Robert Rich – Premonitions 1980-1985 4LP Set

Just arrived at Innerspace Labs – hand-numbered copy #114/500 of Robert Rich’s Premonitions vinyl box set.

A veteran of the minimal drone genre, Robert Rich has been a major figure in the ambient music scene for forty years. I maintain a complete discographic archive of Rich’s 63 full-length releases totaling 72 discs of content in lossless archival FLAC including the seven-hour Somnium and eight-hour Perpetual: A Somnium Continuum sleep concert DVDs. However, very little of Rich’s extensive catalog has ever been available in the vinyl format. 

In an interview with Anil Prasad for the web-based music magazine, Innerviews Rich remarked that he wanted to work beyond the ~20-minute limitations of an album side so he gravitated toward cassette releases early in his career and later to DVD-audio. Presently, the only two of his releases currently listed for sale on Discogs’ used record marketplace in the vinyl format are Numena from 1987 and Stalker (with Brian Lustmord) from 2018. So I was absolutely delighted to discover the Premonitions 1980-1985 collection offered on vinyl directly from Rich, himself!

In a letter to Rich’s listeners on his official website, he writes:

Here’s one for the folks who keep asking me whether I’ll release an album on vinyl. Four discs of music from my formative years, most of it never before released. It also contains the strongest sections of the 1984 “Live” cassette, and the cyclic introduction from the original “Inner Landscapes.” I made new 24/96 digital transfers from original master tapes. It’s coming out in Germany on the label Vinyl On Demand (VOD122), and I’ll import 40 copies for listeners here in the USA. International shipping will be expensive for this, as it’s big and heavy, so I request to my European, Asian and Canadian listeners that they go directly to VoD to order the set. It’s at this link: http://www.vinyl-on-demand.com/-1-402-472.htm 

If you are in the USA and you want to reserve one of these 40 copies of “Premonitions”, for purchase through our order form, you can use the CONTACT link up above on this site, and let me know your name, email, and shipping address. I’ll contact you when the records arrive. The price will be around $75 plus shipping. If more than 40 of you want to reserve a copy, I might be able to import more, but it will help me to know how many because they are a bit expensive. Thanks for listening! – Robert

And from the Notes section of the compilation’s entry at Discogs:

This 4LP box set focuses on Rich’s early stage of composition and performance,1979–1985. Most of this music is previously unreleased, or came out on limited cassettes from the UK Auricle Label or Swedish Psychout Productions, which later became Multimood, and released his album “Numena” in 1986. Edition of 500 copies.

Discogs member, Richard Gurtler drafted a contextual review of the set which is also featured on the official Bandcamp Page for the release as well as on Robert Rich’s website. In his introduction he writes:

This amazing sonic document was released at the end of April 2014 on German Vinyl-On-Demand label run by Frank Maier, who passionately focuses on releasing various limited vinyl editions, which are mainly taken from various rare tape releases or feature unpublished material. VOD’s catalog includes huge list of artists from industrial, noise, avantgarde, ambient… scene and each release with its packaging is a true piece of art. “Premonitions 1980-1985”, released as a 4LP Box Set in limited edition of 500 copies with extensive liner notes about each track and including an official hand-numbered certificate card for each customer, is no exception, a pure visual bliss awaits after its unwrapping!

But the most in-depth details on this fantastic release are provided by the Vinyl-On-Demand site linked in Rich’s letter. It offers Rich’s own liner notes on every selection featured in the set –

Selene & Ether 27:05

Recorded in summer of 1980 with Paia modular, newly acquired Prophet 5 and homebuilt Radio Shack analog delay, recorded direct to cassette at home. Unreleased until now. This was my first recording that ever got radio airplay, from “Music From The Hearts of Space” on KPFA in Berkeley, CA. I think that was around my 17th birthday. A note to myself inside the cassette case reads, “The sound first dwells in darker figures that sometimes inhabit dreams, then slowly lifts, collecting energy from harmony. The last is a sea of time, the atmospheric pillow.” An almost Vangelis-like grandiose middle section was a rare departure for me. Until I got the Prophet 5 I could never attempt a sound like that. 

A little story about this synthesizer: I was still 15 years old when I made friends with a college DJ named Rick Huber, who also worked at synth company Sequential Circuits. I wanted to start a band making noisy improvisations, so Rick introduced me to his co-worker Rick Davies. (We remained life-long friends, and made some rather embarrassing musical experiments with co-conspirator Jon Spencer.) Sequential’s Prophet 5 was the first polyphonic synthesizer with digital memory, and it was very expensive in 1978. Unfortunately the first version of the Prophet was quite fragile and broke constantly, almost impossible to calibrate, and plagued by catastrophic component failures. Sequential offered an upgrade to their early customers, offering to exchange (for a fee) any Rev.1 Prophet 5 for an improved Rev.2. Then they sold the fragile Rev.1’s to their employees (the only people who could keep them running) with a promise not to re-sell. The company never wanted to see them again. My friends at Sequential purchased a handful of these lemons, and kindly snuck one into my hands. Selene and Ether was one of the very first things I recorded with it.

Collage for Low Tones 18:35 1980

Recorded summer of 1980 direct to cassette, an improvisation with analog delay and Paia modular. I had completely forgotten about this recording until I started going through archives for this release.

I built the analog delay from a circuit board sold through Radio Shack, called the “Electronic Reverb” kit. Nineteen years later (1999) I began to get back into analog modular synths after meeting Paul Schreiber, who had recently started a new modular company called Synthesis Technology. As Paul and I became friends, I learned that he once worked for Tandy Corporation, designing kits for Radio Shack. Paul had in fact designed the analog delay kit that I used so heavily during these early years. The instructions suggested modifications to allow feedback into self-oscillation, and a switch to slow down the clock, creating a very grungy echo. These modifications turned the delay into a crazy oscillator, one of my main instruments for creating noisy pieces like this one.

Ghosts 8:42 1980

Inside the cassette box where I found this recording, my notes say: “Ghosts is a sound collage consisting of many layers of randomly tuned sinusoidal frequencies, whose amplitudes were also randomly chosen. The sound was inspired by multiple resonances of the wind through a certain cave in the Sierra foothills.” I think I was being a bit coy, as it sounds to me like an improvisation with Prophet 5 and Paia modular synth using resonant filters imparting different pitches from a pink noise source.

Clouds  26:15 1983

I remember being quite happy with this drone improvisation when I recorded it, but I never officially released it because some other pieces around that time felt more like a breakthrough. Apparently I made cassette copies for a few people to hear, as I have seen pictures of handmade tapes with this on them, called simply “Modal Improvisation.” This performance employs a resonant all-pass filter using a Curtis chip that I built onto a blank circuit board, responsible for the shimmering stepped tones of the low drone.

Nocturne 25:40 1983

I remember working for several weeks to prepare the elements for Nocturne. I did not have a multitrack recorder at the time, but I had two cassette decks and a reel-to-reel. I assembled extra layers onto cassette, in order to mix to 1/4″ reel while performing live instruments. I remember this piece being much harder to create than others at the time, and it felt less satisfying to me when finished. The original tape is 40 minutes long, and I wanted it to feel completely calm and stable, yet slowly changing around the steady drone, a sort of infinite music, acting in a certain way upon the mind only when played for very long durations. Alas, in the thirty years since attempting this sort of trancelike effect in very slow music, my attention span has gotten shorter, and I am rather surprised to look back at my youthfully obsessive attention to microscopic details.

Live in Monterey CA September 15, 1983 25:30

These are the beginning and ending sections of a two hour ambient concert performed at an art exhibit opening by painter Todd Friedlander. Most of the performance consisted of nature recordings combined with very quiet drones. The closing section was an interpretation of the piece “Nocturne” that I had recorded the previous month, but that piece sounded different each time I played it.

Live at Stanford University CA, March 13 1984 25:27

This “concert” actually took place in my dorm room at the co-op house where I lived during my third and fourth years at university. I recorded most of Trances and Drones here (when I probably should have been studying.) My roommate Miguel Helft patiently tolerated my pile of electronics that cluttered the room. A few friends asked me if they could listen to me play, so I made this casual home concert for three or four people, and recorded it to my new Revox B77. The 90 minute recording turned out better than expected. 

Early in my efforts to release my own music, I made friends with an ardent listener in Köping, Sweden named Hans Fahlberg. After he discovered my first release Sunyata, Hans began writing me letters with funny cartoon illustrations of laughing heads prancing around naked on tiny legs. After I released Trances and Drones, Hans wrote me asking if I had any unreleased music, as he wanted to start a cassette label. This would be his first release. I didn’t feel that my earliest experiments were suitable, so I sent him edits of the two live recordings that appear here. These became Robert Rich Live, catalog 001 on Psychout Productions. Hans soon changed his label name to Multimood Records and released my first LP Numena, and many excellent albums by artists including Peter Frohmader, Roedelius, O Yuki Conjugate, Paul Schütze, Jeff Greinke, and others.

In the late 80s, the Freeman brothers in the U.K. replicated small quantities of Live and Inner Landscapes for their Auricle label. Among my early releases, Live was the only one that I did not remaster for CD, because I felt that it would not hold up to digital scrutiny. This vinyl version is the first official reprinting since those cassettes.

3A Guitar Drone 8-15  14:46  1983

I don’t actually remember playing this. I discovered it while digging through the archives. I found several pieces from the summer of 1983, all untitled and described as “guitar drone” or “guitar rhythm.” Most of them sound similar to each other. It appears I was aiming for a certain relationship between the echoed strumming and the cloudy loops made from brushing guitar strings lightly. I recorded two of those attempts to reel-reel tape, so I presume those were more “serious” or premeditated, while this version only shows up on a cassette master, like a practice version or an afterthought. Among the different attempts, this may be the most interesting, although perhaps not the highest fidelity.

CCRMA Voices  7:22 1984

This is one of the few computer compositions that I finished while taking the computer music course at Stanford’s CCRMA, the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. It uses Bill Schottstaedt’s PLA language to create a simple two-operator FM voice, with random pitch, duration and inflections within the range of a human voice. 

Inner Landscapes Introduction 9:12 1985

This comes from a live concert performed in Berkeley, CA, later released as the 90 minute live cassette Inner Landscapes. In the late 1990s, Mike Griffin at Hypnos approached me about remastering some of my early work for CD. Inner Landscapes and Sunyata seemed worthy candidates at the time. I had to remove some material from Inner Landscapes to get it to fit onto CD. Except for this sequencer improvisation at the start, the remainder of that concert was deep and very slow; so I decided to cut this piece and keep the CD consistently deep and atmospheric. This intro remained an orphan until now. 

Manna 17:15  1980

Here’s another piece that I forgot about. It comes from the burst of recordings I made as soon as I got the Prophet 5 in 1980. This uses a patch technique called “random arpeggio” where each voice fades in and out at different rates by its own modulations, sounding a bit like tape loops. The bleepy tones come from the Paia modular, with tape echo adding its telltale warble. 

Robert Rich @ 2007 Nearfest

This historical artifact offers a rare glimpse at an ambient master’s earliest work, composed using his first synthesizers at the age of 17 while attending Stanford University. In his Interview For Ambient Visions in January of 2005 Rich described how, at the age of 13, he used his savings from two years of paper routes and gardening money to purchase and construct PAiA modular synths, and eventually graduated to a Revox B77 half-track 1/4″ reel-to-reel, a pawn shop lap steel guitar, and a Sequential Prophet 5 rev 1. In the interview Rich states that he began to experiment with alternate tunings as he was inspired by Harry Partch and Terry Riley. The recordings from this set explore Rich’s development as an artist during this pivotal period.

How could I pass it up? 

The Ultimate Index v3.0 – The Innerspace Labs Media Exploration Master Workbook is LIVE!

It’s been a magnificently productive day at Innerspace Labs and we’ve reached what is to date our most prestigious milestone. I published a feature last March about the evolution of my life-long list-making of sound works, cinema, and literature that I’ve been meaning to explore. These lists also served to touch upon some of the special collections in my archive.

In the previous article I described how this process began with leather pocket journals, and as the scale of my library grew I began to publish annual print editions itemizing large collections.

Innerspace Labs Archive Index Books 2013

Innerspace Labs 50 Top Artists Book

These efforts were radically transformed several years ago when I migrated to Google Drive. But as the years passed and spreadsheets and documents multiplied, it rapidly became apparent that I needed to consolidate all of these various lists into a single, deep searchable index otherwise countless lists would be forgotten and disappear into the digital void of my Google Drive.

Thus began the Innerspace Labs Master Workbook project this past spring. Though this venture posed several new dilemmas. As the workbook grew to nearly 200 tabs, I received this error stating that Google Workbooks are limited to 5 million or fewer cells.

Google Error 5 Million Cells Spreadsheet Workbook.png

And it quickly became evident that navigation of all those tabs was painfully arduous in the mobile environment, as was its loading time. Thankfully, after careful research into various potential solutions, I’ve implemented a system of scripts and formula expressions which make navigating this large workbook a snap and its interactive response time nearly instantaneous.

By combining over 200 named ranges, and incorporating a primary dynamic drop-down and a dependent secondary drop-down field, along with an “=INDIRECT(CONCATENATE” expression calling named ranges based on user input, I’m now able to hide and lock all but one master sheet and made the entire workbook navigable from that single homepage.

The home sheet offers the user a primary drop-down of LITERATURE, SOUND, or VIDEO, which in turn controls a secondary dependent drop-down to populate and auto-alphabetize a list of all related content for that category.

I’ve also employed a script which is triggered by Google Clock to rescan the entire workbook for newly-added lists and to automatically incorporate them into the search fields alphabetically and by category as the workbook continues to grow.

I understand that it may not have significant value to anyone other than myself, but it’s intended to serve as a reference document along with the over 200-pages of archive summaries I’ve drafted in a companion Google Doc. With this easy-to-reference Workbook, I can pull up a list in seconds and start exploring. My hope is that the project helps introduce me to some spectacular content and that it helps me rediscover forgotten areas of my library.

The next phase of the project is to apply uniform formatting to all lists, as these were drafted independently over the course of nearly a decade, so I apologize for the crudity of its present format. And of course, there may be errors or omissions among the lists. But you know that I’ll work tirelessly to make this project as accurate and accessible as I can.

Here is a link to a copy of the latest version. It showcases and attempts to organize ~26,000 of the most noteworthy elements of my personal library and related subjects of interest. All cells are locked for editing except the two dynamic drop downs, which is sufficient for general users to explore and interact with the document. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a labor of love that I will continue to work on and which I hope will enrich my life as it continues to expose me to some of the greatest works of the ages.

The Ultimate Index: The Innerspace Labs Media Exploration Master Workbook

February has been a whirlwind of productivity and I’m excited to share the results of my efforts. Thus far I’ve introduced five projects. First I discovered that the disk snapshot solution I’d been employing for my server would no longer work at its current scale, so I had to research and implement a new solution. Once that was a success, I set myself to the task of merging and updating two music database systems I’d created years apart on two different operating systems. That was an incredible challenge.

The next three projects were featured here at Innerspace Labs – first the Nipper RCA “His Master’s Voice” project, then the six-hour drone high-fidelity ambient experiment with Eno’s Music For Airports, followed by the Fred Deakin archive update. But it was the sixth subsequent undertaking which would consume countless late night hours as the latest project continuously exploded in scope and scale, each time introducing new challenges to test my problem-solving skills.

For as long as I’ve been breathing, I’ve been compiling and organizing lists of all manners of subjects. I thrive creating order from chaos – chronicling and curating media of the 20th-century. As a young man, I penned lists in leather pocket journals but was frustrated by the fixed and static state of the data one committed to the page. I quickly graduated to Microsoft Office and then to LibreOffice, and by 2013 began self-publishing books of collected lists and spreadsheets to document the progress of my archive.

Innerspace Labs Archive Index Books 2013

Innerspace Labs 50 Top Artists Book

But the true game-changer came when I adopted the Google suite of apps, most notably Google Docs, Sheets, and the Google Keep task manager. These applications introduced undo history, increased accessibility, and most importantly, shareability to my list-making efforts.

Still, the seamless convenience of Google Drive came with a caveat – scores of lists once generated were quickly forgotten, and the sheer number of them made Google Keep and Google Calendar reminders cumbersome and an ineffective method of managing them at this scale. What I came to realize was that dozens of quality sets of information were disappearing into the digital black void of a Google Drive overrun with lists.

That’s what inspired this latest project. I decided to survey my entire history of list-making, compiling databases created in a wide array of formats and constructed on multiple platforms over the years, and to merge them all into a single workbook on Google Sheets. It was an incredible challenge, as the formatting of the data varied tremendously from .M3U to .PUB to raw .TXT to .XLS to proprietary database systems built for Windows XP (OrangeCD), to web-based database systems like Discogs and Goodreads which each offered .CSV exports.

To depict folder-structure-based organizational systems, (commonly employed for artists and label discographies), I utilized tree -d list.txt for large libraries. To extract %artist% and %title% metadata from RYM toplist playlists I’d constructed, I developed a spreadsheet combining four formulas to pull nth row values and to truncate “#EXTINF:###,” expressions and file paths from .M3U lists outputting a clean list of tracks.

In October of 2017 I’d authored The Innerspace Labs Journal: A Listener’s Guide to Exploration in Google Docs as a contextual survey of my larger collections. It spans eighty-four pages and includes an active hyperlinked TOC with an X.XX indexing structure and served my needs well for the past two years, but for simple down-and-dirty lists a spreadsheet seemed like a more accessible format.

Screenshot of Innerspace Labs Journal A Listener's Guide to Exploration

And so I constructed this latest effort – The Innerspace Labs Media Exploration Master Workbook – a cloud-based 180-tab set of spreadsheets combining all of my list data into a single, searchable, sharable index with a hyperlinked Table of Contents for easy navigation. The interface is intuitive, it loads lightning fast on even the most modest of systems and across all browsers and platforms, is mobile-friendly, and it will continue to grow as new content is introduced to my library.

The TOC is segmented into four primary themes:

  1. Literature and Essays
  2. Cinema and Television
  3. Sound Pt 1: Music Surveys, Best-Of Lists, and Guides
  4. Sound Pt 2: Artist Discographic Chronologies, Audiobooks, and Old-Time Radio Dramas

While a few of the tabs contain hyperlinks to lists from multi-page sites which do not send themselves well to text extraction, I’ve done my best to embed as much of the information as possible locally in the workbook, itself and to keep the layout consistently uniform to facilitate navigation and clarity.

Screenshot of Innerspace Labs Media Exploration Master Workbook

Unlike the self-published books or the somewhat daunting length of the Journal, this workbook is simple and localizes the data a viewer is most interested in exploring to a single, plaintext sheet for quick and easy reference. The shareability is key to aiding curious listeners/viewers in finding quality content relevant to their interests, and it is simultaneously a tool to empower me to delve into the many areas of my own library which I’ve yet to explore.

This is a milestone for Innerspace Labs, and I will continue to refine and expand the project into the future.