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Steve Roach and "Vir Unis": Blood Machine

AAJ Staff By

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The long-awaited follow-up to Steve Roach and Vir Unis' explosive Body Electric is finally here. Blood Machine is inspired by the futuristic neurobiology and biotechnology which breaks into the news with almost daily reports of new discoveries. Here, two futuristic masters of electronica combine to bring us discoveries in sound and synapse, rhythm and bio-interface.

If you are expecting a slam-bang sequel to the noisy and boisterous Body Electric , you will be surprised, because though Blood Machine has plenty of driving rhythms, it has quite a different feel to it. This album is smoother, softer, and less obvious than its predecessor. Roach, in his liner notes, calls it "elegant futurism," which is a perfect description of its sound. And yet, like the machine of its title, when it revs up, it cranks along at an insistent, ticking pace, shooting off fascinating rays of sound as it goes. These steady rhythmic sequences, all produced electronically, are often highly abstract, moving quickly through their fractal variations while retaining their basic beat structure. In fact, this is a "cerebral" album which makes the listener think, rather than just move. Listen closely and you will find an almost mathematical quality to it, as rhythms are played against other rhythms, and their patterns are nested within yet other patterns.

But Roach and Unis, despite their powerful new cybernetic instrumentarium, haven't forgotten their musicianship. Though their collaboration is seamless, you can still identify the "musical gesture" of each artist. For instance, you will hear Roach's time- honored "floating chords" accompanying the rhythmic sequences, providing both melodic elements and aural perspective. And every so often there will be a moment which sounds a bit like Unis' Aeonian Glow transformed from Gnostic Gothic to cyber- light fantastic.

The pacing of this long (73 minutes) album alternates between extended rhythm sequences and passages of ambient drift. It has a large dynamic range, moving from a fanfare-like loudness at the beginning to long, low-volume, almost muttering passages in the middle, and then back into bright loud waves of sound in the later tracks. Like Roach's 1999 Light Fantastic , Blood Machine fits together into one symphonic composition, in which the tracks are more like "movements" than separate pieces. The centerpieces of this album are track 4, "Neurotropic," (which is my favorite section) and track 5, "Mindheart Infusion," another outstanding track. But throughout the whole composition, there are moments of stark beauty, mystical insight, and near-silent contemplation. Blood Machine sustains the sense of wonder all the way through its pulsing course.

HMGS rating: 10 out of 10 Hannah M.G. Shapero 5/16/01

| Record Label: GreenHouse Music | Style: Ambient


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