What I consider to be an absolute classic when it comes to defining ambient albums, Steve Roach’s Structures From Silence.
I almost wasn’t going to write this tonight. It’s been a really long, weird day and I’m sort of not in the mood to sit down and talk about music in any great detail. I’ve been listening to random pop shit for a couple of hours because my tired, confused brain can’t handle anything deeper.
Luckily, I’ve owned Structures From Silence for a while, and I formulated opinions on it and have written about it long ago, so here it goes.
Ahh synth. It’s a troublesome instrument for a number of reasons, primarily being that what may sound “modern” or current now may very well sound old-fashioned and dated 10, 20 or even 30 years down the line in this case. A lot of people chastise this album for that very reason; they bemoan the synth for sounding too quaint and cheesy and badly aged; I disagree, I think it’s quite fitting and charming in the circumstances.
We start with “Reflections In Suspension”, which is lucky because it also happens to be my favourite track. It introduces itself slowly, its delicate synth bloops and serenading strings grow to their maximum volume gently, which is an achievement because they barely rise to more than a whisper. This piece to me has always been a warm, sunlight room, blinds partly drawn with soft shafts of light streaming through the chinks. Caught for brief moments as they move slowly and chaotically through the air are dust particles, momentarily illuminated, flaring into sight and existence before drifting away again. I used to be fascinated by the way the sunlight caught the dust during boring assemblies in primary school, and that serenity and fascination holds true with this beautiful piece also.
“Quiet Friend” doesn’t share the same warmth as the previous track; the synth pads are replaced with somewhat more melancholic synth drones, quavering notes that expand, overlap, hover sadly and then disappear. Halfway through we get some more activity with slightly more rhythmic and looped synth “bells” – for want of a better word – sequences. Subtle, typical 80’s synth can be heard rolling and oscillating in the background. It’s an ode to a lost friend or relative, this one. Feelings of absence and loss are expressed quietly, tastefully, introspectively.
Lastly is the longest track on the album, the title track. With a distinct nod towards Brian Eno’s ’78 release Ambient 1, “Structures From Silence” is 29 minutes of pure, unadulterated bliss; non-progressive loops of synth with no apparent goal, no specific direction, just simply to create a perfectly mellow atmosphere that will saturate your brain stem when you want it to but also just float along unobtrusively in the background when you don’t. There is nothing to interpret here, no absolute meaning behind this piece, just music that allows you to fill it with whatever you want and draw up thoughts and opinions and emotions of your own accord. Pure ambient, as it were.
Structures From Silence is an album that certainly won’t be for everyone, it will at some point demand you to listen and inspect it closely, but also reward those that do enjoy it and pay attention. Classic, essential, ambient listening.