Steve Roden - a big circle drawan with small hands  

review on Still Single

by Adam MacGregor ( fev 2014 )



Finally, a record that could be slipped in under the radar for airplay on John Diliberto’s Echoes, subsequently freaking out snoozy squares coast-to-coast. Pasadena-based alien sound artist Steve Roden (heard from last on 2012’s Luminance Ratio split EP) returns with six tracks of environmental- and electroacoustic-based music to accompany your most fitful bouts of relaxation. The effect of this music is not unlike listening to a gaggle of FM-3’s Buddha Machines, each set to a different loop. The simple rhythmic, melodic and timbral themes of each piece gradually unravel or mutate into something markedly different from their respective outsets. Like a no-fi, pointillist take on Autechre, “Sixteen Hands Waiting for Rain” calls to mind one of the following: a muted hearing test, an echoed-out sputnik transmission, or the pinging of some enormous pachinko parlor in the depths of the Marianas trench. “Two Hands Submerged in Water” starts with the low thrum of throat-singing or air passing through a massive, loose reed. What might be a faint radio broadcast joins in before the track locks into an eight-tone motif that sounds as if rendered via a distant steam calliope. Fans of the Conet Project might be reminded – unsettlingly – of those creepy themes that signal the beginning of a shortwave radio numbers station broadcast. “Two Hands Behind Glass” employs resonant, buzzing tones that wax and wane against one another in a kind of aleatoric fugue, sliding in and out of phase to a field recording of some kind of chant and the close-miked rattle of handheld percussion (perhaps one of the gizmos that’s pictured on the insert). The remainder of the record keeps one guessing continually – as good experimental music of this stripe should – at the sound sources of the honest-to-goodness musique concrete that Roden conjures. Arrhythmic crinkles and creaks burst unexpectedly out of the murky mixes amid subterranean factory floor clanging, high-speed data transfer eavesdroppings, nighttime cricket choruses, bubbling fluids, vari-speeded foreign-language conversations. And, that little in the way of typical post-production effects appear to be used (delay, reverb, filtering and such) is to Roden’s credit in his use of pure sound as a primary building block. This mystifying listen came in an edition of 250.
(Adam MacGregor)



review on The Field Reporter

by Caity Kerr ( jan 2013 )


Back in the day, and it wasn’t so long ago, there were relatively few people calling themselves sound artists and getting away with it. Fast forward a few years, not much more, and everyone’s at it. Steve Roden is one of the few artists who has actually been round the block many times and who has had a reasonably consistent output over a fair span of time. In the field of the sonic arts, which is virtually devoid of serious critical discourse, this is often enough to guarantee a prominent place in the hall of fame. Steve probably deserves to be in there for longevity and for having inspired many a lonely bedrooms artist to persist with their experiments. Whether his association with lowercase sound will bear critical fruit is a matter of time. As far as I can see lowercase’s most lasting legacy has been to spawn the habit of minimalist artists writing everything in lower case, which I still do myself occasionally, but resist from time to time mainly in order to be obtuse but also because I was having serious problems with the authority of the full stop.

Steve Roden’s a big circle drawn with little hands is a 2012 vinyl release on ini itu.

Here’s the track listing:-

A1. sixteen hand waiting for rain [5:00]
A2. two hands submerged in water [12:34]
A3. sparks from one hand on fire [3:29]
B1. two hands behind glass [8:46]
B2. one hand pressing a pencil against a tree [7:14]
B3. forty hands in anticipation of a word [6:01]

Before I get to the music I should mention that the details on the artist’s website are very helpful in explaining the limitations placed on resources from the very start.

a big circle drawn with little hands was created from a box of things sent to me by sylvian, who runs the ini itu label. the box contained everything from newspapers, coins, wooden toys, pamphlets, plastic objects, plastic bags, broken airline headphones, notes, a bottle opener, a noise maker of wood, a small electronic toy shaped like a butterfly that offered tones and animal noises, cardboard, a fan, and other things. i also used a banjo in the first track, and my voice in the last track.

the lp was mastered by taylor deupree, and the cover design and photos were done by sylvain.

a number of people have attempted to “de-code” the song titles, but like the rest of the approach to the soundmaking, etc. the titles actually also came from one of the items in the box of stuff sylvain sent to me – a newspaper, and i used each of the photographs to determine the titles, based on the number of hands appearing in an image as well as the image’s narrative. the title of the lp was based on a drawing made by sylvain’s daughter.

Note the lower case text – I’m still not sure about the full stops though.

The music is simple, linear, naïve and bland, most likely deliberately so. I didn’t think people made music like this any more but obviously they do. A little over a decade ago I could have drawn a line from the likes of Jeff Mills via beatless dance music to some of this kind of music. For example track 1 could be an IDM production with the beats stripped off. In the background lurks the ever-present threat of designer music. At one time this was fashionable and popular. Nowadays it sounds dated, such is the fashion industry of underground and experimental music.

There is no investigation of complexity in this music, which isn’t a problem in itself, and probably points to the fact that the sources were very limited, timbrally very simple, or, depending on how critical you want to be, not versatile enough to offer any more than a series of surface studies.

The loops and the linearity of their presentation become very predictable – tracks 2 and 5 are good examples of this. It’s similar to the approach that a dj would take to making tracks right down to the the inevitable breakdowns. First this, then that, then this again in a slightly different form. Then you take nearly all of it away and build it up again. The most positive aspect of this is that in the absence of layers you are able to hear qualities of the individual sounds. This is most revealing in the field recordings, here presented quite simply.

As you listen in closely you should be able to appreciate a certain warmth in the tonal balance of the album – nothing is too harsh on the ear. Whether this is a mastering or a compositional virtue is open to debate but at times the individual pieces come over more as productions than as compositions, and I believe that there is a difference between the two activities.

Track 6, despite pulling the listener in, is one of the most evanescent tracks on the album in the sense that it doesn’t offer anything fresh on subsequent auditions despite the shuffled loops, for example, revealing a little more each time round. I’m not sure what’s being explored here above and beyond the creative use of some sound objects.

I wouldn’t accuse Steve Roden of slack work because he is a genuinely gifted artist and has made some very meaningful and lasting work. However many of these schools and movements such as lowercase sound, if that’s what this is, remind me of Britpop or Brit Art in which the protagonists hunt in packs and rally under the banner of a clever name, protected by their media champions. They are masters at promoting themselves. Unfortunately though you do get caught out eventually, as those BritArt folks are finding under the harsh light of ruthless critics like Brian Sewell and the less cowardly writers of the visual arts establishment.

It sounds as if I’m being mean towards this work but I’m not. It is what it is – consistent throughout, rigorously constructed according to a severe but tightly focused aesthetic. Bland and monotonous but not necessarily boring. These are great strengths. Whether I happen to like the sound world or not is irrelevant, though I’m confident that I could develop and argue the case for the prosecution more critically with more pages at my disposal.

I had expected more of the ineffable beauties of wabi-sabi from this album because there was a period of a wonderful few years, which I had always associated with Roden and a few other pioneers, in which an aesthetic arose which valued such attributes as the perished, the distressed, the bland, the slightly unattractive and perhaps even the underworked. I’d like to think that this kind of work will return in some form or another.

But this album is too pristine for wabi-sabi – the intention is perhaps there in the use of reduced resources, but the execution is too considered and meticulous. Where it does touch on wabi-sabi is in its evanescence, or if we call up some synonyms, its transitory, transient, ephemeral and fleeting nature. The fact that I found myself having to listen again to remember the music told me that the music is easily forgotten. I know this sounds harsh but I don’t mean it in the sense of easily forgettable, which is entirely different. In this context, I’m underlining a conceptual strength of the work.

And let’s never take for granted the pleasure of having a big vinyl lp with good cover art in your hands.



review on Textura

by Ron Schepper ( oct 2012 )


Two new vinyl releases from ini.itu provide dramatically different listening experiences. On the one hand, we've got Mutamassik's fusion of exotic Egyptian sounds and hip-hop-inflected breaks; on the other, there's Steve Roden, a familiar name known for his idiosyncratic take on “lowercase” sound sculpting.


A poster shows up inside the Roden sleeve, too, though it's a tad smaller than the Mutamassik image and photographic rather than illustrative. Even so, it's a nice complement to the disc itself, which features six pieces the Pasadena-based sound artist produced using specific audio materials (in keeping with ini.itu's initial proposition) that Roden supplemented with radio, old records, and other sound sources. The poster imagery isn't unrelated to the musical content on “a big circle drawn with little hands” either as the items displayed—coins, a toy piano, can opener, etc.—are the unusual objects he used to generate the album's micro-detailed soundworlds. As such, the placidly meandering “Two Hands Submerged in Water” actually conjures a wistful aura in its dream-like ambient flow. “Two Hands Behind Glass” likewise nurtures a meditative ambiance in the way its flickering tones and agitated percussive patterns arrange themselves into a chattering micro-universe. “Sparks From One Hand on Fire” sounds like a recording captured outdoors, seeing as how its musical tones are smothered in the nocturnal whirr of insects and distorted voice noises. A track such as “Forty Hands in Anticipation of a Word” suggests that Roden has used a minimum of source materials in a given setting but has exploited their potential resourcefully in order to produce a maximal range of sound effects. The song titles—“One Hand Pressing a Pencil Against a Tree,” a representative example—hint at the production processes involved in their construction, though it's also possible that the titles are designed to serve a purely evocative end only; the cover note—“all sounds generated or organized by Steve Roden in The Bubble House”—only adds to the mystery. The recording's enigmatic music draws the listener in with its unhurried and wandering spirit, and one comes away from the album generally charmed by its electro-acoustic curiosities.



review on Le Son du Grisli

by Pierre Cécile ( oct 2012 )


Avoir dû chroniquer Proximities m’a fait retrouver le chemin de Steve Roden. Il aura fallu ça. C’est qu’on se croit parfois si familier de l’électronique minimaliste qu’on pense, et c’est dommage, pouvoir se passer d'écouter telle ou telle nouveauté, telle ou telle nouvelle collaboration (celle de représentants de l’école « lowercase » : Steve Roden / Richard Chartier Bernhard Günter / Taylor Deupree…). 

Deupree au mastering, c’est en solo que Roden nous revient avec A Big Circle Drawn With Little Hands, LP tout juste sorti sur la remarquable écurie belge Ini.Itu. S’il œuvre ici dans une veine expérimentale, l'Américain ne se départit pas d’une atmosphère cotonneuse qui a fait sa réputation et qui peut revêtir ici les atours d’une Music for Airports nouvelle génération (reloaded ?). Car son ambient est faite de nappes synthétiques, de loops vacillantes et de field recordings mais aussi fait la part belle à des présences (un groupe d’aliens, un chat qui ronronne, un fantôme d’enfant sur une balançoire). Ce sont les images que je me suis faites de ces présences qui se fondent dans le décor, et j’avoue qu’elles parlent assez mal de ce que contient ce disque. Pour plus de précision, je conseillerais simplement d'écouter ces deux extraits et même, pour ne pas rater le coche, de vous ruer sur l’une des 250 copies d’A Big Circle Drawn With Little Hands, le nouveau chef d’œuvre de Steve Roden.



review on Norman Records

by AudioBot3000 ( sep 2012 )


We’ve got a new LP from Pasadena’s Steve Roden with six of his gentle, loosely improvised pieces. According to the press release, “His working process often uses a combination of idiosyncratic notations using colors or symbols, an association of self-imposed rules and openings for intuitive improvisations”, and the tracks on here have all been created using specific and unusual materials - coins, toys, wooden rattles, little bits of rock, etc.

Opener ‘sixteen hands waiting for rain.’ has patient loops of dinking percussive half-melodies for a spacious, feel-good piece that’s making me think of a more minimal, highbrow Sun Araw, while the the lengthy piece which follows it, ‘two hands submerged in water.’ (all the track titles have this lowercase format, start with a number of hands and end with a full stop, presumably to mirror the “lowercase” genre the press release claims Roden has coined for a music that “bears a certain sense of quiet and humility; it does not demand attention, it must be discovered. the work might imply one thing on the surface but contain other things beneath.”), is full of hazy, sleepy and slightly sinister drones accompanied by some sort of intermittent creaking, grating sound. Very relaxing, kind of like a midpoint between Deathprod and Machinefabriek. Finally on the first side we’ve got ‘sparks from one hand on fire.’ with chirping crickets and a slow bass throb over some distant gliding violin drones, static clicks and glimpses of field recordings.

Flip it and ‘two hands behind glass.’ has glassy high-pitched squeak-loops, ‘one hand pressing a pencil against a tree.’ is a crackling industrial rumblescape with distant-foghorn mid-end, and closer ‘forty hands in anticipation of a word.’ has barely-there breathy processed analogue flutters and sounds like a big scary monster having a nap. It’s often hard to place which of the weird objects is making which sound, but the delicate, measured way that they are constructed means it remains intriguing and relaxing throughout. Fans of weird ambient sound art will be sure to dig this.



review on Vital Weekly 846

by Frans de Waard ( sep 2012 )


On Steve Roden's LP the 'world music' is entirely gone, but ini.itu is not a label to hand out open invitations, like 'give me some music and I'll release'. By no field recordings from far away countries or music from such countries, Roden was send a box of objects to produce sound with, and shown on the printed insert (which is a first for ini.itu, along with the LP by Mutamassik to have such inserts). We see a toy keyboard, coins, old airplane headphones, paper, wooden objects, some metal objects, a CDR. Just like his work with Machinefabriek this is not the result of file exchange but exchange of objects and in the hands of Roden turned into great music. By listening to this music, six tracks in total, its not always easy to recognize those objects. Roden creates a sound with it, records it and then loops it around, masses these loops and builds a fine piece of music with it. Usually quite linear in approach: Roden starts a sound, adds one more, adds another one etc, and all of this he does in a rather smooth and gentle way. And then at one point he takes away things, usually all of them at once via a fade out and then a new piece starts. Its, as said, all quite loop heavy, and Roden doesn't use the long form of playing sounds by hand. Perhaps one could say that the downside is that he does whatever he does, but the good news is that he does this with great care and style. This album doesn't shed any new light on the work of Roden, and fulfills whatever you have been expecting from him. Not his best, not at his most original but surely another fine addition to his vast catalogue. 



review on Metamkine.

( aug 2012 )


Une construction d'errances sonores à partir d'objets divers et d'enregistrements extérieurs, fines et délicates, entre austérité et envoutement et c'est toujours aussi intriguant. 250 exemplaires avec un insert couleur format A3.



review on Toolbox.

( aug 2012 )


Music can create space.... and space need this music to extend. Wonderfull Ambient ! This LP comes with a poster.



review on Boomkat.

+ RECOMMENDED (16 august 2012)


**Individually hand-numbered edition of 250 copies for the world, comes with full colour A3 poster** LA's Steve Roden has been exploring "lowercase" sounds both as In Be Tween Noise and under his own name, for a panoply of imprints including Line, 12k, Trente Oiseaux etc for the last 20 years. His latest lands on the worldly wise Ini.Itu label and utilises the kind of bric-a-brac you'd find in an old drawer at home - foreign coins, kids toys, wooden clackers - to create fragile and strangely absorbing little soundworlds. We're assuming there's a connection with Indonesia to 'A Big Circle Drawn With Little Hands', but it's not made clear by the press notes; there's just a quote in Malay on the cover and references on the insert to go from, but some of the voices and humid field recording textures would also point to that region. Over its course we're reminded of lots of artists, from the haptic rustles of Bellows or even Kevin Drumm, to the solitary melodies of the Cotton Goods lot and Francisco Lopez's electro-acoustic renders of location recordings, which basically hints at a well refined feel for density of space and nuanced texture. It's an unpredictable music which absorbs and intrigues with wistful subtlety. Really strong label and album this, highly recommended.