Robert RichLive at
The Gatherings Concert Series
23 March 2002St. Mary's Hamilton Village
Review: Robert Rich
Shivering collectively in the crispy March evening stretched a line of people, extending from St. Mary's door all the way out to Locust Walk. Here, the line bent, and extended further still, up the walk. This was a first.
Then, how many times have we used the silhouette of the church spires as foreground to enjoy an evening's menu in the sky? Last night main entrŽe; a waxing Mr. Moon, vividly chasing Jupiter; Orion, too, fleeing to the West, abandoning the spring skies. Breathing, seeing, feeling the air; so succinctly clear, lustrous, and crisp.
I'm still having a hard time convincing myself that what we all witnessed during Robert Rich's Gathering performance last night wasn't, instead, some perfectly polished dream. Equaling the essence of the skies outside, and like no other electronic music performance I have attended before; the sound, the sight, the vision...the music...were all (again) so succinctly clear, lustrous, and crisp.
Sizing up Robert's much talked about MOTM modular synthesizer onstage, I could not help but smile and imagine Robert scratching his head before heading off for his first MOTM enhanced gig...maybe offering his best Roy Sheider imitation and proclaiming, "Boys. We need a bigger boat." For decorative effect, Robert had donned the big synth with neon beads; quite a spectacle, indeed!
Visually, throughtout last night's concert, St. Mary's apse seemed in a phase of perpetual meltdown. The genius behind these displays simply cannot go unmentioned. A friend noted that she believed Robert had the venue strictly in mind with this visual presentation. I can't say this was so for sure, and I imagine Mr. Towne had some input with the stunning effects (he normally does), but I can and will say that what transpired visually offered a perfect interfuse of music, venue and lighting effect. The eye wandered continuously between these evolving images and the stage.
I'll only briefly mention the first set here. I've been a little behind in CD purchases of late (personal financial crises abound, ugh) but I believe most what we heard from this set was composed of recent material. Here, Robert relied much more on the MOTM synthesizer than he would later in set two, creating many of his Bestial-type sounds and compositions. I don't believe we saw him play the flute until set two. Though, all evening, Robert did wander sleekly from his synthesizers to his lap steel guitar, the latter emanating various degrees of incisive outcry, a Robert Rich trademark.
As much as the first set wowed us, we may have never of heard better than we did during last night's second hour. Here, Robert offered us a comprehensive retrospective musical journey through his past, highlighted by works from the likes of Propagation, Seven Veils, and Gaudi; 'Minaret and Mosaic' so beautifully performed from the latter. After a well deserved standing ovation, Robert encored with a brief opening piece from Rainforest.
All said and done, almost. Where else to look but up while shivering the way back to the car, to see if...why, of course...
The night sky replies.
Review: Robert Rich
I went to the Gatherings last night. Seven simple words that carry a lot of weight. The Gatherings isn't just next door or down the block. It's over an hour's drive away... and requires travel on the Schuylkill ("Sure Kill") Highway. But the trek is always worth it. Driving a mere 80 miles for an interstellar trip is a very worth while endeavor.
Last night's space trip was captained by Robert Rich. I arrived early, during the sound check. All the equipment seemed to be in place. Jeff Towne was getting the lighting programs in order while Robert was fighting the feedback gremlins. But the most noticeable feature was the MOTM modular synth all patched up and ready to go, lights a-blinkin'. Art was at the sound controls helping Robert and Chuck was off on an important errand. At this time of day, St. Mary's stained glass windows provide little light making it somewhat dark inside. But, astonishingly, they are also rather equally lit and quite breath taking. Perhaps this is a portent of things to come... After a few hellos, I trotted off for my ritual dinner at Wan's.
On my return, I brought Robert his order of take out to ensure the evening's flight was fully fueled. The line outside the door was already several yards long and then the doors opened. People flooded in. I set up my portable chair in my usual spot in front of the first row of pews, right of center. I'd prefer to be closer to the center, but then the footrest on my chair would block a vital path needed by other campers. A few moments to meet and greet with familiar faces, catching up on each other's lives. Gatherings are full events!
John Diliberto performed MC duties. Golly, I'd pay good money to have such a wonderful speaking voice! Silver tones is too cliched of an expression. Golden or platinum are still too cliche and merely approach reality asymptotically at best. Then Robert fired up a sequence on the MOTM modular. Engines full throttle, we have lift off. The first set consisted of new material played on synths (the keyboards, rack modules, and MOTM) and the slide guitar. As usual, Robert's processing and looping drove the raw sound sources to other galaxies, dragging along an enthusiastic and receptive crowd. Here words fail me as they fail all but the most eloquent. Robert's rhythms are sexy and the sounds superb. Not so glurpy this time, more oozy and fun. Like a kid playing in a mud puddle, I wanted to get dirty and squish the music through my fingers. I watched every movement and must point out that, unlike many synth-playing spacemusicians, Robert actually PLAYS keys. It was also a gas to watch Robert use a nut driver to simultaneously pitch and stimulate the high string on his slide guitar.
During the short intermission, I had the opportunity to talk to more friends and acquaintences. John returned to signal the start of the second set. Robert started off with Animus from Propogation. This is perhaps my most favorite track from my most favorite Rich CD. In addition to all the gear used in set one, Robert added his various wooden flutes. I love watching a person play music (when I'm not playing music myself). There was the usual comment made later about performing to MIDI backing tracks. I'd like to point out that the key portion in that sentence is the word PERFORMING, not the words MIDI backing tracks. Without growing 20 more pairs of hands or hiring a lot of musicians and holding months of rehearsals, there is no other way to bring some of Robert's material to a concert setting. I can only direct the attention of critics to sublime moments of the concert such as when Robert sat at the slide guitar, playing harmonics, looping rhythms, and soloing above it all. The light of Robert's music lit the entire audience. A standing O brought Robert back for a quick encore and the show was over.
Chuck, Art and Jeff pulled off another great event. Then I wandered off with some friends to stretch out the evening at a nearby watering hole. I plan to see Robert again at the Space for Music Festival in Nashville in April. A little more than 80 miles away from my eastern Pennsylvania home. But it's still an easier drive than Alfa Centauri, which I attended last week in the Netherlands.
by Bill Fox
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Concert Photos by Bill Forcier