Concert Reviews

Recap: Ambient Music Legend Robert Rich in a Parker Living Room

Around fifteen years ago, Colorado musician Jim Lanpheer approached ambient composer Robert Rich about playing a house show, and that began a bit of a tradition for Rich, who has now played five of these types of living room/house shows here. The intimate environment and a truly appreciative audience kept Rich coming back to play at Lanpheer's place, in rooms known as either the Outpost or the Inner Sanctum. Over the weekend, Rich played at the house of Jesse Sola (aka Numina) in Parker, which has no real name and is never open to the public outside of an event like this.

For this show, you kind of had to know someone or be connected to the ambient-music world to know that tickets were available. But there was still plenty of excitement. Rich made a name for himself in the early '80s as a composer of ambient music before it became the phenomenon it was in the '90s and beyond. Back then, his music straddled the world of avant-garde electronic music and new age. Fortunately at that time, there was a long-running ambient-oriented radio program called Hearts of Space, which ran late night on many NPR stations throughout the country.

Rich's career in electronic music ran parallel in many ways with that of his friend and sometime collaborator Steve Roach. Both had their debut albums out the same year, and both were important contributors to the Hearts of Space program. While Brian Eno is rightly credited with coining the term “ambient” relating to music, Rich and Roach had musical roots that reached even further back to such pioneering artists as Kluster, Klaus Schuze and presumably Kraftwerk, not to mention minimalist composers Terry Riley and John Cage.

With thirty solo albums under his belt and fourteen collaborative releases, Rich is about as much of a veteran of ambient music as you're likely to find and an influence on the host of this show, Jesse Sola. The latter has rarely performed live but has become a known quantity in the ambient-music world since the turn of the century with his Numina project, possibly named after Rich's 1987 album Numena. Sola, too, has had his music featured on Hearts of Space.

The show itself was a fairly casual affair, with Rich set up in front of what looked like a fireplace, his bank of synths to one side, his mixer, array of flutes and laptop for Ableton on the other. The crowd couldn't have totaled more than thirty people, but everyone was a synth- and ambient-music aficionado, so there was none of the excessive and loud conversation that might happen at a commercial venue. Before starting, Rich told us he was going to play for about ninety minutes, and he made good on that promise, resulting in a continuous and evolving set of music that included selections from across a wide swath of his career, including material from his this year's Filaments. He also had a projection running that cast luminous trees, abstract patterns and flowing colors to complement the music and help transport the listener away from the unseasonably cold and rainy Colorado night.

It was the kind of show that usually happens at some academic venue or a club with a high-end sound system, but getting to be right there, mere feet from Rich and the sound system he brought with him, was entrancing, as the music ably soothed our minds. Apparently this is to be the last of Robert Rich's tours, and for the experience of it to be something as relaxed as the music is relaxing was perfect.

Critic’s Notebook

I used to listen to Hearts of Space all the time in the early '90s and had no idea about any of the artists except for maybe Constance Demby, whose 1986 album Novus Magnificat I picked up around that time because it was on the Hearts of Space record label. But I liked all that music, and undoubtedly there was some Robert Rich and Steve Roach in there somewhere.

Random Detail:
Ran into experimental electronic artist Mingo, former Seraphim Stitch singer Charity Mudd and musician Dave Preston at the show. The latter has played with multiple artists in Denver, but also out of Denver including a stint playing for Justin Timberlake.

By the Way:
Jesse Sola's latest Numina album, Through the Gate to Nowhere, came out two weeks ago on Relaxed Machinery. Jim Lanpheer also makes music as part of sound healing, and he can be reached via email at jlanpheer AT 

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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.
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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.