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ROBERT RICH: "Perhaps if there is one theme that runs throughout my life, it is a sense of seeking reunion with something that is lost"

Across four decades and over 40 albums, Robert Rich has helped define the genres of ambient music, dark-ambient, tribal and trance, yet his music remains hard to categorize. Part of his unique sound comes from using home-made acoustic and electronic instruments, microtonal harmonies, computer-based signal processing, chaotic systems and feedback networks. [http://robertrich.com/about]

Mindaugas Peleckis
2016 m. Gegužės 05 d., 08:03
Skaityta: 660 k.
Robert Rich
Robert Rich

Interview with Robert Rich, 2016 05 05.

You worked with a plethora of artists over the years. What collaborations were/are the most interesting and important to You and why?

All of the collaborations have resulted in lasting friendships. Each of these friendships - and the albums that resulted from them - have individual characters that are difficult to place in a hierarchy of importance. With the exception of “Zerkalo” with Faryus in St. Petersburg, I have had the great pleasure of creating these albums together with my friends in person, rather than remotely over a distance. Obviously the two albums with Steve Roach had a large impact in the styles that we are known for, and helped define a sound that people still recognize. Likewise, “Stalker” with Brian Williams (Lustmord) helped define another recognizable sound. Some of my fondest memories come from the month that Stefano Musso (Alio Die) spent with me while we worked on “Fissures.”  I was living a bit like a hermit at the time, hiding from things in a remote small town on the Big Sur coast, and we found deep inspiration together, sharing our passion for collecting wild mushrooms, fishing in the ocean, cooking together. That album has a special, shamanic quality. I still find it very powerful.

Can You tell me, in short, what the main ideas are behind Your music? Could You name Your favorite Your compositions / albums / collaborations? What about the new album? (Please read my review of the new album by Robert Rich in www.radikaliai.lt soon.)

Of course there are different ideas behind each album, and even each piece of music. Perhaps if there is one theme that runs throughout my life, it is a sense of seeking reunion with something that is lost, a sort of fragrance in the distance, a paradise that is inside of us, but from which we choose to stand outside, without realizing the gate is open and we can return at any time. It is very important for me to evoke a sense of place, something concrete rather than abstract. For this reason I have been using the word “embodiment” lately, to try to convey the idea that this is physical, grounded, visceral… in the body. I feel that our tendency to turn away from our own embodiment leads to great harm, a sense of rootlessness.

The new album “What We Left Behind” is dealing with some dark forebodings, the sense that the human species is heading off a cliff. Not only are we in the process of causing the 6th great extinction event on the history of Earth, causing lasting climate change, deforestation, expanding deserts, lingering nuclear waste; I also suspect our own extinction will come sooner than we think, unless we change dramatically. On the other hand, the planet has recovered from all the previous extinctions. Life rolls forward, at least until the sun expands and snuffs out the earth in a puff of smoke a few billion years from now. The earth doesn’t care if we exist or not, it proffers new life in a constant game of creation and destruction.

This album is not so bleak nor brooding, though the premise might sound dark. I am celebrating the resilience of life. The music journeys on a sort of dream vision, like a shaman taking to flight on raven’s wings across a future earth, landing in different forests, different oceans, feeling the energy of a lush and thriving world. The slight mood of sadness and loss comes from the realization that humans could have been a part of this also, yet our absence is only an echo from our own hubris. It’s a complex emotion, a mood of forgiveness and regret.

The sound is magic. You‘ve proved it. But, what ends, when there‘s no sound?

Thank you for the kind compliment. However, I am not sure I understand the meaning of your question. Perhaps there is a problem in translation. As John Cage showed us, there really isn’t such a thing as silence, for a person who is alive to hear a sound, even in an anechoic room we hear ourselves. So in this sense, sound is what we pay attention to. Our mind and our attention play essential roles in defining what we hear.

What is and what is not a Sound Art?

If it uses sound, then it is sound art. Or… is this a trick question? (smiling)

What do You think about relations between the old art and computer art? Are they compatible?

Of course they are compatible. Computers are just tools. However, I think it’s important that people remain connected to the physicality of the world around them, so I avoid the more immersive “virtual” experiences. I would rather be grounded in this beautiful world around us, and feel the embodiment of existence without overly synthetic enhancements.

What do You think about thousands of neofolk/industrial/ambient/tribal/electroacoustic/avangarde etc. bands/projects? Is it a kind of trend, o just a tendency forwards better music?

I am not sure I am familiar with a huge trend like what you describe. I think people should explore whatever interests them, and I don’t worry about what to call it or what category it should be in. People have always made music, and the commodification of music in the last 100 years might be getting less relevant with the internet allowing everyone to reach a small audience - even if it’s for free. I can’t say whether this is a good or bad evolution, but we are definitely seeing more music becoming available from independent musicians, and less chance to have a career doing it.

What do You know about Lithuania? How and when did You come to it? What Lithuanian and foreign musicians do You value most?

I know a bit of the history of the Baltic states, but I have never been to Lithuania. I had the pleasure to perform nearby, in Riga around 2008, and I was very glad to see a few people come from Lithuania to hear the event. I must confess with some embarrassment that I am not familiar with much Lithuanian music. On the other hand, much of the music from around the world has influenced me greatly, including the great Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. Probably my biggest influences are classical Indian music and Javanese gamelan.

What inspires You most?

Nature, without a doubt; however I am curious about many things, and new questions can inspire new directions for inspiration. I find ideas in cosmology and particle physics, in biology and ecology, in the visual arts, architecture, poetry, science fiction, all sorts of things.

You don't doo too much field recordings, do You? Why? Do You consider it Music?

I do a great deal of field recording, and it’s one of the main sources for my soundscape design. You can hear it on every one of my albums going all the way back to Sunyata and even the earlier pieces on Premonitions. You can hear it throughout Nest, where most sounds come from Eastern Australia, and on the latest What We Left Behind, with wind, crows, all sorts of outdoor sounds. I don’t worry about whether to call it music or not - but I do know that the frogs taught me polyrhythms when I was going up, listening to the way that they spaced their individual calls between the gaps in the other calls. I love this way of keeping rhythms more open.

As Your discography is huge which album (what No.) is the newest one?

It depends on how you count it, because several titles have been released in combined forms (Trances & Drones, Sunyata & Inner Landscapes, Numena+Geometry) and some of them like Live Archive contain multiple volumes; also how do I count various “official” concert releases, like the recent “Harbinger” from Sydney Australia? What about group efforts like Meridiem or Amoeba? In any case, WWLB could be around 46 or so, or in the 50s if you count differently. It doesn’t matter, really.

You mentioned Javanese gamelan. As i listen to Your albums for more than 20 years (it began from Stalker, later - Your first solo albums) it seems You are a very wide thinking man. What do You consider Yourself, what is Your worldview - Buddhist, ...?

I don’t really have a religion or fundamental world view. I don’t observe things through a text or a faith. I suppose I believe in curiosity and self-questioning, kindness and trying to act in the best way possible. Is that Buddhist? Perhaps Zen or Taoist, perhaps Sufi, perhaps Secular Humanist with a suspicion that meaning hides behind experience, but it is far more complex than I will ever understand.

There was a band called Urdu which recording(s) are very rare. And almost no information about it. Could You please tell about it?

It grew out of my musical beginnings, with improvised crazy music. Urdu was a trio with Rick Davies and Andrew McGowan. I “sang” (more like ranting odd poetry) and played synthesizer, tapes and processing. Rick played guitar, bass and other things, Andrew played bass. Rick has been a close friend since I was 16 years old, Andrew soon after that. They both worked at Sequential Circuits, the company that invented MIDI and the Prophet 5. Andrew is still working at Dave Smith Instruments run by the founder of Sequential - Andrew is one of the central designers . Rick Davies and I went on to do Amoeba in the 90s. We are all still very close friends. I was 19-20 years old when we did Urdu, around 1983. We rehearsed in the basement of my university co-op house. It was very strange and surrealist humor, and people probably thought I was psychotic. I won’t say we were good… but we were weird!

The album was all recorded live, entirely improvised, half at a live radio concert, the other half at Stanford during a small performance.

By the way, as now I am reading Strugatski brothers again, what is a Stalker (a stalker) to You? How do You perceive this idea?

I think of the word Stalker like someone who in hunter-gatherer times, would know how to read the footsteps and broken branches of an animal in a forest, know the direction of the wind by its smell, know the value of every plant under foot and the best path across every ridge or mountain. Another English word would be Tracker - an expert in seeing the world around them, someone who can read nature and decide on the best path, the best action.

Thank You.

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