Interview for Electrosounds

July 2005 Interview for Electrosounds Website, Russia
Questions from Cheba

1) In the beginning: who is Robert Rich to himself? =)

RR) He’s that voice that keeps a continuous monolog in my head, which sometimes gets in the way of my attempts to listen to the world. I keep trying to make him stop talking to me so I can listen better to the paradise that whispers in the background. He’s a perfectionist, very self-critical, somewhat shy and lacking confidence. However, he does tend to see the good side of things, loves beauty and nature, enjoys food, good wine, sex and sensual pleasures. He’s a person who keeps trying to resolve the melody of contrasts between internal and external. He’s a bundle of open nerves who tries to protect himself from the cacophony of violence in the world by attempting to create small bubbles of beauty and kindness.

2) In Russia You are a cult. Your albums hear up to holes, download to friends, advise familiar as one of ambient pathbreakers. Are You assumed such great success in Russia?

RR) No, I didn’t know I was popular there. I have heard that some of my albums are bootlegged in Russia, but I never see any of those sales. Only the bootleggers make money from those.

3) Now really there are not enough musicians which make something worth in areas of ambient. And idea which they realize has been created by you more than 20 (!) years ago. And your music twenty years ago imho was such which now lays not in a underground, but in the area of specific understanding of the world. Are you confuse to be the pioneer at electronics?

RR) First, thanks for the compliment, but I don’t think of myself as a “pioneer at electronics”, or even a pioneer of ambient music. I merely pursued a personal sound, with influences from many other artists before me. I am surprised and happy that some of my early work still sounds good today, especially considering the simple tools I had to work with back then and my limited experience. I think if you feel that not enough people have made interesting music in the area of “ambient,” perhaps that’s because people think too much in terms of categories. Ambient music came about simply because a few people followed a quiet sound in their head that did not have a category at the time. I think, as soon as something becomes a category, people start following expectations rather than listening to their own muse. I only know how to follow my own compass. I still make albums that don’t fit the categories that people have, but since my new albums don’t fit the old expectations from my early albums, people don’t know how to fit them in to what they expect from me. Usually my albums become interesting to people about ten years after I release them… but I don’t think it’s because I’m “ahead of my time” or anything. I just follow a very personal muse.

4) Are you familiar with any Russian musicians?

Besides the great Russian classical composers, I know some of the work of the two Artemievs, and also some of the experimental rock that came out in the ’90s. Mostly I’m not familiar with the rest. I apologize for that.

5) What interests do you have besides music creation ? Cinema, theatre, snowboard? =)

I write about food and wine on my other website, and I have been making wine for about five years. I enjoy cooking, growing a garden, and I’m active in the Slow Food movement. I have also made ceramics, and sometimes work on visual art projects with invented alphabets. I’m not excited by most forms of modern entertainment – I prefer to make things myself rather than “be entertained.” Otherwise, I would rather read a good book or go on a long walk.

6) How did you start?

My parents had sex sometime around Christmas in 1962, so I started soon after that. OK, so the standard answer: I started playing my own music when I was about 13, improvising on piano. Before that I had sung in a choir and taken some viola lessons, but I wasn’t motivated until I started improvising. I was attracted primarily to music with a trance-like intensity, and I listened to it late at night with my eyes closed, exploring the worlds inside my head. I discovered electronic music around that time (1976) and realized I liked it, so I began building a modular synthesizer from kits. By the time I was around 16, I was into experimental and industrial music, and started a band with Rick Davies, who had just come to California from England. Between various misguided attempts at playing in bands, I recorded my first solo album in 1981 and began to do all-night concerts, and slowly developed a personal approach to music.

7) How do you concern to modern musical tendencies? In Russia, for example, gets out of slums hip-hop, the post-rock is again popular, the alternative culture again finds force and becomes on foots. Again popular trance parties, drugs, a hardcore which has died, etc., etc.?

RR) I don’t pay much attention to popular trends. These fads come and go, and sometimes within a popular context, some artists find a new audience and make really good art. I tend to notice certain individuals whose work I like, regardless of what scene was popular at the time they made it. Pop culture is too fickle for me. When a person makes music for several decades, they can’t keep changing direction every 6 months when the styles change. The best ones usually don’t fit into a trend or style to begin with. They just do what they feel is honest; and occasionally an audience returns to them and remembers what they have been doing.

8) In due time Your Sleep Concerts have done a lot of noise. I know, it was many years ago, but, for example, there is no idea to arrive with them to Russia?

RR) Someday I would love to perform in Russia, but I am not sure if Sleep Concerts would be so easy. I still do these sometimes, but it’s exhausting for me and it is hard to find the right environment. I created “Somnium” in the hopes that people could make their own virtual sleep concert without me.

9) I and my friend recently argued about you. Yes – yes, don’t be surprised. The sense of dialogue was : to make something worth in music it is necessary to put on it life. Music not as a hobby. Music as determining in life. Also that you – one of representatives of prof. msicians. Do You agree?

RR) I agree with the idea that the best art comes from a complete commitment of heart, mind and soul. However I don’t think that people need to “quit their day job” to accomplish this. Who ever said that people should only do one thing in their life? For some people, a day-job is necessary to survive while following their true love in spare time: Franz Kafka was an accountant, Albert Einstein was a patent clerk. For others, their creativity expands beyond one field: Leonardo da Vinci was both an excellent painter and inventer, engineer and natural scientist. I think that a creative person can do many things, and hopefully be able to put a full emotional commitment into whatever they do. As a person finds what he or she loves, and finds what he or she does best, then it’s natural to focus on that activity for a while. But I would never want to put a person into a prison of “only music” or “only-*anything*”… When a person feels a strong need to make music, then the music which comes from that need to create is the music that should be created. Personally, I feel a strong need to experiment with skills outside of music. The funny thing is that now, I return to music as my “day job” to help pay for my other hobbies!

10) What is philosophy of your life? what are you living for?

RR) I think I am trying to unite the sensual with the spritual, the internal with the Universal. I try to connect the lines between all of the things that give me joy and meaning, to help me understand the principles that join them together. Perhaps, in doing so I can hope to expand the small islands of kindness that make our world tolerable.

11) Have you got any preferences in music which is not concerning to electronic?

RR) I listen to all kinds of music. It doesn’t matter whether it’s electronic, acoustic, or made by birds or fish. (As I think back, I remember I actually used the sound of electric fish once, on Somnium…) I listen to any music that strikes me as honest, sensual, spritual, truthful, anything that makes my neurons happy. I love good art-pop songwriters like Neil Finn, Bjork, Nick Drake, Massive Attack; I listen to jazz like John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett, Sun Ra; I love Terry Riley, Bach, Hariprasad Churasia, Hamza El Din, Javanese Gamelan. I rarely listen to electronic music when I’m not working, actually!

12) Are you afraid of death?

RR) More curious than afraid. I feel like I have already died sevaral times this far in my life, so everything from now on is a gift, free of charge. Whether death proves to be a huge silence or something else, I won’t change it by fearing it. It only makes my desire stronger to feel the beauty of what is here, now.