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Robert Rich

What piece of musical equipment would you be most reluctant to part with?

My ears. With ears, mind and a good imagination a person can make music with anything.

Describe your recording set-up.

I have a nice private studio with good mics, a Mac G3 running CuBase (and older Mac running an old version of ProTools), Mackie d8b mixer, analog and digital synths including a nice new modular synth (MOTM by Synthesis Technologies), piano, etc. If you want the full boring list you can find it on my website. These days I'm not using MIDI very much, mostly tracking audio direct into the computer or scratch tracks onto digital tape then bounce to hard disk for editing.

Why do so many artists working in the realm of ambient prefer digital tools these days?

In part it's a matter of convenience and cost. Computers make a more affordable studio tool than traditional tape. Computer recording techniques allow much more editing power, and they improve our ability to process, mangle, mutilate and abstractify the original recorded sounds. Many musicians still prefer analog synthesizers, however. In reality, I just use whatever works.

Are there any bands or artists currently creating work that you feel deserves greater attention (and why)?

Anyone doing anything that's truly personal, regardless of the current pathetic state of the music industry! I like some fairly unknown struggling singer songwriters: Jill Knight, Aiko Shimada, for example. Just honest personal music.

What are some of your favorite books? Authors?

Jorge Luis Borges - Ficciones, Book of Sand, Dreamtigers
Gabriel Garcia Marquez - 100 Years of Solitude
Italo Calvino - Invisible Cities
Nick Bantock - The Library at Purgatory
e.e. cummings - complete poems
Doris Lessing - Shikasta
Stanislaw Lem - Solaris
J.G. Ballard - short stories
Nicholson Baker - Vox, Mezzanine

Name some albums that had a great impact upon you in the past.

There are too many important albums to name them all, but I'll name a few great ones at random here, as they pop up in my memory:

Robert Wyatt - Rock Bottom
Terry Riley - Shri Camel
Talk Talk - Laughing Stock
Jan Steele/John Cage - Voices and Instruments
Julian Priester Pepo Mtoto - Love Love
Tangerine Dream - Rubycon
Popol Vuh - Tantric Songs
Cluster - Sowiesoso
Throbbing Gristle - Heathen Earth
Hariprasad Churasia - Rag Lalit and others
Ali Akbar Khan - Connoisser Recordings Volume 1
Sun Ra - Cosmos
Keith Jarrett - Organ Hymn Spheres
Wire - 154
Arvo Part - Tabula Rasa
Steve Hillage - Rainbow Dome Music
Nico - Marble Index

Tell me about your interest in lucid dreaming and how that manifests itself in your work.

I'm interested in all areas of mental exploration, with a primary interest in any experiences that potentiate ecstacy and epiphany. Basically I am interested in understanding (and experiencing) as much as possible of the range of the human psyche, and I feel that this interior realm is the least understood in our culture. My academic studies focused both on perceptual psycholgy and the psychophysiology of consciousness. I ended up working with Dr. Stephen LaBerge at Stanford, studying Lucid Dreaming. I helped him develop a device that senses when a person is in REM sleep, and signals them in their sleep to tell them they are dreaming. We started a company called The Lucidity Institute to market a family of these devices. If anyone is interested they can call 1-800-GO LUCID in the USA or check their website at www.lucidity.com.

How long have you been mastering albums for others and what attracts you to that work?

I find myself seduced by the texture of sound as much as I am attracted by melody, timbre, harmony and other musical aspects. It gives me great pleasure to help make an album sound more open, more musical, more seductive. A mastering engineer should focus first and foremost on enhancing the listenability of a piece of music, and in helping the artists realize their vision to the highest possible level. That's what attracts me to the work. I learned the art of mastering by sitting in with Bob Ohlsson when mastering my own releases for Hearts of Space, starting around 1988. Bob was at Motown throughout the '60s, and engineered the first three Stevie Wonder albums, among many others. Bob became a mentor of sorts to me. I started learning how to hear certain subtleties, and also began learning how to correct some problems that commonly crop up in home studio recordings. During the nineties, my own recordings started getting a reputation for sounding good, and Stephen Hill began recommending me to other artists, as a consultant, engineer or producer. I began mastering other people's work around 1994-95, mostly for friends like A Produce, Jeff Greinke, Forrest Fang and Lisa Moskow. Much of this early work involved trying to get a polished sound out of problematic mixes. I developed a bit of a reputation for getting experimental and dark ambient recordings to sound their best, but I've also worked on jazz, mainstream and ethereal pop albums. The same basic principles apply to most styles. Now, the mastering work competes for time in my studio, provides an extra income, and gives me a chance to work with some excellent musical projects that sound very different from my own.

Taking part in one of your Sleep Concerts could be a once in a lifetime experience for people. Do you plan to take them on tour again in the future?

Yes, although I must admit that I'm tempted to put Somnium on and sleep through it myself! (Just kidding.) I'll do Sleep Concerts again if suitable locations and opportunities present themselves.

Can the Sleep Concert experience be accurately duplicated at home with the Somnium disc?

Not really, but the experience at home has its own strengths, including privacy and the ability to control the environment for yourself. What you miss at home is the ritual quality of a concert and the increased intensity that happens when multiple people share a long duration and space together in the same room. The live sleep concert has more magic of place and time.

What distinguishes good ambient from bad ambient?

I'm hesitant to judge music as "good" and "bad", but I can tell you some of the characteristics that attract me to certain slow forms of music over others. It's hard to put into words, though. For me, so-called "ambient" music should be sensitive to the subtleties of texture and tone color. It should allow space and invite the listener into a landscape of sound. Most of all, it should reflect some serious consideration and sensitivity on the part of the composer. It shouldn't be automatic, static, numbly repetitive or reliant upon preset synthetic sounds. I like the sound of humans communicating a state of mind through performances on instruments, or carefully constructed unique sounds, with thought and emotion. I don't like the mindless triggering of endless sampled loops, cookie cutter rhythms, or modular cut-and-paste compositional techniques. I want to be seduced by the sensual, psychoactive texture of sounds.

Robert Rich: selected discography

1981 - Sunyata - Hypnos
1983 - Trances / Drones - Soundscape
1987 - Numena - Multimood
1995 - Stalker - Fathom
1998 - Seven Veils - Hearts of Space
2001 - Somnium - Hypnos