Releasing his first album in 1982, Steve Roach has continued to make hundreds of records in his personal Timeroom studios over the years, while also touring his music. Additionally, he produces records and collaborates with artists from all over the world. A lazy listener might lump his "progressive ambient" creations under the onerous new age tag. However, having been a fan of his albums for 40 years, I can guarantee there is far more going on here than some tinkly massage background music. As the 40th anniversary of his sublime Structures From Silence album arrived, it seemed high time I dropped Steve a line at his home in the Sonoran Desert near Tucson, Arizona, to learn more about his recording and composition methods over the years.

What synthesizers did you start out with?

I started in ’78, and my first synth was a Roland SH-3A. I soon bought an [ARP Instruments] 2600, which I guess they call it semi-modular, but you patched it too. It had the basic signal flow set, but I could override it with patches. In early photos, you'll see that my classic setup in the '80s was the ARP 2600 with three ARP Sequencers mounted together above it. I had some other little modules that came from guys that were making them at the time. And then it was the [Moog] Micromoog, ARP String Ensemble, and later I brought in the Oberheim polyphonic synths. I was living in Culver City, [California,] and Oberheim was in Santa Monica at the time. I knew a lot of guys designing there, so I was playing prototypes of the Oberheim Xpander with no graphics on it! There was Sequential [Circuits] and E-mu Systems up north [in San Francisco and Santa Cruz], and Korg and the Japanese synths were coming in, but Santa Monica was ground zero at that time for me and synth development. Marcus Ryle was designing a lot with Oberheim, and then went on to found Line 6. There was also 360 Systems and JL Cooper Electronics. It was really a feeling of being at the core of that.

Polyphonic synthesizers were not available when you first started playing, right?

They were not. The ARP String Ensemble was the [Eminent BV] Solina String Ensemble from Holland. You could play chords on it, but it was more in the vein of organ technology. I was drawn to that at the very beginning, because I heard a lot of the European and German school, like Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream, playing these beautiful chords on Farfisa [organs] and some early string synthesizers. That's where we were getting the polyphonic component to the music at that early time. With the ARP 2600 and its three oscillators, I would tune it to a chord and then I would play the chord with one finger.

[laughs] Right.

Those early days of the one finger chord live on here now; so many of the new synths now have chord memory and you can load up as many notes as you can cluster up on a chord, using both hands; then you hit "hold" and have a ten-note chord that you can then do amazing work with. That all started in the early days, through the limitations of polyphonic and having a three-voice monophonic synth that I would then play through tunings like that.

I remember seeing synthesists use little lead weights to put on keys to hold down notes.

Well, that's the early hold button there. My frequent collaborator, Robert Rich, would use fishing weights, and we'd all have our own little special icons that had enough weight to hold the plastic keys down.

I've used masking tape, but then it lets go accidentally!

I also was in the tape school as well. Or matchbooks that you could stick between the black and white keys. If you look at Klaus Schultz's Moondawn album, as we did as young aspirants of the music, we would study it with a magnifying glass and see on the back cover that there were certainly weights on some of the keys. That was the universal "hold button" that we would all do on the early analog keyboards.

Something physical and simple.

Yeah. With modern synths I see hold buttons, but occasionally I think, "Where's the hold button?" You can get a modular world going now with the sophistication of the polyphonic synths, like the [ASM] Hydrasynth, where they've got modular aspects built into them now. It's quite powerful and amazing. I have a few of the Hydrasynths, and I’m quite fond of the little Hydrasynth Explorer; it's like a baby Xpander. Glen Darcey, who designed it, worked a lot with the Xpander and wove in those components where you can have matrix patching and go way beyond. It's a great synth for the sound: It has portability, sophistication, and the ability to put it in the hands of lots of people.

You were accumulating keyboards, a mixing board, and effects. One of the first things I discovered was that synths need some type of ambience – a reverb or delay – to add texture and space.

As I started to pull the carpet back to see what was happening, reading interviews, and through my own immersion in the early days, the mixing board immediately became essential. To me, the mixing board is still the most important instrument of all that I have. My main studio console these days – that has all the synths and hardware effects filling every channel – is a Soundcraft GB8 with 40 channels. I have been using various Soundcraft boards since the mid-'80s. I started with the Series 200, then to Delta, Ghost, and a Series 6000, modified by Tim Spencer of True Systems [Tape Op #72]. The board and effects are essentially an extension to the synth itself. I still take out the 32 channel Soundcraft LX7ii; that's my easel that I mix and perform with. In the very beginning, I had a Sunn Magna mixer, from 1977, that was designed by Greg Mackie. As the synthesizers were evolving, so were the portable, hands-on mixers with lots of channels and pre and post sends. Pre and post sends are big in how I work, so I can pull sounds back deeper in the reverb or delays. The Roland Space Echo [tape delay/reverb] was an essential tool in the early days. The [Yamaha] Rev 7 was the first coveted digital reverb that I put my hands on. At that the time, the holy grail was a Lexicon. Eventually the Lexicon PCM70 would arrive around the creation of "Dreamtime Return" in 1987. Before that I would do certain final mixes in pro studios that had the Lexicon 224 or 480.

The early synthesizers weren't cheap. How did you make that work for you, to be able to make a living and get by?

I came from a working-class family, and we didn't have any money. But I was taught early that if you want it, you go out and work for it. At that point, I was working some factory job, and I took out a 25 percent interest loan. I had to have an analog synth! Eventually, I would draw some instruments to me, because people would see how passionate I was and that I didn't have the money. I had a guy loan me two EMS Synthi A, the classic British synth. But, ultimately, my first big step into the void of it all was the ARP 2600, ARP Sequencer, [Moog] Micromoog, and ARP String Ensemble. I bought it all. That was probably $4,000 or $5,000 back then, with 25% interest!

Ouch.

Nothing says, "I'm going to get serious about this" than having that looming over you. [laughter] But none of that got in my way. I realized that I had to have the tools. I wasn't cut of the cloth to go to an academic world and work in a controlled environment with people telling me how to do this or that. I went for one and a half days at a local electronic course at a junior college, and I walked out. I said, "I'll still be here when I'm 35 years old, waiting to get my 'keys to the car' to drive it around."

Breakthroughs happen by simply immersing oneself in the work.

No question. Yeah.

I know you were living in a small house in Culver City, and it was taken over as a whole studio.

And, yes, my studio space is where I was five minutes ago before we got online here. I've always had Timerooms. That's what I call the studio; that’s where I enter into this realm of time and then time becomes nothing at that point. I'm in the flow. Now it's actually the Timehouse. I have a freestanding, separate house I share with my wife, Linda Kohanov, and we have a studio there as well. The Timehouse sits high on a ridge and looks out about 75 miles. Every room is a different studio. There are essentially three studios set up that are always up and running. They're like easels for a visual painter or a sculptor. I'll have the modular in one room, and that might be patched up and running for two weeks or longer. That’s where it's evolving and I'm recording it as it's unfolding and evolving. Those early days in Culver City were continuations of how I started in San Diego. I migrated to L.A. and got immersed in the electronic scene there as I was meeting a lot of the folks that were at the beginning of building all the great gear with Oberheim. I was doing lots of concerts in L.A. I played at the Troubadour in '79, and [owner] Doug Weston reluctantly let us play as a three-synthesizer trio on a Sunday afternoon as an experiment. There was a lot of that going on, where we were breaking through into a world that hadn't thought of a band being three guys with synths. Through all of 2023, I was hosting a series in Tucson on the first Tuesday of the month called Ambient Lounge in a cool jazz club, Century Room, in downtown Tucson at the Hotel Congress. We had ambient electronic experimental music going in a club where you would normally hear traditional jazz. It's a sacred space for listening, which is perfect for this music. I'm taking out a refined system that I could have had 10 or 20 years ago. It's a 16-channel mixing board, Lexicon reverbs, and Eventide processing. No laptops, no computers; just hands-on shaping, carving, and responding immediately. That's my approach to it. At the same time, I'll see someone doing amazing stuff on a laptop, and I have respect for that as well.

Have you tried working only in a laptop or a DAW format for performances or recording?

Absolutely. I looked at soft synths and how to weave that in. I lost interest pretty quickly. For me, the hardware gear has something so visceral and so absolutely subtle in the feel. Number one is the sound from the components used in its creation. Even if it's plastic and metal, and it's a synth with knobs and all that, there's always something often elegant and beautiful in the way that they've chosen the right potentiometers.

There's this sensual feel that I get used to. Having grown up with Oberheim, it set the standard with that quality of build. I recently got my hands on the new Oberheim OB-X8. It's fantastic. They brought all the essence of the core of that up to right now. The sound of it is unbelievably huge if you want it to be, or it can be delicate. But again, there's something visceral about the hardware and I don't get that feeling with DAWs and soft synths. It could be just my own imaginary perception of latency constantly within this gear. It's got to feel right. And that's where the music and the emotion and the subtlety is born from. I'm not thinking, "Wow, this sounds almost like the 2600." I've got to have my hands on the magic.

Yeah. And the randomness of an ARP 2600.

Yeah. At certain times I would use [Native Instruments] Absynth. That was more of its own thing; it wasn't trying to emulate something. I could find abstraction or emotional sounds out of there that aren't trying to model something else.

You certainly recall how hard it was to learn about synths in the late '70s and even '80s. The first time I heard a sequencer, I thought, "How's that person playing that pattern over and over so fast?"

Yeah, we could get off this interview and type in anything we're talking about and have a Wikipedia page for reference. That's how the early albums had a religious quality, where we would study them. That's where I learned about the ARP 2600 and ARP Sequencer, and how those pieces sound.

A sequencer as a standalone, analog-based unit that would do steps and patterns is something our younger readers might not even know about or understand these days.

Yeah, the analog step sequencer has been around since the dawn of analog synth time. That's the one that you hear that gets clichéd. It can be used creatively, or it can be used in a more casual way. We would hear how Devo used it, and then how Tangerine Dream would.

Yeah, or John Carpenter.

The early analog sequencer experience had the energy of rock music. When we heard [Pink Floyd's] The Dark Side of the Moon ["On the Run"], the first use of the sequencer in there, that was with the EMS [KS Keyboard/Sequencer]. The analog sequencers, even though they're limited, as I began to explore that world deeper and deeper, I realized that it's not just an 8-note or a 16-note or a 32-note or a 64-note pattern, but I could combine sequences. I'd start changing the length of each sequence, and then combining those phasing sequencer patterns against each other. Then, we were entering into the world of Steve Reich [Tape Op #15], and that type of minimalism where the sequences are going out of phase and they're creating this moiré pattern of complete engagement. I can accelerate and create these multidimensional spaces that feel as if we're hovering or physically moving somewhere. It steps beyond any technical tool at that point, but it starts to do – what I called one of my albums – "skeleton keys." To me, there's no other type of music or function that takes me to that place. The way I need to hear sequencers, and the way I crave to hear it in other music, is when it takes me, and it starts to do these things in my consciousness. It opens up a door with the "skeleton key" that is accessed through that.

Structures From Silence was your third album, 40 years ago, and a bit of a breakthrough attention and sales-wise. How was it created?

It was basically the DSX, the Oberheim digital sequencer. MIDI had been out for about a year or so. I was at the very first NAMM meeting [1983] where Dave Smith [Sequential Circuits] announced MIDI, and it was like some kind of biblical moment there!

It did change a lot.

Yeah. So, the MIDI sequencer then allowed me to sit at the Oberheim OB-8 and play my diaphanous, flowing, and breathing chords, and play them as if I'm playing them into, at that time, a Tascam 3340, which is what I recorded Structures… on, partially. But with the DSX, I could play that chord progression that is the title track for 30 minutes. Then I hit Stop, Loop, and it would come back. At that point, I could participate with it but in a way where it's not on tape. I could change the filters and add a few notes here and there. It's similar to playing with a collaborator, at that point. Once I saw how I could do that polyphonically, that had nothing to do with the Berlin school or sequencer-style music – the way we were used to hearing it up to that point. It was using it as a polyphonic device, basically what would later be revealed in the DAWs, where we could create multi-layered, orchestrated music and call it a sequencer; but really recording into a multitrack digital workstation.

Right.

It wasn't a matter of me not having the right tools, but the kind of space that I wanted to create aligned instantly when I got my hands on the DSX – the polyphonic pre-MIDI sequencer – and the Oberheim OB-8; this was the world I knew I wanted to paint in. I'm coming from a visual perspective, where I could have three or four long, atmospheric loops that are not synchronized together. You're lying on your back, and you're watching those shapes in the sky move against each other and creating their own beautiful synchronization organically that way. That really is what has continued on for me all the way 'til right now, that style of music. Again, the mixing board has never left; it'll always be. In my mentoring of artists that I help along I'll say, "The mixing board is number one. This is the first thing that you need to get your hands on."

You can plug a synthesizer into an amplifier, like a guitar, but you usually can't even plug two into one amp.

Right. I heard that early in an interview with Kraftwerk in Synapse magazine. I was one of their correspondents in the early stages in the late '70s. Again, that's how we were getting a lot of information; I still have a lot of those issues. Kraftwerk were saying, "We create loudspeaker music." It was a revelation at that point, because the music doesn't do anything until we put it in a speaker. The speakers become the acoustic body for the Oberheim. That's when I realized how important it was to have speakers that sounded great, because the better they sound, the better the Oberheim will sound. But at the same time, if I wanted to hear them in a big cathedral space or in a canyon, eventually digital reverb became the holy grail for doing expansive, spatially placed electronic synth music.

So, that right there was Structures From Silence. It's one Oberheim, essentially. For the title track, we actually recorded it at Gary Chang's studio. Gary, a film composer, was doing a lot of early films and came out of the CalArts crew out there, and he had a great studio in Santa Monica. For the title track, I knew I had to get my hands on a [Lexicon] 224 [Digital Reverb]. That was the sound that Structures had to live in. But since I had recorded Structures into the DSX, it was there in Culver City studio/home bungalow for three or four months, alive. I would just keep fine-tuning the tempo, and slowing it down, and finding a little cluster here and there. I went into Gary's with Kevin Braheny, who was a friend and studio engineer who worked building a lot of the Serge synthesizer modules at that time. He engineered the session with me. I set up behind the console, and here was the sacred 224 sitting there, and we dialed up the sound and recorded it. The sequence is playing but I'm interacting with it. As it's playing, I'm changing the tempo and adding few notes here and there. I did have a second OB-8, and I added that in as it was going down. So, the 30 minutes that it takes to hear it is the time that it took to create it, that moment. You're hearing just a moment; a live performance in the studio. I have the [Ampex] 456 1/4-inch [tape] out in the garage. I always remember going and buying the 456 reels at the supplier in downtown L.A. I would get home, and I was such a purist. I would want to just record the piece one time on that tape and that would be it. I had this whole fixation around not wanting to record over it. A lot of what I'm doing these days carries on like this: I can get a whole universe of sounds synchronized and playing, then interacting with them live. I'm doing a lot of live recording down to a [2-track] Tascam DA-3000 at 24/96. That little setup is perfect for a lot of how I work. Then I'll put it in a DAW and add some parts if I need to.

That's a nice way to work.

With what I do, it's like when there's a beautiful sunset or a moment where everything's aligning, and I'll capture it. I could break it all down; I could take the clouds and fine-tune those and the mountain ridge and all that, but then it starts getting convoluted. I'd lose the energy and the way it all melts together. "Magic tracks" is what I call them – these powerful tracks that have some energy in them that I can't explain. Those will be great foundations to come in and add elements to, in order to fine tune, orchestrate, or put some acoustic instruments along with it. I have 40 years of magic tracks now. I've got cassettes, DATs, CD-Rs, and every medium that's survived the attrition of time.

Do you pull old ones out and see if you can add to it and find something new?

That's a cool question. Yeah, absolutely. Because it was created 20 years ago doesn't mean it's any less valid or vibrant. If I can hear it now and think, "Did I create that last night?" At my Bandcamp page I have an exclusive page where subscribers, for the cost of a couple of cups of coffee a month, can get access to my archives and to all this music I have from 40 years. Three days ago, I released a new piece that's 28 minutes long. It's a beautiful atmosphere from 23 years ago with Parker Fly guitar loops: They are textural, amorphous, and evocative. I put it up in the studio a week ago, and immediately started playing the new Oberheim to it. It was like we were there together; the older version of me and the current one had merged. I had the digital sequencers running, and the mix playing back from the original source. It was a CD-R, and I was playing it directly through the board and EQ'ing it and treating it live as well. I took all those elements, the live parts, and just recorded it back to the DA-3000. Then three days later I put it up on my exclusive page, and it's there right now for everybody to hear.

Isn't it great to have an instant outlet, where you can get it directly to people who want to hear it?

Yeah. It's so cool. When I think back about all of the drama of doing records through the traditional labels… The way they would grab me, hold me, and control me didn't work for my kind of energy and the rate at which I create at. They'd say, "You just put out an album nine months ago. What are you trying to do here?" [laughter]

With the compositions you do, a couple of pieces can fill an album.

Right. Exactly. With the atmospheric and the amorphous pieces, there are so many ways to engage with it. It has to have a longer timeframe to settle in and unfold to have its effect. I tapped into that out of my own needs very early on. A 30-minute piece was uncommon at that time. There were some coming from the European school and, of course, Brian Eno [Tape Op #85] was doing the early slow-motion music. I don't know if you want to call it courage, but there's a certain amount of, "I'm going to do this, and I'm going to live with it for an hour because I need to feel it for myself." But while it's being sculpted and created, there are subtle interactions at the board where I'm slowly changing the EQ. If you look at the magic hour of sunset, how the light shifts over 20 minutes; I'll use that as a metaphor in EQ and adding reverbs. I have a lot of listeners say, "I've been hearing this for 25 years, and it feels different when I hear it from one day to the next." That is cool.

Plus, perspectives of this music change at different volumes. I have a little Sonos speaker next to my bed, and I'll listen to some of your records as I'm drifting off to sleep. But they're playing very quietly, so I'm only hearing a little bit of the fundamental tonal shifts.

Absolutely.

But I've cranked your albums on my studio's monitors with a subwoofer, and then it wraps around me more and I'm lost in it. Parts can now feel unsettling on pieces where there's a bit of a rub or there's a low rhythmic part.

Absolutely. That's the beauty of it. The absolutely important piece is the level of how you administer the medicine there.

Exactly! [laughs]

The way that I work is that I'm monitoring at low levels a lot of times. I'll be very conscious about taking it down to the threshold of, "Is it there?" That's another thing I love about my studio here, is that I can create all of those zones that are running live; I can come in and keep recording. I'll reel off another two hours of one space today, and then, in two or three days, it's already shifted into something else. I have these natural occurrences. The level of perception of going back to evaluate that is another story, because I've got to spend the time to live with it. Here at my kitchen table, I have two small Yumi speakers, and I'm playing pieces quietly back when working here, and testing it out that way.

Every type of music ends up being background music, at some point.

True. Music has become so functional, on so many levels. It's interesting to interview people of all different ages about how they use music now. Music is everywhere. At any moment you can just call it up on YouTube, Apple, or whatever, and you're immediately hearing [Small Faces'] "Itchycoo Park."

Have you worked with anyone on generative music apps?

Yeah, I have an app that's called the Immersion Station, created by Eric Freeman, who is really an artist, but he knows how to write the proper coding to do this. He's brilliant. We created this app 14 years ago, and it was reborn in 2022, with five different Immersion Stations. Those are basically drawn from sound worlds from my Immersive series of recordings, and then some new material for the app. Basically, you look at it on the phone and it's got five spheres that you can mix and move around with your fingers. You can double tap it and it mutes the sphere, or you can put it in Creation mode, and then it's like you put in a random mode in an automated board and the faders start to move. We brought it back, as there was a demand for it.

Have you encountered recording engineers where they didn't understand working on your music?

I would say I never have. Early on, when I was doing work in L.A. in some of the big studios there that I would get in in off hours – we even worked in the famous Capitol Studios [Tape Op #114] – I would always be with simpatico folks that were there with me. I was also fairly protective of my creative world that I lived in. I created an envelope of safety to work in. Even when I had the early Tascam boards, I would gather the tools and go into a pro studio for a night or two with an engineer; people that were on the same page. Also, it was important meeting up with Michael Stearns in L.A. He was doing the big IMAX films and had some great gear. Of course, his philosophy was in line with mine, with the whole expansiveness of the desert and all. I would continue to gather the tribe around me that would be there and not make me feel like I was on the wrong planet. That's where I continued to develop, to collect and build my own Timeroom studio, and keep focusing on all that. More collaborations came with people all over the world, like Jorge Reyes and Vidna Obmana [Dirk Serries] – folks from different countries, where we would share that together. I've worked in studios in Madrid, Spain, and Germany with big SSL automated boards. We seemed to always have engineers that were fascinated and open to this music. We would always set up behind the board, so we could be interacting with these giant mixers. The board is so essential.

It's control room music.

It is. Because you're the one in control!

Many of your sounds have such gradual entries. Are those manipulations on the console, or are they done via ADSR [attack, decay, sustain, release] settings?

That's really a good question. It's a combination of creating these morphing, slow-motion sound worlds that are doing a lot within the patch itself. Different tunings are coming in and out, different chords, and different amplitude levels. There's slow-motion automation that's built into the patch. And then, as I'm bringing it into the board or as it's living in the board, there's a great deal of manipulation at the mixer as it's happening. Like, especially as I was saying before, with pre and post sends. It's like the view out my window; I can see 70 miles out into Mexico, but there are mountains, then there are ridges, and then there are different layers. It's always a constant reminder of how I can have sounds closer by having a drier signal. Then I want to start to pull your awareness down; deeper, and deeper, and deeper into the mix. So, then I'll start pulling that dry back in with that reverb. And then, as the as the reverb is blooming out, I'm also EQ'ing the reverb in real time and adjusting that. It's similar to painting, where you're constantly shading and bringing in a little color here and there. It's so subtle, but the subtlety is what all adds up, along with the slow manipulation and the hands-on of everything. Plus, the patches are also alive, breathing and undulating, with LFOs [low frequency oscillators] slowly sweeping filters, moving VCAs [voltage controlled amplifiers], or modulating the pitch, even just a tiny bit.

I assume frequently you're – with the pre and post aux sends – bringing in a reverb before we hear the dry source.

Yeah, that's absolutely part of the landscape. I have the Eventide H3000 and H4000, and Lexicon 300 and 480L, and [PCM]70 reverbs. Those are my essential tools. Other ones come and go. But those favorite tools are constantly being interfaced together in different ways; it's a great, endless combination of organic processing that I create more and more of a language with over time. But what you said earlier about synths and effects in the early days; a lot of people would get a synth and then I would hear them using it and it would be missing all of these elements. Now we're seeing a lot of synths where they put these effects built in, with nice reverb, delays, and EQ; all of that on the last part of the signal chain of the synth.

And aftertouch too: Settings that morph into a second sound.

Certainly. The Hydrasynth has polyphonic aftertouch, so there's a whole other layer of new subtlety with that going on.

In your early years, was analog tape hiss bothering you, as far as it being a difficult thing to overcome when the music's quieter?

I never felt it was too bad. In the earliest days, I had a 4-track Tascam, and I had the dbx [noise reduction] accessory that we would use. Eventually I had the 8-track Tascam 38, and it had dbx. I would use that to good effect. I would EQ tracks and I would be aware of that range. If I needed to, I would put something up there to mask it, or to have something to entertain your eardrums in that range. But it also developed a style or a sound in my music over the years, where I would take that frequency and remove it completely. With my long-form ambient work, such as Darkest Before Dawn, the entire high end is gone. It creates this psychological effect of being wrapped in a blanket where it was kind of warm and soft. At one point I punctured an eardrum, and I was quite scared at first. I went to the ear doctor, and he said, "You've got to relax for a month. It's going to heal and it's going to take time." I put cotton in the good ear, and I kept putting the medicine in the bad ear. I took down the whole frequency range in both ears. About two weeks in, I had to start playing. I went in and I started playing dark and deeper chords that I could feel physically in my being. I could hear in the lower hearing range and feel those chords, and I could still hear the UPS truck bringing gear. [laughter] As the time started to heal, I pulled the cotton out and I would still hear at this certain threshold. I created the piece [album and track] called "Darkest Before Dawn." It's a conscious reaction to not being able to hear above a certain threshold. It creates this incredible vortex; it almost pulls you into this dark space but not. It's dark emotionally, to a certain degree, but it's also that feeling of a womblike sense of safety or warmth. Since all the highs are gone, it allows your awareness to then hear other things that are not in that space, and within your own aural perception.

And tape hiss won't exist!

I met Brian Eno in L.A. at an art opening or something. It was right at the cusp of CDs coming out, and he said, "I'm going to add tape hiss to my recordings." That was his reaction to CDs, when I asked what he thought about the incoming CD format. That was a classic Eno comeback!

I know you used Alesis ADATs for multitracking for a while.

Yeah, I lived through all of that. What was the big remote?

The Alesis BRC [Big Remote Control]?

Yeah. I started out with the basic ADATs and went to the gold face ones, and they had this great sound. I recorded an African group in Montreal, [Canada], Takadja [Takadja: Music From Africa], that was Senegalese, classic African trance music. I had three ADATs synced together, and then I brought the tapes back to Tucson, rented another unit, and did the mix with those three all synchronized, locking up together. I also did my first long-form multitrack piece with the ADAT, where I could offset the time on one to start 45 minutes later. I was running one, then the other one would start, and I would crossfade at 45 minutes.

That's a pretty amazing trick.

That'd make for long days when I realized that I did something at about 40 minutes that I needed to do a do-over on! That's when I first got into the DAW and did my first multitrack sessions.

Do you think the non-linear way of working with a DAW has allowed more freedom for you to compose and try out ideas quicker?

I could feel it in the late '90s, when I shifted from linear recording to non-linear. I could feel it absolutely changing my perception in my consciousness. I was unlocked from linear time, and it was like holographic time. I could move around. It was architectural. At that point, I could start to feel how, as a person, I was perceiving everyday reality. Or how I was analyzing or hearing sounds, or looking at things outside of music. It was having a profound effect on my perception that way. It continued to evolve, with these long-form pieces especially. The limitations of a CD certainly were there at that point, and now if I go straight to digital, it can go on for quite a long time. I love playing with time. That's one of my obsessions, obviously with the Timeroom. And the music I do is about space and altering time: Slowing it down and speeding it up, and ultimately transcending time through this life in the sound current.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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