Club Life 1995

Article from Club Life, San Francisco, from January 1995

Robert Rich

Electronic Organica and the Theory of ‘Glurp’

By Dr. Dharma (Robert Morris)


For the past fourteen years, Hearts of Space/Fathom recording artist and Bay Area resident Robert Rich has recorded and released a dozen projects at home and abroad (Gaudi, Rainforest, Numena, and his projects with Steve Roach, Strata and SoMA, to name a few.) He haswound up on compilations as diverse as From Here to Tranquillity II on Silent and Dry Lungs on Subterranean. His most recent release,Propagation on Fathom takes Eno’s ideas about organic electronics one step further by actually creating a listening experience that becomes a world unto itself. And ’94 marked the release of Trances/Drones on Extreme, music from his sleep concert period from the early eighties. In February, Fathom will also release Yearning, a collaboration that he completed over the Summer with classical Indian sarod player Lisa Moskow. It promises to be one of the most fully realized marriages of Indian music and Western electronics yet recorded.

Not just tweaking, but actually building his own synths at the age of 13, Rich gained working knowledge of electronic music while most kids his age were just beginning to master Space Invaders. He played at what might be the first actual chill-out rooms with all-night sleep concerts; he performed to people who came to dream and be opened up by the hypnogogic tones that Rich created on his synths. His first sleep concert took place while he was still a student at Stanford and later at Shared Visions in Berkeley during the early eighties. Now at 31 and with a rich (pardon the pun) selection of electronic music to draw from, DJs are discovering it and tracks from his CDs are showing up at Ambient parties and chill-out rooms.

The Doctor paid a visit to Rich at his pristine home studio in the South Bay and over the course of ninety minutes touched on everything from concepts such as the artist as alien and the quest for the ecstatic experience, to the current state of ambient music.

Surrounded by his bank of synths, computer, mixing board, etc., the room has a clean and uncluttered feel, like a laboratory or research center. In the background we are listening to the music of his fantastic, as yet unreleased collaboration with Brian Lustmord. The choice of industrial overlord Lustmord as a musical partner exemplifies Rich’s diversity. When asked about this seemingly unlikely paring he offered up this explanation: “I have a good laugh at the obsession that people have with borders. I’m a person that came from the world of Industrial and Experimental noise, the fluxus artists, Drone music, etc. When I got more involved in the musics from other cultures, my music got more tonal, and like everything else at the time got lumped under the category of New Age and people got obsessed about those borders. And now people want to know is it Ambient, is it Trance, is it New Age, Industrial or whatever? If it has ‘that thing’ who cares what it’s called? Does the music pull at a certain neuronal circuit? That’s the question.

In one of his rare local live appearances, Rich played amplified lap steel guitar in Naut Humon’s Throne of Drones at Townsend/King St. in October. An event that included local club luminaries such as Space Time Continuum and Cheb I Sabbah along with scene outsiders such as Carl Stone plus many members of the small army of musicians that Humon has assembled and dubbed the Iso Ambient Orchestra. The experience brought him (at least physically) closer to the club scene where some of his solo music is turning up.

However, Rich has different ideas about Trance and the ecstatic experience that is often invoked and reached in the House and Rave ritual. “I’ve always liked the idea of music as a ritual form, a practice of magic. The only way to experience that is to experience it live or communally. I’m very interested in creating a ritual communal form – one that’s balancing. I find the context of Rave as being one of a party. I don’t really see the type of experience that I envision as a party. It’s something that we have very little context for in our culture. What happens at a Rave is often sensory overload. What results is a confusion state, which can be interesting and fun. But I see that the world gives us enough of that anyway. What I choose to do is follow a channel of narrow and deep focus. So my choice is to limit that informational channel so that more happens inside.”

Interwoven into many of the complex influences of his music is an unusual muse that serves as a transmitter of ‘the thing,’ a concept that Rich calls ‘glurp.’ When asked about it, he turns a simple child-like word into a poetic representation of ideas; “It’s an association of ideas of what it is to be an organism, the liquid bubbling juice that makes up our machine. Musically, it’s the sound of things going squish, the metaphor of a bunch of little portable oceans on this continent walking around; every mammal, every human, every bird is a little replica of the ocean. . . it’s interesting and it’s magical. This biomorphic noise gets into my music. Plus the tension of being a conscious organism to me is fascinating, being a body and also a mind – the pull between the shimmering evanescence of mind and the physicality and mortality of body. I enjoy those tensions. It’s what it is to be alive.”