Indeed, it was frogs that taught Rich polyrhythm’s. Thinking as a result, that he would just experiment with sound, he began building synthesizer kits in the mid-1970s, improvising on piano and appreciating the sound of music generally. “I wanted to make sounds that would engulf me,” chimes the veteran. “I wanted to heighten my attention; I wanted to be on a trance-journey. Then I started out being more interested in the psychoacoustics of a pure sonic environment more than making typical music. I felt that music could be a path to discover a sort of psychic medicine for modern ennui!”
In 2011, years on, he admits proudly that his musical skills are limited, suggesting that rather, he is better at sound design and trying to build emotion with a sonic event.
And while his prolific discography is as impressive as his tenure in the business, he still works to his own schedule and takes no prisoners. “I follow my muse and spend money on projects that have artistic merit, but perhaps no financial logic to them.
To be honest, I just try to release truthful music. Even if it isn’t as popular, I prefer to know that every album I make feels like it’s something that needs to be made, if only because it fills a gap in my own private universe.”
Style wise, there is little to pin him down other than the fact that he won’t define himself in terms of any genre. “I don’t tend to think too much about compartmentalisation,” he says. “I just make my music. Maybe it doesn’t fit someone else’s definitions. That’s not my problem. I can only do what I do. When I play live, I perform pieces from different albums spanning decades. Some of those albums came out years before the categories existed in people’s minds where you want to put them. Am I trying to jump out of the boxes? No. The boxes don’t exist.”
No less, for Rich, a typical live set can move from more rhythmic melodic pieces, through some of the more esoteric electronic excursions – and then into pure improvisation. “I think the most magical moments happen when I let myself try things for the first time, like strapping on wings and leaping off a cliff, hoping to fly. The sounds that interest me do change on a constant basis and often they are not ‘music’ as such – but rather sonic environments. In fact, they aren’t even sonic environments, but mentally projected sounds into idealized spaces. Many of my inspirations have nothing to do with music. They live in a timeless place. I am always inspired by my awe at being alive, my concern about our planet, the universe and cosmology, curiosity about the non-human lives and minds that surround us. I get really excited when I see art that conveys the feeling of being alive in a fresh way.”
In terms of influences, a love of Alchemical documents, Sufi poetry, Renaissance architecture, Zen and so on takes him forward to surrealism where he feels that all life exposes its essence constantly and that as humans, we only just notice something when it seems to matter.
So despite being always the philosopher, Rich isn’t locked into a primitive production methodology, keeping up with the times. “Lately I have been remixing my recent work in 5.1 channel surround,” he admits. “I think the surround format suits this music well. I am working a bit on sound design for the next project, not to mention practising for a few Australian performances! I also love teaching. For the past four years I have taught a class in audio mastering for a local college and I really want to inspire people to value good sound. As a mastering engineer for a lot of other artists, I enjoy the process of getting audio to the best possible place, not over-compressed or fighting the ‘loudness wars’ – but expressing the full energy of the artist’s intention. I just want music to sound good. I’m also doing a bit of film work. Right now I’m consulting on audio and music selection for a film called ‘Mandorla’ that is currently in production. I’ll do some scoring and sound design for that as well.”
Finally, he wraps up by emphasising that this is his first time to Australia. “I really want to play some good concerts, that’s my first concern. I feel a connection with Australia and I am not even sure why! Perhaps because I feel the way both of our cultures have forged our identity in the wake of British Empire, trying to understand the indigenous energy of the place we inhabit – and how the earth and our predecessors affect us. I’m interested in getting a feel for the land there.” Just don’t forget to make eye contact, because for all the deep thought and reflection, it is just Rich – and you.