On The Turntable: Steve Roach's Dreamtime Return March 19 2018
California ambient pioneer Steve Roach released Dreamtime Return, arguably his finest album, in 1988 following extensive travels to the Australian outback. The word "dreamtime" refers to the Australian Aboriginal belief system, specifically to their notion of the distant past and its inhabitants. Though now considered a dated and anthropologically inaccurate term based on the faulty interpretation of an Aboriginal concept, in the '80s it was widely used in popular culture especially within the nascent new age movement. Roach's goal, to which the title alludes, was to evoke the sensation of the mythologized ancestral landscape while looking to the potentialities of the future, a quintessentially new age sentiment.
As a means to that end Roach incorporates ancient instruments such as the didgeridoo, gourd drums and dumbek into his electronics, and the effect is seamless. Oftentimes this approach of incorporating acoustic instruments into the electronic ambient/new age realm feels clunky at best, but the drums and wind instruments are recorded and produced in such a way that they fit perfectly in place with Roach's glassy synth work. Featuring assistance from notable contemporaries like Kevin Braheny and Robert Rich, Dreamtime Return sounds simultaneously like a return to his Berlin school origins as well as a look to the future of the '90s ambient and electronic scene, and it's clear that his work here was hugely influential on the dark ambient scene that was set to explode across Europe.
With songs ranging from the ambient bliss of his earlier classic Structures From Silence all the way to tracks that, in the right light and heightened mind state, could conceivably fill a dance floor, Dreamtime Return is Roach's most diverse and exploratory album. A welcome reissue of a truly essential piece that connects the legacy of peak era '80s Hearts of Space new age and the fourth world movement with a sound that presages the oncoming convergence of ambient and techno.