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Robert Rich - Trances & Drones [Hypnos - 2013]

Trances & Drones is a two CD set which brings together two classic early 1980ís slices of deep ambience from the US ambient legend Robert Rich.  This 2013 edition of the release is the third time this joint classic release has been reissued, and itís easy to see why as both Trances & Drones are truly engrossing & lose-your-self-in submersion in deep Ďní extremely heady ambience.

This new reissue comes in 6-panel digipak, which takes in  an aged 'n' psychedelic marble like texturing, & a circular  shape of Arabic calligraphy. The set also features a eight page booklet taking in a new three page write-up about  the making of these two releases & Robert Richís famous sleep concerts. As  well as great rare early pictures of Mr. Rich performing at the early sleep concerts.  Other than this new write-up,  pictures & design this release doesnít add any new sonic content beyond what was on the other reissuesÖbut really this is'nt needed as both disc are perfect as they are, and really you couldnít fit much more on either disc as each comes in at around the 70 minute mark.

First up on disc one we have Traces- this disc brings together the two tracks off the 1983 tape album of the same name, and the title track off Robert Richís 1982 debut cassette album Sunyata. The release opens with the twenty four minute track "Cave Paintings"- this track begins with a very slow Ďní swirling mass of ominous ambient textures- these rather suggest a journey through a dank & ancient cave network. For the first four or so mintues Rich focuses purely in on the slowed & brooding ebb of these textures- pulling you seemingly back through time & space long before modern civilization.  At around the four & a half minute mark, a brighter yet mystical sounding keyboard element is added-  this element has a more defined vibe like character to it, and it weaves out this ethnic, semi eastern, wondering & loose  feel. I guess this  new element suggests youíve now come across a wall full of colorfully & detailed paintings deep with in the cave network, and the colors  of these paintings seem as bold & vibrate as when they were first painted way many years ago. By the 13th minute the brighter vibe like keyboard has faded, and Rich slowly but surely leads us back into the cavern like darkness, yet there are still hints of wonder & brighter harmonic textures shifting through the slowly moving ambient drift Ďní ebb. Iíll have to admit when I first played this whole release through, this track stood out as my least favorite as the more colorful vibe elements seemingly spoil the more ominous vibe of the track, but after playing it numerous times over I really enjoy the sort of Yin/Yang feeling when the more buoyant Ďní bright elements mixing with the more brooding Ďní swirling elements.

Second on disc one we have the track "Hayagriva", and this track comes in at just over the twenty five minute mark. This track opens with a slowly fading in mass of brooding & dense drone matter- these elements have quite a space bound/ ominous vibe to it, as if your drifting through the stars &  have come across a vast hulking dark alien structure. As we the near the tracks three & a half minute mark a more tangible atmospheric & slow moving melody appears, but this is edging with the a more brooding feel, yet it really fully shows itís self. As the track progresses we move into very slowly drifting & contrasting mixture of the more ominous drone currents and more hopeful Ďní now golden space bound ambience- I guess going back my early description itís like your now in side the vast hulking alien structure seeing both vast & darkly strange alien inner stuctures, as well as moments of breathtaking golden space bound beauty. From around the 13th/14th minute we get sudden swells jangling textures- these sudden build to denseness, then  quickly fading back into the slowly swirling drone currents.  By around the 17th minute the track seems to be focusing in on a more forceful & harmonic pitched drones, which rather sound like amass progressed bell textures. For the remainder of the track Rich drifts between the more defined & forceful drone currents, and the more deep brooding & shadowy elements.

Lastly on disc one we have "Sunyata"(which as mentioned early is the title track off the tape of the same name, and is not a part of the original Drone release)- this track comes in at just shy of the twenty three minute mark.  This track is built around very slow moving, bleakly tinged & wavering drifts of  drones- these seem to hover, shimmer & shift in a most chilling manner- to me these elements sound like they could have been created from modified & morphed flute textures.  With this track theres a real feeling of errier-ness, distant dread, and sister intent - at times the way the tones seem to slowly drift, ebb & mingle togeather in a rather haunted & stark manner brought to mind the work of US dark ambient two piece Yen Pox, but of course this track dates from years before Yen Pox even started. Unlike the other tracks on this first disc this piece is a lot more stationary & set in itís structure, with Rich really slowly but surely melting the shifting drones into a truly haunting mesh of sound.  Put simply Sunyata is a great example of early dark ambience, and itís easy to see why from tracks like this one that Rich is often quoted as one of the pioneers of the dark ambient form.


Moving onto disc two Drones, and this takes in the two  tracks from the 1983 cassette album of the same name, plus an  track entitled Resonance- which was unreleased at the original time release of the tape, but appeared on the other two CD reissues of this set. 

So first up on disc two we have Seascape, and this track comes in  just shy of the thirty minute mark. The piece opens with a fading in mixture of slow Ďní stark drone texturing, and the sound of crashing waves.  To start with the drone element is quite stripped & thin in itís feel, but with-in a few mintues Rich has added in more layers of slowly swirling & ebbing drone matter, and by around the 3rd minute thereís a more distinctive almost slowed blues tinged melody sweeping through the track.  As we progresses further &  further into the track Rich adds in first one subtle drone texture then another( these sound like there mainly derived from guitar textures), and  it  really feels like we are drifting more & more out into a grey yet peaceful seascape that seems to stretch on & on as far as the eye can see. Also as the track progresses you get subtle hints at more brooding & sinister traces becoming more & more present in the slow swirl 'n' shift of the track- these bringing to mind either the feeling of been watched  by something or someone, or seeing strange unidentifiable shapes bobing far off in the distance  & thinking they could well be human bodies.

Next up on this second disc we have Wheel Of Earth, and this just shy of twenty eight minute track perfectly fits  itís title, as the whole thing very much brings to mind watching the earth from out of space, slowly turning on & on. Thereís a real feeling of both hugeness & great sadness  present in this track- the layers of deep drone hover bring to mind a times-less & huge vastness, while  the more  moody harmonic sweeps of ambient tone summon up a feeling of sadness & ageless melancholic . Structure wise the track is built around a fairly even mixture of the deeper hovering tones, and the slightly higher toned yet slowly sweeping harmonic ambient drifts. Through-out itís full runtime the track really remains fairly stationary, and it really is a great example of masterful & spell-binding deep ambience.

Lastly on this disc we have the track Resonance, and this just over twelve minute  track dates from January 1983. This piece is the most stripped back  & stark of all of the tracks here, and apparently itís was created  by acoustic room resonance derived from delayed feedback. The track is built around a very thin wavering & bleak hovering tone, which has very slight ringing harmonic reverberations coming off it. All told itís fairly sonically simple in itís make-up, yet it makes for a great haunting & eerier end to this disc, and the release as a whole.

So in summing-up this release is a true classic of deep ambience / dark ambient, and really no self respected fan of these genres should be without it. If pushed Iíd say the Drones disc is (just) my favorite of the two, but both disc are near perfect examples of the ambient form!

Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5

Roger Batty
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