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? 

CENTVRY I: Early Music Masterworks

January has been a busy month so far! 77 new albums were introduced to the library this month and I’m going to get right into them.

After neglecting a title which repeatedly surfaced on ambient charts over the years, I finally experienced Edward Artemiev’s 1972 score to Andrei Tarkovsky’s Russian masterpiece, [I]Solaris[/I]. Originally released in Japan in 1978, the album finally found an American issue in 2013 on the Superior Viaduct label. True to my usual form, I was difficult and went after the Russian 2013 issue on the Мирумир label, as it was the only edition to feature the dramatic Italian movie poster artwork on the album’s cover.

Eduard Artemyev - Solaris OST (1972)
Eduard Artemyev – Solaris OST (1972)

The Solaris score is haunting arctic ambient music evocative of the loneliness and isolation of deep space. I now understand why the recording so persistently surfaces on lists of great ambient music.

Also pictured above is Ethan Hayden’s contribution to the 33 1/3 book series. I was lucky enough to witness Hayden’s performance of his electroacoustic vocal composition, “…ce dangereux supplément…” at the University at Buffalo, which you can hear for yourself by clicking the title of the piece. As an expert on linguistics, I can think of no better artist to write on the subject of Sigur Ros’ ( ) – an album whose vocals are in an entirely fictional language.

But on to my next avenue of exploration. After falling in love with the microtonal music of Harry Partch this winter, it seemed a fitting next step to begin to survey early music of the first century and beyond.

After about 30 minutes of research, I compiled quality collections of these musics.

Some quick research on classic choral music revealed several quality performances I quickly picked up:

  • Monteverdi Choir – Bach’s Mass in B Minor
  • Moscow Choral – Russian Orthodox Music (conductor Hiermonk Amvrosiy)
  • BBC Symphony Orchestra – Mozart’s Requiem
  • The Orthodox Singers – Basso Profondo From Old Russia

And from the legendary Tallis Scholars:

Russian Orthodox Music

  • Missa si Bona Suscepimus
  • Spem in Alium
  • The Best of the Renaissance (2-disc set)
  • The Complete English Anthems
  • The Three Masses
  • Victoria Requiem
  • The Palestrina 400 Collection (4-volume set)

From there I delved deep into Early Music, and identified a label well-known for their works in this field.  Harmonia Mundi has two box sets I knew I’d need:

[Harmonia Mundi] Sacred Music: From the Middle Ages to the 20th Century (30-volume set)

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[Harmonia Mundi] Early Music From Ancient Times to the Renaissance (10-volume set)

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I was also interested in sampling an assortment of Tuvinian Throat-Singing albums, so I picked up:

Deep in the Heart of Tuva (Mongol Strupsång)

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Horekteer – Tuvan Throat Singing Virtuoso

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Huun-Huur-Tu – The Orphan’s Lament

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Shu-de – Voices from the Distant Steppe

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Tuva- Voices From The Center Of Asia [Smithsonian Folkways]

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Tuvinian Singers & Musicians – Chöömej – Throat Singing From the Center of Asia

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…as well as a related selection – David Hykes’ Hearing Solar Winds – an album of harmonic choral overtone music.

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If these 64 discs weren’t sufficient to begin my exploration of Early Music, I happened upon some fantastic vinyl box sets of Gregorian, madrigal, and music of the Middle Ages.

Delightfully, the first two I came across bore the Harmonia Mundi logo of the digital albums I’d found online. It will be wonderful to hear several selections from the label both in lossless FLAC and in their original vinyl formats.

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The next two set I found were collections from the Musical Heritage Society (MHS), an American mail-order record label founded in 1962 . Each set included lyrics in both Latin and in English. These sets were issued in 1974-5 on LP and on 4 cassettes.

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I found one final set in today’s travels – The Everest label’s Treasury of Gregorian Chants – a 4LP box set from 1967.

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Featuring the Trappist Monks’ Choir of Cistercian Abbey, Monks of the Benedictine Abbey. and Bennedictine Monks of the Wanderille de Fontenelle Monastery, the release was the winner of the French Grand Prix du Disc – a prize later awarded to Jean-Michel Jarre ‎for his classic Oxygène LP.

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And best of all – all of these collections were in clean, like-new condition with no visible wear from play or handling. And where else can you find all this beautiful music for $11 cash?

I’m looking forward to months of enlightening listening experiences.

Just When You Think You’ve Heard it All!

This was a night like any other night. I returned home from work and put on a familiar favorite record. A quick skim of Facebook and a forum or two are part of my routine method of relaxation before I get in to the evening’s project. But, as fate would have it, this would not be just any ordinary evening.

I’d felt disheartened of late, fearing that my obsessive exploration of 20th century music had exhausted all possible niche and microgenres and that there were no real surprises left to experience. I understood each of the major artistic musical shifts which had occurred aligning with the ever-changing social identity and value sets of each generation. It was a melancholic notion – that perhaps I’d heard it all.

But this evening, something caught my eye as I scrolled passively through my Facebook feed. WFMU had shared an image from Alex Ross’ website. (Ross is the author of the ultimate guide to the music of the 20th century – The Rest is Noise.) The image was a print advert which appeared in the Village Voice on June 19, 1969. The ad reads:

This album will probably make a lot of rock musicians feel insecure.

It’s probably hard for you to imagine anyone more creative and more fluid in his approach to music than today’s great rock composer/musician/stars.

That’s why this album will shock you.

Harry Partch is a man who’s been blowing minds with his music for years. For those that have been lucky enough to hear it.

And today, when it seems like everything’s been done, his music is not only fresh and different… it’s actually revolutionary. Partch doesn’t stop at composing and performing his music. He uses his own scale. (Forty-three tones to the octave instead of the usual eight. His music is richer sounding and more subtle than anything you’ve ever heard.)

And he even makes his own instruments. Every instrument you’ll hear on this album was built by Harry Partch.

Field that one, Frank Zappa.

– Columbia Records

Well that certainly grabbed my attention. I jumped over to RYM and looked up Partch’s most celebrated work, which was Delusion of the Fury. Cross-referencing the title at Discogs.com revealed that a 3LP box set edition was issued in 1971 with a book featuring the unique instruments featured on the recording as well as a bonus LP showcasing each instrument.

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Only the album’s opening track was available on YouTube, so I queued it up and was wowed at first-listen. Before the track had completed, I tracked down a clean copy of the deluxe edition for my collection and it is presently en-route to my address.

Thank you, Mr. Partch for dispelling my silly fear that I’d heard it all, and thank you WFMU for waving the 1969 advert in front of my face.

December will be a month of microtonal bliss.

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Published in: on December 2, 2015 at 7:50 pm  Comments (1)  
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