidly and the barriers to meeting low demand are so low at the low end (!) it makes sense that, for example, Wilco would release thirty live records over the several years.

Last year, among the musical artists I am committed to, and trying to track, and acquire,
saxophonist Ken Vandermaark released at least five records, jazz icon Anthony Braxton released over the last two years six records, punk popsters The Flaming Lips released at least six records, ambient soundscaper Steve Roach released at least nine records, experimental guitarist and dronemeister Aidan Baker released at least six records.

What could be the business model underlying artists just pushing, usually on their own, all this music into the market space? I have no idea. Except, I can do the kind of math that suggest that ten records selling 500 units is equal to one record selling 5,000 units. 

Over the next month or so I will be reviewing my own favorite recordings of 2013. Wilco is a great American band. What I’ve heard of their Roadcase Series of concert recordings is stellar. There are 29 Roadcases to date! Hurray for documentation. 

Wilco – Roadcase #23 (Austin, TX) – 2013-10-11  is super fine. [Get it: Here] Wilco’s web site implements most of the modern “post-bricks-and-mortar” merchandising angles. This observer is reminded of the important and groundbreaking part The Grateful Dead played in all this. Defunct for over twenty years, The Grateful Dead released something like half a dozen archival records last year!

Steve Roach On Bandcamp

The legendary composer, synthesist, and pioneer and ongoing visionary of ambient music, Steve Roach is making his music available on Bandcamp. This venue supplements his brilliant web site

Steve Roach Timeroom Editions

There are forty-two recordings currently available. That is, as of today. Roach is famously prolific–although I prefer to describe him as bursting with music.

I’ll highlight the shiniest gems in the future.

Bandcamp affords complete previews, embedding of tracks, and lossless downloads. 

(I have created a category on the sidebar for Bandcamp artists I follow and favor.)


Kamelmauz: Limber I Monos Om (mini ep)

This new set follows from the surging iPhone band-in-a-hand moment. It refers to a truly odd collaboration made possible by the strange new world of the iPhone, its so-called apps, and the kinds of sonic exploring the technology makes possible. Originally I was just biding my time, waiting for the iPad, and knowing eventually be plugging it into the studio machinery.

But the iPhone came along and with it–soon enough–came a slew of app-driven opportunities, including the most prime ones of all, courtesy of ambient giants Brian Eno and Steve Roach. I have collaborated with each, and with their colleagues, in these two slow, ambient pieces. Almost anybody who has an iPhone knows what I’m speaking of–Bloom, Trope, Air–in the latter case, and, may well also know of the fine Immersion Station app of Steve Roach and Eric Freeman. (Visual mixing is very cool!)

The odd point is that none of my collaborators know they have served as my collaborators! Yet, it was inevitable I was headed toward plugging iPhone/iPad into my digital rig and into Logic and force such collaborations to bear sonic fruit. Several other apps were used; I didn’t keep notes for the ninety minute exercise cum experiment. And, at the end, I did process the tracks in the convolution reverb studio and did a down-and-dirty (what I term,) mixmaster.

The overarching formula for each piece is: Intro (Eno) / Outro (Eno+Roach.)

As always, full digital, free download are available at Kamelmauz-Soundz Bandcamp for the savvy and well-equipped soundnaut.

Intro i

Prolific Glorious Slow Sounds

Synthesist, composer, and ambient maestro Steve Roach, in my world, is an iconic music maker. I have this week collected his autograph for the third time on a new release, provided directly via the artist’s web store. He also serves as a paragon of skipping the middle dudes and providing one’s artistry directly to the consumer, and doing so with the human touch. In fact, he’s been doing so for about a decade.

The beautifully packaged box pairs The Desert Inbetween and Immersion Five: Circadian Rhythms (two discs.) The former record, made with Brian Parnham, mines Roach’s tribal sonics with the help of multi-instrumentalist Parnham, especially his didgeridoo. Immersion Five is indeed the fifth release in Roach’s series of minimalist and meditative ambient explorations.

Steve released five recordings last year. Too much? No. I’m an advocate on behalf of artistry of the profound type, unleashing as much as is necessary. Sign of Ages was my favorite of a glorious outpouring. Here we are in the first month of 2011, and I’d describe the three discs of Roach’s new set to be necessary chapters.

Here’s a year-old taste of the Steve Roach sound, produced by Andres CV; on Vimeo.

Steve Roach music New age from andres cv on Vimeo.

Vibrations Slowing But Not Resting

Robert Rich, serious auralnaut

Part IV. Initially I acquainted myself with the artistry of Robert Rich via his collaborating with Steve Roach on the superb Strata from 1991; but, probably I got to hear it sometime in 1993. By 1993 Rich had released ten records. Yet, at the time, I didn’t seek to unravel the Rich strand in Strata, and so he wasn’t on my radar screen. This all changed the first year working back in a record store. It was 1995 and my very hip assistant manager Chris (aka DJ Weirton,) hipped me to illbient and other urban electronic music. To make a short story shorter, both of us were all over certain labels, so when Asphodel dropped the two sets, A Swarm of Drones, and A Storm of Drones, that year, each slid into the CD player in the store pronto.

The compilations spread a massive exhalation of drones over seven sides. There, amongst tracks by Steve Roach, Ellen Fullman, Stuart Dempster, DJ Spooky, Robert Fripp and Robert Rich–those being the the only participants I was familiar with–were a host of new lights about to shine in my deep space cosmos.

Yet it was Rich and his tracks Bouyant On a Motionless Deluge, and and an excerpt from The Smorgh Sleeps On Velvet Tongues, that leaped out. I jumped on two records released the previous year, Propagation and Rainforest. Wow. Robert Rich’s ambient vision was, at that time, a bit more advanced than that of Steve Roach. His music was more diverse and the tribal elements more organic. I wouldn’t make this distinction about their relative standing today; after all, to me Roach and Rich are the equivalent of Miles Davis and John Coltrane in ambient music. But, back then, Rich’s mellow, exotic, shapely and spacy music drew me to it with an even greater siren song.

Alas, his older records were hard to get. A compilation drawn from those older records, A Troubled Resting Place, helped my investigation. I was restless, and, then excited to learn Rich had a new record finished, a collaboration, with one B. Lustmord.

Stalker. I will say this: it’s the ambient music that had the most far-reaching impact on me. It is in the same esteemed place with respect to my appreciation of ambient artistry as Mingus’s The Black Saint & the Sinner Lady is in with respect to my appreciation of jazz artistry. This is to suggest that it was through dealing with Stalker, that I began to intuit how deep was the craft and technique involved in etching sound worlds where events could be said to happen slowly.

Not as prolific as his peer Steve Roach, Rich continues to present a masterpiece every so often. Although Rich’s tribal ambient style is sustained these days in various collaborations, when left to only his own devices he seems to be recently zeroing in on a simmering, very slow, mellow dark ambient sonic vision. He’s got no competition as a drone-maker.

Robert Rich-Wikipedia