Robert Rich (musician)

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Robert Rich
Born (1963-08-23) August 23, 1963 (age 60)
OriginMountain View, California, U.S.
GenresAmbient, new-age, electronic, experimental[1]
Years active1981–present
LabelsSoundscape, Fathom/Hearts of Space, Hypnos, Relapse/Release, Extreme, DiN, Unsung, Soleilmoon, Projekt, Sombient/Asphodel, Crowd Control Activities

Robert Rich (born August 23, 1963) is an ambient musician and composer based in California, United States. With a discography spanning over 30 years, he has been called a figure whose sound has greatly influenced today's ambient music, New-age music, and even IDM.[2]


1980s: sleep concerts and early career[edit]

During Rich's time at Stanford University in the 1980s, he became well known in the San Francisco Bay Area for giving live night-time performances for somnolent or sleeping audiences. These were experiments to influence REM cycle sleep with auditory stimulus. They were usually nine hours long and lasted from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.[3] During these performances, he would generate abstract drones and atmospheres while the audience dozed in sleeping bags that they brought themselves. In the morning he ended the concert with piano solos and served tea.

During this time, he released four albums on cassette: Sunyata (1982), Trances (1983), Drones (1983), and his first live album titled Live (1984). The first of these was recorded when he was 18. The music on these albums reflects similar drone music atmospheres to those of his sleep concert series.[citation needed]

Rich applied to study at Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. He scheduled a meeting with John Chowning, the founder of the class and inventor of FM synthesis. When Chowning saw Rich’s first three albums, Rich was approved for the class.

In 1983, he and Rick Davies together with a bassist named Andrew McGowan formed a group called "Urdu". It performed several live concerts in the San Francisco Bay area. The group dissolved after a live radio broadcast in 1984. Some of the group's recorded material was released as a self-titled album in 1985.

In 1987, he released an album titled Numena. This was the beginning of a new sound for Rich. It was his first album to explore complex rhythmic patterns, a wider range of acoustic instrumentation, and just intonation. It was also his first album to be released on CD originally.


In the years that followed he developed a complex range of sounds founded upon the seamless integration of electronic, electric, and acoustic instrumentation, and the exploration of complex just tunings. His music continues to tend toward the organic and much of it is based on a concept in synthesis he refers to as glurp. His interest in using unique sounds has inspired him to create a large collection of original field recordings and homemade instruments. One of these instruments is a range of flutes made from PVC pipe.

His interest in unique sounds has also given him work as a sound designer for synthesizer presets and for E-mu Systems’ Proteus 3 and Morpheus sound modules. He has also designed sounds for films including Pitch Black and Behind Enemy Lines, a series of sampling discs called Things that Go Bump in the Night, and a library of Acid Loops called Liquid Planet. He has also helped develop the MIDI micro-tuning specification, which is the standard used to create justly tuned compositions in MIDI.

His collaborators over the years have included Steve Roach, Brian "Lustmord" Williams, Lisa Moskow, Alio Die, and Ian Boddy.

In 1992, he formed a new group called Amoeba. The group has released three albums featuring ex-Urdu members Rick Davies and Andrew McGowan at different times.

In 2001, he released an album titled Somnium, a 7-hour album divided into three tracks on one DVD video. This album was a recreation of the sleep concert environment he created during the 1980s at Stanford. Although not officially recognized, many people believe it to be the longest artist album of all time.

In 2004, he released an album of piano solos titled Open Window. This album documents his improvised piano style that has been part of his live concerts for decades. It was recorded on a 1925 vintage A.B. Chase baby grand piano.

On March 11, 2005, Rich suffered a hand injury while cleaning a glass jug, accidentally slipping and falling on top of it. During the recovery process, he continued to record new material and tour. He also constructed end-blown flutes from PVC pipe that are more easily played with limited right-hand dexterity.

During his 2006 tour, Rich performed in front of a film created by visual artist Daniel Colvin as a backdrop. After the tour, he created a score for the film, which was released on CD and DVD in 2007 under the title Atlas Dei. In 2007 he also released the album Illumination, a companion soundtrack of a multimedia installation by Michael Somoroff, and a collaboration album with touch guitarist Markus Reuter.


Solo studio and live albums[edit]

  • 1982: Sunyata (reissued 2013 on Sunyata & Inner Landscapes)
  • 1983: Trances (reissued 1994 on Trances/Drones)
  • 1983: Drones (reissued 1994 on Trances/Drones)
  • 1984: Live (live)
  • 1987: Inner Landscapes (live) (reissued 2013 on Sunyata & Inner Landscapes)
  • 1987: Numena (reissued 1997 on Numena + Geometry)
  • 1989: Rainforest
  • 1991: Gaudí
  • 1991: Geometry (reissued 1997 on Numena + Geometry)
  • 1994: Propagation
  • 1994: Night Sky Replies (limited edition 3" CD)
  • 1996: A Troubled Resting Place (collects lone tracks)
  • 1998: Below Zero (collects lone tracks)
  • 1998: Seven Veils
  • 2000: Humidity (live, 3 discs)
  • 2001: Somnium (audio in DVD-video format)
  • 2001: Bestiary
  • 2003: Temple of the Invisible
  • 2003: Calling Down the Sky
  • 2004: Open Window
  • 2005: Echo of Small Things
  • 2006: Electric Ladder
  • 2007: Music from Atlas Dei
  • 2007: Illumination
  • 2009: Live Archive
  • 2010: Ylang
  • 2011: Medicine Box
  • 2012: Nest
  • 2013: Morphology
  • 2014: Premonitions 1980-1985
  • 2014: Perpetual (A Somnium Continuum)
  • 2015: Filaments
  • 2016: What We Left Behind
  • 2016: Foothills: Robert Rich Live on KFJC, 28 May 2014
  • 2016: Vestiges
  • 2017: Live at the Gatherings 2015
  • 2018: The Biode
  • 2019: Tactile Ground
  • 2020: Offering to the Morning Fog
  • 2020: Neurogenesis
  • 2023: Travelers' Cloth

Collaboration albums[edit]


  • 2007: Atlas Dei


  1. ^ "Robert Rich | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 19 December 2018.
  2. ^ "Robert Rich reviews". Sputnik Music. Retrieved 12 August 2012.
  3. ^ Morpurgo, Joseph (2014-10-10). "Dreamcatching: The remarkable story of Robert Rich and the Sleep Concerts". Fact Magazine. Retrieved 2023-10-19.

General references[edit]

External links[edit]