The Best from Robert Rich, One of 20 Icons of Echoes.
Robert Rich @ Echoes
Few artists have cut a creative swath over the last thirty years as consistently and with as much innovation as Robert Rich. Each one of his nearly 40 albums is a meticulously crafted, creatively conceived work that reveal the fingerprints of an obsessive mind and deep soul. Whether playing analog synthesizers, blowing into PVC flutes, or stroking the the strings of a lap steel guitar through waves of processing, Robert Rich approaches each work with a conceptual grounding and an understanding of the sensuality of sound. Robert Rich was voted #14 of 20 Icons of Echoes. We’ll be featuring an interview with him tonight, June 15 on Echoes.
Picking out five Robert Rich albums is difficult, and picking out a number one CD out of dozens of perfect CDs is impossible. But here’s the Robert Rich albums that have moved me over the last three decades.
For me this is Robert Rich’s techno-tribal manifesto. He mixes primal, earth shaking percussive rhythms, flute melodies that weave in smokey contrails and lap steel solos that alternately descend like gossamer wings from the heavens and arise like avenging angels from hell. It’s a powerful and defining album that laid the groundwork for other great CDs like Seven Veils and Ylang.
Rich dials up the electric juice on Electric Ladder, creating deep cyclical patterns, churning analog atmospheres and paying homage to some of his influences, especially Terry Riley. Riley’s “A Rainbow In Curved Air” cycles are echoed in the title track against feedback lap steel guitar and on “Poppy Fields” soprano saxophone from Paul Hanson nods to Riley’s “Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band.” But while the influences are there, it also reveals how much Rich has subsumed them into his own aesthetic.
This is the album that really established Robert Rich. It’s a zen garden walk as Robert Rich takes you deeper from gamelan Bach cycles on “The Forest Dreams of Back” to deep sonic meditiations on “The Raining Room.” Even in 1989, Rich was avoiding the usual cliches. Instead of using environmental sounds like every other space/ambient composer at the time, he created his own jungles of insects, birds and streams electronically.
This is a bit of a cheat on my part. This package pairs Robert Rich’s second and third albums, Trances and Drones from 1983, but also includes a track from his 1982 debut, Sunyata. It’s hard to believe that Sunyata was recorded nearly 30 years ago when Robert Rich was only 19. He was involved as a researcher with dream studies at Stanford University and was already performing his sleep concerts. These were all night affairs, true “chill out” rooms where the audience came with sleeping bags and curled up to Rich’s subtle, shifting soundscapes, providing a soundtrack for their dreams. His first 3 albums emerged from this experience. These are remarkably detailed soundscapes which, like looking at a forest carpet, reveal more and more the deeper you go. For a contemporary iteration of this sound, listen to Rich’s 7-hour DVD, Somnium, or the more concise, 3-CD set, Humidity.
Appropriately for an album named after a tree, Robert Rich goes back to some of his roots but also expands them into new branches. You can hear many of Rich’s influences including psychedelic rock, German space music, Brian Eno ambiences and global trances. The album abounds with murky, trancey percussion grooves and long undulating melodies that owe a debt to Hassell. Arabesque flute melodies, throbbing hand drum rhythms, and lap steel guitar wailing a siren cry, like Jimi Hendrix sent into infinite sustain make this album an epic of 21st century music. Ylang was the Echoes CD of the Month in April
I’ve only included Robert Rich’s solo albums above, but he’s also made some extraordinary collaborative releases. Here are two of the best.
Robert Rich and Steve Roach are often spoken of in the same breadth, but the two have only collaborated on a full album twice, and both are brilliant. Strata was the first and it’s the definitive techno tribal album mixing primal rhythms, churning, canyon ripped layers of texture and melodies that are etched from flutes, lap steel and digeridoo.
Robert Rich has gotten together on three CDs with synthesist Ian Boddy. They explore analog electronic grooves and symetrical structures on their first outing, Outpost. It shows how far post-Tangerine Dream electronics can go when you leave Berlin behind and push for the edges of the universe. Kinetic grooves, enveloping textures and soaring melodies make this a must-have for any navigator of space music.
Tonight, June 16 on Echoes, we’ll feature a retrospective interview with Robert Rich, one of 20 Icons of Echoes.
You can read a complete review of Ylang and hear an audio podcast with music from Ylang here.
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John Diliberto ((( echoes)))