Longtime friends Agasi and Rich inspire each other with image and sound. Ten of Agasi's haunting sensual photos unite with Rich's calm reflective soundscapes in this unique creative meeting, focusing eye and ear on the beauty of the intimate and peripheral.
Review from Wind and Wire
by Bill Binkelman
Okay, just go ahead and color me "awestruck" by this latest effort from Robert Rich. I thought Calling Down the Sky was a great immersive textural ambient experience (and it is), but Echo of Small Things takes Rich's talent for crafting evocative atmospheric ambient tone poems to an almost dizzying level. The integration of assorted environmental sounds (someone walking, the happy gurgling of a baby, nocturnal creatures, rain, wind and thunder) with constantly evolving layers of assorted electro organic musical elements is so flawless, so perfect, and so involving that I always found myself entirely absorbed in the recording, even when I didn't want to be (such as listening on headphones at my day job!). Besides the usual assortment of Rich musical instrumentation (his wonderfully emotive pedal steel guitar, his always sensual flutes, and various and sundry tones, drones and effects), Rich incorporates new (for him) synthesizer instrumentality, e.g. a TimewARP 2600, which doesn't just add new wrinkles to his trademark ambient compositions, but also introduces a whole new life to the music at times. The gently reverberating retro EM tones in "Circle Unwound" are a perfect example. Non-syncopated pings and pongs bounce back and forth amidst swirling drones and rustling noises and the effect on headphones is almost exhilarating, even though the music itself is low-key.
What makes the biggest impact on this CD, though, is the overwhelming sense of humanity which permeates tracks like the opening "Pathways," the flute-driven "Scent of Night Jasmine" which rises like sultry incense, and the sparse beauty of "Hollow Rings Longer," which echoes the best of Rich's past work, e.g. Gaudi and Rainforest. I don't know why I have this strong evocation of the man behind the music, since the music is so obviously ambient in nature and (while not inaccessible) and is mostly comprised of snippets of melody or tunefulness, atmospheric textures, occasional percussion, and environmental sounds, but I do. Seldom do I "sense" the musician behind the recording as strongly as I do here. Maybe part of what I feel is the result of this album being a collaboration of sorts between Rich and photographer David Agasi (whose beautiful photos adorn the liner notes). The artist describes the aim of the music and likewise Agasi's images thusly (from the liner notes): "Our culture helps determine for us what we think is important and what we think is trivial, what is large and what is small. Yet meaning often waits at the periphery. Life happens in the gaps, in the soft-hued colors of the mundane, the accidental: a casual smile, the cycle of seasons, the view from a window, growing a garden, the smells and fabrics of home."
That's an excellent description of the emotional resonance of this amazing CD. Echo of Small Things surely ranks near the top (maybe even at the top?) of this artist's already considerable discography. Rich was obviously inspired to great heights by Agasi's photos (or, who knows, maybe it was the other way around?). Whatever the raison d'etre for this album, fans of moody yet warm, atmospheric yet intimate, and personal yet universal music should seek out this album immediately. In a year that has seen an abundance of good music so far, Echo of Small Things rises above many of these not through any failing of the others but because of the keen ear and sensitive talents of Robert Rich. The CD merits my highest and most unqualified recommendation.
Robert Rich has pioneered new worlds of ambient and electronic music for two decades. He studied computer music at Stanford's prestigious CCRMA while earning a degree in Psychology. In 1982 he first performed his legendary Sleep Concerts, all-night shows meant to sustain hypnogogic states in sleeping audiences. His 7-hour DVD Somnium may be the longest continuous piece of music ever released on any format. Rich has recorded almost thirty albums, ranging from the slow deep ambience of Trances/Drones, to the electro-acoustic world music of Rainforest and Seven Veils, to shadowy cinematic excursions like Stalker and Bestiary. Rich has worked with Steve Roach, Lustmord, Graeme Revelle, David Torn, Alio Die, Paul Haslinger, Ian Boddy, Vidna Obmana, and others. His sound design graces numerous films and instrument libraries. His group, Amoeba, explores atmospheric songcraft on their two CDs, Watchful and Pivot.
"The deep, ethereal soundscapes that Robert Rich creates don't engage you as much as they engulf you. Shimmering waves of sound pour from the speakers, transforming both space and time." Keyboard Magazine