Robert Rich Calling Down the Sky Inclement weather -- in the forms of windstorms, tornadoes, torrential flood producing rains and electrical storms -- followed Robert Rich across the USA on his tour in the summer of 2003. (Having been involved in promoting his Pittsburgh show on June 20, I can verify that we had flash floods all night. However, I also attended his Harrisburg performance two days later and we had a perfect early summer day.) On July 26, it "all came into focus." Robert performed an improvised set at a "house concert" in a circle of 26 friends. He recorded it and released it as Calling Down the Sky. It is always difficult to describe Robert's music and presumptuous to review it. On the other hand, there is much gratification and humility in sharing thoughts and opinions with others. From the opening moments to the final fade, these 26 individuals had it all! The warmth and intimacy that are Robert's most endearing traits caress the entire experience. He is able to translate that to the recorded medium. His electronics are perfect. His pedal steel sings gracefully. His flute is melodic and pure. In short, this CD is flawless. It captures the pure essence of the live e-music experience. ~ Jim Brenholts
Somnium by Robert Rich Hypnos DVD, 2000 http://www.hypnos.com Robert Rich takes us again into the land of dreams and darkness with this most unusual seven-hour audio DVD. Since the ‘70s, Rich has presided over “sleep concerts” all-night events where the audience actually is supposed to sleep through the performance. The sound is intended to induce altered states of consciousness, lucid or surrealistic dreams, and even visionary experiences. These avant-garde sleep-ins would be the exact opposite of frenetic “raves.” With Somnium, Rich provides the soundtrack for a listener to re-create the “sleep concert” experience, whether alone or with friends. There are instructions on the endpapers on how to set the soundtrack, how much volume to use, and what you might expect while you are sleeping as it is playing. The very concept of Somnium presents a problem to the reviewer. How can I accurately review music that I sleep through? How much would I remember? The logistics of listening are difficult, too: due to measures taken to preserve audio quality, the DVD has no “navigation.” This means that the soundtrack is only divided into three long sections, ranging from two and a half hours to two hours, and you can’t fast forward or “rewind” while listening to a section. In order to hear what is near the end of a section, you have to listen all the way through. Perhaps in the ideal I would follow Rich’s instructions and sleep through it, reporting not on the sound but on the dreams and altered consciousness (if any) I felt. But I decided (with apologies to Mr. Rich) to disobey the instructions and listen all the way through while awake. I listened in three separate sessions, paying attention to the music rather than my state of consciousness. Section 1 leads into the virtual night with soothing drones from synthesizers and low flutes, accompanied by the sound of rain. The tones are in Rich’s “signature” microtonal “just intonation,” giving it a mysterious Oriental quality. Throughout this long night, in all three sections, environmental sounds surround the listener/sleeper, especially water of all kinds from rain to gurgling streams to splashes to ocean waves. There are night-insects and chirping birds, and the sound of wind and breath. In the middle section 2, representing the deepest part of the night, the synthesizer drones become atonal and sometimes very low; at a quiet volume they would be nearly inaudible. There is also a peculiar, irregular popping sound, perhaps derived from water droplets, which is the only “percussion” on the soundtrack; otherwise, there is no recognizable rhythm at all, just long drones, punctuated by somber bell tones. In section 3, as the night recedes, Rich’s harmonies switch from dissonance or atonality into a beautiful tone-cluster around a ninth-chord, and the music becomes slowly louder. It’s as if you can “hear” the brightening light before the dawn, and the coming of day. As the night ends and sleepers awake, the synthesizer drones fade away, leaving only the springtime chirping of sunlit birds. Musically, Somnium is in line with Rich’s other long-form ambient releases such as his Inner Landscapes from 1985, re-released 1999, and his 1998-99 Humidity, both from Hypnos. But Somnium mercifully lacks the nightmarish quality of the other two albums; there are no disturbing sirens or screams, no harsh harmonies or thudding rhythms. Perhaps a “listener’s abridgement” of Somnium could be released in a single-CD format, for those who want to hear at least some of it while awake. It is a gentler, if still suitably dark, evocation of the mysteries of slumber and night. Hannah M.G. Shapero, EER-MUSIC.com 12/21/01 Winter Solstice night, longest night of the year
Sunyata by Robert Rich Hypnos Recordings, 2000 – remastered from 1981 version http://www.hypnos.com In the field of ambient music there’s no one quite like Robert Rich. For 20 years now, he’s been bringing his nocturnal, eerie vision to the world through electronic music designed to alter consciousness, even when the listeners are asleep. Sunyata is a re-mastering of recordings made by Rich in 1981, when he was first experimenting with his “sleep concerts” at Stanford University, where he was then a student. Recently, Rich has been re-releasing his live concert performances from the past 20 years, such as the three-CD set released last year as Humidity. There is a strong continuity of sound; Rich’s way was already recognizable at the very beginning. This Hypnos recording features two of the pieces that were on the original ninety-minute cassette tape from 1981, including a 43-minute sound-stretch from a live performance, called “Oak Spirits.” The title track, “Sunyata,” which wouldn’t fit on the CD, was re-released on the “Extreme” label in 1994 among a Rich set called Trances/Drones. The music is a layered, steady mixture of electronic drones and microtonal chords which occasionally drift through a moment of conventional tonality. These cloudlike, continuous tones are mixed with environmental sounds like the rustling of leaves and dripping water. It is meant to be played softly, and if the listener nods off, that’s fine with Rich. Ideas of structure, rhythm, and harmony do not apply here in the traditional sense; this is more like a dream than a musical composition. Sometimes it is a disturbing dream, attended by whining sirens and whirling winds; other times, the sounds evoke a strange and desolate landscape of emptiness (“Sunyata” means “void” in Buddhist terminology) and mystery. If you are willing to take a journey to such a surrealistic environment, and wish to voyage there using sound as your vehicle, this is the way to go. But I wouldn’t recommend playing this album when you are trying to work or concentrate in the waking world of daylight. HMGS rating: 7 out of 10 2/15/01
Robert Rich: Trances / Drones (2-CD, 71:57 and 70:14); Relapse/Release Records, RR 6455-22 2000 Cyberhome: http://www.rrich.com Gaining a descriptive foothold when reviewing ambient music is like collecting quicksilver into discernable word-shapes -- an elusive moment frozen in time. When I sample over 142 minutes of Robert Rich’s Trances / Drones release and so set it to paper, then to disks, then to cyberspace -- art loses its energy, I am wordless, stunned, drained. This 2-CD offering is 1982-83 Richscapes remastered in 1993 for re-release in 2000. Old wines hold a special treasure to be discovered many years later. And so it is with Rich’s vintage works. This is an unadorned, simple yet rich ambience. It is full of unseen power and subtle in its manner of delivery. It overwhelms without smothering. It soothes without the overdone and boring, standard- industry-ambient-isms, (such “amb-boring-isms” will be discussed in a future article soon). Anyway, I find this release a wonderful break from “the norm”. Rich was finishing his psychology studies at Stanford when these pieces first became reality. Rich was well aware of brain functions, sleep cycles, and also big into the lucid dream research thing then. (I too have unsuccessfully tried holding my hand up in front of my face and/or speaking my name aloud in dreams to establish a higher consciousness in dreamsleep.) These six tracks are created then, with purpose, focused on the brain and a manipulation/massaging of “rest-plateaus”. Rich actually held “sleep-gigs’ where people arrived with sleeping bags ready for the 10pm - 7am concert. Such musicks of that Rich era are now available for mass consumption. Sonic lulls, uniform restfulness, deep-level ambient psyche- shifts are now ready for the comfort of your living room instead of the 80's sleeping bag scene. Rich’s pieces are neither bright nor airy. They are descending clouds of Hypnos, heavy gauze, almost dark yet more ethereal than noir-tension threatening. This beatless, non-melodic, huge waved, walls-of-sound entity -- topples, melts, and immerses the psyche beneath the everyday din. You are carried into subterrene voids, weightlessly drifting above enigma, and that separation of mind/body/3-D space/time flow awareness quickly loses former definition. You will only understand me after you hear Rich. This is music before Rich got rhythmic, dripping, echoed, dark and well-known in noir-amb and ethnic/tribal percussives. This is Rich on his first thresholds of ambient middle-earth. This stuff is the stuff -- resonating a purity of form and accomplishing the brain’s wavestates Rich was so fascinated with decades ago. For those of you needing references: think David Parsons’ Himalaya stripped down, slowed to 16 rpm or Klaus Schulze’s X in a holding pattern around his most non- sequenced “space-out’ fugues. This a very minimal, very approachable ambience that will absolutely mesmerize you. Highest of recommendations. Good night listener, see you in dreamland . . . ~ John W. Patterson Personnel: Robert Rich - All synths, lap steel guitar, bamboo flute, voice, Tibetan bell, delay effects, gliss guitar loops, acoustic room resonance derived from delayed feedback, (and general genius) God: rain, ocean, frogs Tracks: Disc One: Trances Cave Paintings, Hayagriva, Sunyata(Emptiness) Disc Two: Drones Seascape, Wheel of Earth, Resonance
Inner Landscapes by Robert Rich Hypnos Records, re-release of 1985 material, 1999 http://www.hypnos.com Inner Landscapes is a compilation of the “best moments” from one of Robert Rich’s live music concerts in 1985. At that time Rich was producing all-night musical events at which people were invited to come and sleep as well as listen. The idea was to re-create, in a modern way, the ancient practice of “dream incubation” in which a seeker would lie down to sleep in a temple, hoping to receive enlightening dreams from the deity. So this is by nature a music of black darkness and uneasy rest, relying throughout on long sustained notes from synthesizers. It begins with the sound of crickets, subtly chirping in the background, as if it were the beginning of a warm summer night. As the piece progresses, you hear soft synthesized moans and sighs interspersed in the sound-texture. Later on, as the crickets fade and true night begins, a high siren-like wail rises out of the deep drones. This is a Robert Rich trademark, which here could be a nightmarish alarm of a nuclear catastrophe, or a more folkloric banshee call. Dissonant chords based on sevenths and seconds wash in, giving the soundscape an atmosphere of aching remoteness and interstellar spaces. If the Deity is giving dreams, these are harsh dreams. After this, sections follow in which low flute melodies float in. The Oriental flutes are tuned to another of Rich’s trademarks, the weird otherworldly tuning known as “just intonation.” Other fragments of melody are carried on by low synthesizer lines, while tweets and squeaks imitating birds resound overhead. Some of these melodies are so drifting and distant, they are hardly there – this is the deepest part of this musical “night.” Yes, this music is so nocturnal that I cannot imagine listening to it by day. Certainly I would immediately be struck with an enchanted sleep, even in sunlight. The last section evokes the end of sleep, as the mythical seeker begins to rise out of the dreaming darkness. The delicate synthesized string sounds are less dissonant, tuned to bright harmonies of fifths and fourths, singing and luminous like the pale dawn of the sun after a long winter night. Inner Landscapes may be seen as more than just an ambient album; it is an ambitious attempt by a mythically aware and erudite composer who wishes to re-create a transcendent experience with sound and music. If this effect is real, then a complete run through Inner Landscapes will be more than just a piece of leisure time spent listening to “new age” music. It will be, as I believe Robert Rich intended it to be, a ritual which, like the world of dreams itself, has aspects that are both disturbing and sacred. HMGS rating: 7 Hannah M.G.Shapero 1/4/2000
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