Monday, June 7, 2010

Rich in Tucson

Tucson's Solar Culture Gallery had another great show last night, the ambient artist Robert Rich. He played a continuous 90-minute set with more rhythm than I typically associate with his music, many passages underpinned with a tribal beat, which must have been pre-programmed since I didn't see Rich make any action that would have produced drum sounds other than hitting a couple of keys on his laptop. His albums have often given me the feeling of a nocturnal jungle, with lots of small avian and insect sounds seething in the mix, and this feeling was enhanced by a bright green, continuously moving light show behind him. For the electronic part of his setup he had an analog synthesizer from Synthesis Technology, a couple of keyboards, a small Apple laptop, and a mixing board. He would use these instruments to set up different kinds of textures, which became the ground for his lead instruments: a variety of flutes (perhaps constructed from wood, but some of them looked like PVC pipe) and a pedal steel guitar, both plucked and played with an ebow. Having seen him perform, I can now recognize these instruments on his other live albums; they are all over the three-CD set of concert recordings Humidity, for example. On a couple of occasions, he played brief interludes on exotic percussion, including a waterphone. Solar Culture has a superb sound system, so the music was at the right volume, loud but not deafening. The gallery is in Tucson's warehouse district, with train tracks close by, and he even incorporated the train whistles into the set. He chatted around the merch table before the show and was happy to answer questions afterwards, very pleasant and easy conversations. This was a memorable concert, and 2010 is shaping up to be a great year for live music.

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