Listen Up! (1997)

Interview with Robert Rich, August 1997
by Rob Levy for Vintage Vinyl’s Listen Up magazine
These questions were email addenda to an in-person interview.

1.What is it about ambient or soundscape music enthralls you?

I seek a certain “intensity” in the music that I listen to, and a feeling of mystery and inwardness. I also like a level of sonic detail that keeps my ears awake. Not all “ambient” music does this, but the best of it can be very cool. I usually find myself listening to non-Western music like Javanese gamelan, classical Indian music or North-African Oud music.

2.Which was the hardest album to make? why?

By far the hardest is the one I’m working on right now, Seven Veils, which I have been working on for about a year, off and on. It’s the most rhythmically complex for me so far, and I have set myself the challenge to take the instrumental performances to a new level. I’m trying to push myself into a new territory with this one, and that makes for big challenges.

3.What is the most satisfying part of being an artist?

It all distills down to meaning, or the sense that I am doing something with my life that adds value to the world.

4.Which xtc album is your favorite?

English Settlement or Skylarking.

5. What type of instruments have you made and how?

I started by building an analog modular synth, mostly from kits, back in the late ’70s. Lately I have been making simple acoustic instruments – usually flutes or percussion. I make a new flute whenever I want to write a piece in a new tuning. I have also made some electro-acoustic hybrid instruments: for example, a sheet metal feedback instrument that is featured on “Bioelectric Plasma” on Troubled Resting Place.

6. Do you prefer collaborations to solo work?

They both have their place. Collaborations are more fun, though. I use my solo projects as a means to develop new vocabularies, so the challenges that I set for myself make it a bit harder, but if I didn’t challenge myself in that way, I would probably stagnate. I try to keep a balance between the two.

7. Is ambient music growing or is their too much of it saturating the market?

I think the more cliche-driven techno ambient has definitely saturated the market, and a lot of it is pretty diposable. There are probably too many albums getting released overall – in all genres, not just instrumental electronic. But instead of whining about it, I would rather pay attention to what’s interesting, regardless of category, and focus on individual artists who are defining their own unique personal style.

8. Who were or are your influences?

I think I just absorb all the various musics that I listen to and love, digest it all and come up with something that feels right to me. In my early days, I guess Terry Riley, Harry Partch, German space music, John Cage and related avante garde sound artists would have to be considered dominant influences, but it came from everywhere I think.

9. How much preproduction (on average) goes into one of your records?

Lots! to create Stalker, for example, Brian Williams and I spent six months (separately) just developing new sonic events and timbres. For a more acoustic sounding CD like Propagation, I might spend a week just to edit a single instrument part. A typical album takes six months to a year of steady work.

10. What is next for you?

After I finish Seven Veils for Fathom, Rick Davies and I plan to record another Amoeba album, which might take much of 1998. In early ’98 you can expect the release of a sequel to “Troubled Resting Place” called “Below Zero” – consisting of experimental compilation tracks – and a re-release of a live album from 1985 called “Inner Landscapes.” Both of those have been finished for a while, and are awaiting an appropriate time for release.

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