Remembering Steve Roden, By Lawrence English

Steve Roden 1964 – 2023

Composer, collector, sound and visual artist, filmmaker, multi-faceted collaborator and one-time member of punk band Seditionaries, Steve Roden has passed away aged 59 after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2017. Lawrence English, who released Roden’s music on his Room40 label, pays tribute to his friend. For more on Steve Roden’s life and work please visit his website. Thanks also to Lawrence for the photograph of Steve

Over a decade ago, I sat in a garden, listening with Steve Roden.

The night sky over Pasadena was filled with a humming glow and Steve’s face beamed with a smile that many people will remember as one of his most infectious qualities. The conversation had paused and over the hedge came a cascading wash of sounds. Things close, things distant, things familiar and otherwise. As each event arrived and departed one of innumerable compositions took shape, and it was as if I could see Steve finding pathways through them. It’s this memory and so many others that fill my mind when I think of him.

It’s impossible to summarise Steve’s life. At least that’s how I feel. He was an artist, a musician, a collector, a researcher, a collaborator, a mentor, a genre creator, a seeker, a listener and, for many of us, a dear friend. This is of course an incomplete list, Steve was so much, all at once, yet in the same moment he was the most humble person you might ever come across. His way of being in the world was encapsulated in his ‘lower case’ methodology, making for a gently provocative musical legacy that I am sure will undulate tidally into and out of focus over the coming decades.

On the fortunate occasions I spent with Steve, I found his generosity of spirit and his openness to the world to be quite simply beautiful. Steve’s way was one of availability. It was an availability to place, to time, to people, to materials, to sound and to listening. With that availability travelled a sense of patience. This was especially the case with his sound work, in which patience was key in that it unlocked the unexpected magical properties of the situations and spaces within which he worked.

This patience also allowed Steve to find form in almost all aspects of the world around him. No matter what the material, no matter what space, Steve had a porousness that allowed him to trace the relationships, as delicate as they might be, between object, sound, and space. It was then, just the case for him of allowing those things to resonate with one another. A gentle shift here, a repositioning there and Steve could create the most delightful orbits from the simplest of ideas and materials. Anything was possible, because everything was available.

What is hardest for me now to think of, in recognising his passing, is all those amazing ideas, sounds and situations that will go unrealised, perhaps even unnoticed. In his time here Steve has lived a thousand lives, but I feel he could have lived a thousand more. He sensed the world deeply and shared enormously, but I know, and others too, there was so much more to come. Steve’s interest, his desire to uncover and to celebrate that which fascinated him is something I will dearly miss about his way.

In this world there are some artists who listen so very deeply, who cherish the minor, the incidental, the unexpected, the hushed; Steve Roden was one such artist. Not only did he cast his ears outward, with a generosity equalled only by his curiosity, but he asked us to do the same. Together, we leaned into a world of sound so rich that we might not believe it could be possible. Steve not only guided us to and through that world, but he created it.

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