While I have covered many rock and metal artists here at ADD, I have also had a long standing passion for ambient music that dates back to my college years, when I was first exposed to Harold Budd, Brian Eno, Jeff Greinke, Steve Roach and Robert Rich. Over the years I have collected numerous recordings by these artists and seen some of them play live. But lately I have not been to any electronic or ambient music shows, so when I learned that Robert Rich would be performing at One Thousand Pulses in New Jersey, I made
sure to go see him.
I first discovered Rich’s music in 1991 when I found the Rainforest album at Sounds in the East Village. His largest seller (it surpassed 50,000 units), the music on the disc truly sounded as if it came from the titular environment. The composer/multi-instrumentalist conjured a mixture of dreamy synths, exotic percussion and wind instruments, lap steel guitar and some nature sounds into a heady sonic brew that blew my mind. I proceeded to collect more of his works over the years, including the enigmatic environs of Gaudi, the deep, darkambient regions of A Troubled Resting Place and the contemplative piano pieces of Open Window. The way he intertwines the electronic with the organic is simply sublime.
I have interviewed Rich in the past and saw him perform before hundreds of Goths at the Projekt Fest ’97 in Chicago. This time he performed at One Thousand Pulses, which is a professional concert venue that veteran music writer Darren Bergstein has installed in his home in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey. It was a fitting place for a number of reasons. Bergstein used to edit and publish i/e, a truly alternative music magazine that opened my ears to new sounds. He also gave me my first writing assignments in 1993, two years before my career as a paid writer began. And I wrote a major feature on Rich for one issue that actually resulted in him collaborating with Lustmord (aka Brian Williams) on the eerie atmospheric album Stalker in 1995.
For this particular concert, Rich focused on his melodic, rhythm works found on the albums Seven Veils, Electric Ladder, Numena, Bestiary, Atlas Dei, Lithosphere and the recent Ylang. The surreal clouds of sound that he generated from his keyboards, PVC flutes and lap steel guitar enveloped the room quickly and barely abated during his continuous 100-minute performance (excerpt here). The mixture of pre-programmed percussion and atmospheres and his live playing was mesmerizing, and I almost found myself drifting off to sleep, my eyes shut, my brain creating images inspired by the music. Nodding off at a Robert Rich concert is a complement from fans. The Northern California-based composer is renowned for his all-night sleep concerts, which he started while studying computer music at Stanford and during which people would actually slide into slumber from his deep drones while surrounded by strangers. It was one part performance, one part psychology experiment. He still conducts them today.
Many of the two dozen attendees at One Thousand Pulses shut their eyes and journeyed into their imaginations during the show. While that sounds like a modest number of listeners, ambient shows are not always meant for a larger audience, although this was certainly small and intimate. But that simply made the experience that much richer (no pun intended). I was surrounded by serious fans and no one else. The Projekt Fest show thirteen years ago was great, but not everyone was focused on the stage. Given the mix of ambient, pop and rock artists that weekend, it was easy to see why, even though the diversity on the bill was greatly appreciated by many.
The New Jersey show was wonderful and reminded me about why I got into music journalism in the first place: to expose people to exotic music that excited my senses. Days after the show, I pulled out recordings by many artists I first discovered through college, i/e and my Goth club days in the Nineties — artists like Current 93, Lustmord, Nocturnal Emissions, Harold Budd, The Moon Lay Hidden Beneath A Cloud and Hungry Ghost. I have been listening to many of those artists on and off over the years — some not in awhile — but the Rich concert reinvigorated my interest in atmospheric music.
I caught up with Robert after the show; we had not seen one another in over ten years. We chatted about everything from our musical and writing journeys to the state of the music industry. Funnily enough, while CD sales are down for everyone, he told me that he makes over eight times more selling discs through his own label than if he were on a larger one (although naturally selling more units on a larger label is more lucrative at the 50,000 sales level), and on tour he can generate some good revenue. I would like to conduct an interview with him for ADD in the near future. If you’re lucky, you can still catch him on tour. You can also check out his music, which is highlighted in the widget above, with some other titles available at CD Baby. You’ll enjoy the journeys you take with him.