Robert Rich Tour Blog

Started by petekelly, May 12, 2010, 07:19:02 AM

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I just read the John D. article. It does make a very clear point regarding 'live' performances that are often more 'live' in name rather than in practice. I wouldn't join Jesse in calling it an obviously ridiculous position. I remember seeing a photo of a Biosphere/Jensen live show equipment rig a year or two ago ... it was a laptop and a tiny midi keyboard. I know I'd be depressed staring at him 'playing' that for an hour or two and merely giving me a slight rehash of old tunes. Yes, we are in a genre where its very often one person who multitracks to computer to create the music, and this layering can not easily (if at all) be duplicated in a live situation. But don't fool yourself into thinking that playing along to a pre-prepared CD (or whatever) is the same as a fully live performance. The karaoke analogy used by Diliberto is an apt one. But this is not a black and white situation (very little is). Its not an all live vs. some of it is live dichotomy. I think John D. is down on the 'most of it's simply not live' scenario, and this should not, perhaps, be billed as live. Maybe we need a new label for these not very live 'performances'.

I grew up in England going to a ton of concerts. I tell ya, if the drummer stopped playing, and we still heard drums, we would chuck stuff.   ;D
The Circular Ruins / Lammergeyer / Nunc Stans

Paul Vnuk (Ma Ja Le)

Well for where I am at in life, and pretty much the view I have personally held  in my entire live performance life really resonates with some of John D's statements. Especially this one:

"If that means a solo set, then scale it to what you can actually play live without backing.    If you really need a band but you're not committed enough to go to the expense or find like-minded players willing to suffer for your art, then perhaps you shouldn't be playing live concerts at all."

I personally for the last few years have held strong to this. At this point I disdain computers on stage and I have never been fully satisfied when Chris and I have used backing tracks, yet I have no issue with drum machines like an Electribe or an analog sequence like Robert spins out at his show, there is still something organic in that, but a dude and a laptop usually equals lame to me much of the time, unless they are actually playing soft synths as a instrument and not a backing track...obviously I am not an ableton live fan.

I admit to a personal snobishness that says "learn to play an instrument and interact with others who do the same."

But if people will come and see and buy tickets and enjoy it...who am I to say. I am just slightly surly tonight and enjoyed Johns piece, if anything it should make us think.
"I liken good ambient to good poetry ... enjoyable, often powerful, and usually unpopular" APK

Robert Logan

I have no problem with someone using a laptop and controllers live - if that's what's required to get their sound across and if they're actually re-rendering the material on the fly in some way. Some musicians are doing very interesting things with home made patches and sequencers in a live setting and I've been to lots of beautifully intense gigs involving laptops. In some ways, I find witnessing that just as exciting as great musicians interacting on traditional instruments, because I'm not there to watch some visual demonstration of musical athleticism but instead to listen to fresh sounds.

Obviously, context is important, and these things can be done tastelessly. Miming, for example, is awful, and I find using computers to replace acoustic instruments or things that could be played by other musicians rather despicable. I also think that some live playing by electronic musicians is karaoke-like, but not for the reasons that the author stated. Some electronic musicians, for example, have the laptop playing almost everything, but arbitrarily play one part themselves and occasionally pepper that with a tap on a drum machine here and a squirt from another machine there and plucks on guitar there. I would personally rather they dumped all those bits and bobs that perhaps look more impressive or live to onlookers - and instead explore ways of meaningfully and substantially changing the sounds being spewed out from the computer on the computer itself. Or, as some have been doing, combining that live computer-driven process with more traditional and blatantly live playing on 'proper' instruments.       

Paul Vnuk (Ma Ja Le)

Quote from: Numina on June 03, 2010, 02:56:45 PMThat said, Robert Rich and Roach alike are using the computer for elements that everyone really wants to hear but can only be achieved with the use of a computer or sequencer. 

I am not sure I agree with this, only in that both the folks you mention, used to create these elements live without the computer and I think it made for a more compelling performance, strictly as a performance for people to watch. I think that is something we often forget, when people come to see us live they are expecting a certain level of entertainment, not strictly music. The same extends to famous groups live, I am probably going to be stoned for this, but depech mode on the Exciter tour ...IE 4 guys standing unmoving at their keyboards was pretty damn boring from an audience perspective as well.

"I liken good ambient to good poetry ... enjoyable, often powerful, and usually unpopular" APK

Paul Vnuk (Ma Ja Le)

I agree working with computers and sequencers is like spinning plates  ;D
I also was not attacking Robert he has chops. And I could care less what folks do when recording their music if the finished album is good, then its good (well I do care, but thats a whole different post).

But I do think live needs to contain the artist hanging on by a thread, pushing themselves beyond their ability, improvising with adversity and the unexpected and needs to at least live. Go to City Skies and Different Skies and Electro Music and there are plenty of cats who meet this criteria.

Some can and some can't, simple as that. We need to stop accepting table scraps and mediocrity (not talking about Robert again before anyone jumps on me) as "well that's all there is", or worst yet "Artistic".

Like I said, John's article should challenge all of us and make us think.

"I liken good ambient to good poetry ... enjoyable, often powerful, and usually unpopular" APK

Christopher Short - Ma Ja Le'

Music, especially improvised music is a conversation between instrumentalists.

Unless you are insane, can you really talk to yourself for very long and be engaged or engaging? However when talking to others especially if it's the right people a conversation can go on and on because it IS engaging.

So I think Diliberto has a point. A one man show ultimately isn't that interesting to watch for an extended period. Even the Metheny Orchestrion idea would get old quick and that guy has chops galore and it has a visual element of the instruments on stage instead of sounds coming out of speakers from samples playing from some device. Also I checked out the Metheny video on his site and he said something I thought telling.

He mentioned when a musician is in a situation such as overdubbing and playing to themselves there is an imprint like a fingerprint to fingerprint (see the video at about 5:22.) I think he simultaneously hit on what is beautiful about the process and what is also a dead end about it. Because if you are only responding to yourself then it's much like having a conversation with yourself. It's one sided and probably not that interesting in the long term. I've noticed the same thing when doing live looping which is a common tool in electronic music.

In watching Metheny with his Orchestrion I was initially excited (in part because I love 19th century Orchestrion's) but quickly realized what he was getting out of the instrument was no different than what I have heard him do with other musicians. I would have been more excited to hear him use the process to come up with some new directions in sound.

When I see live performances part of what engages me the most is seeing how musicians get sounds out of their instrument and getting a sense of how the music is created. There is also an interplay in imperfection that is fascinating. Human beings flow, their tempo swings and the emotional connection that pours out from a really great set of players connects with the audience.
Disconnection only yields more disconnection. The man playing the computer is disconnected from striking the head on a drum, the audience is disconnected from seeing the force of the blow on that drum and hearing the explosion of sound it creates and so on. Disconnected. Disinterested. Disengaged.

The electronic music genre needs a shot in the arm. Badly. Getting three or four folks on stage playing together might just be the ticket to bring more interest in what is happening both on stage and off. Otherwise in performance you might as well resort to getting some Solid Gold dancers or Fly Girls or what have you to sell all that mouse jockeying.


As one who does not like performing live at all, I admire those who have the stomach for it.  But I don't understand John's use of Robert to make his point about live performance.  Robert is touring in support of a specific album, and that album doesn't happen to be based on a conventional band, in the sense of using the same core of musicians on every track.  I don't think it helps for John to apply a rock/jazz/folk paradigm to the live performance of ambient music.  I also think that creating music in the studio, regardless of whether it is done with one person or ten, is a form of expression that is fundamentally different from live performance; one form is no more legitimate than the other, unless you have already chosen sides.  Of course, the economics of traveling across the country to perform ambient music does not exactly lend itself to touring with a conventional band, either, unless you are signed to a label with some significant coin to subsidize it.



Diliberto's blog didn't challenge me or make me think at all. It's an old argument and it seemed rather mean-spirited including Robert in it. As Jesse says, he's been touring in this way for years.

Sure, watching some dude operating his laptop perhaps isn't the last word in entertainment, but watching a lot of 'real' instrumentalists isn't
necessarily that exciting either. What ever happened to 'stage presence' ?



I recently attended a show by Thomas Köner. As much as I enjoyed the music and the visuals, I can´t call flipping open a laptop and just running Ableton Live a *concert*. More a CD presentation with the artist being around. Which is nice but not exactly a concert IMO. There´s nothing wrong with a computer on stage if it helps creating music on the spot but if that´s all there is... I´m not sure what to make of that.

"Honour thy error as a hidden intention." (Brian Eno)


Having put on and attended lots of ambient/EM gigs over the last few years I find that 'karaoke' style EM can be OK if it is done well and is entertaining, but personally I find it a lot less engaging than a real live performance, where all the elements are performed live and there is little or no pre-recorded backing


okay....gotta throw my .02 cents in this conversation:)...

I have been asked in the past myself why I don't perform my music live and I tell them like most EM artists is that ambient music is very complicated and sequenced out, but I have found that yes, I still need a laptop but only for the purpose of running the soft sythns since that's what I use the majority of the time and I can do improvised live playing just using the soft sythns playing in real time improvised..

also, watching a behind the scenes making of on performing live and one member of a band said that to have a really successful live avenue, one has to engage the audience even if that means stepping out from behind the sythn and maybe talk about the song, why you created it the way you did, maybe a joke about the song, hell...maybe talk about yourself and your life.....and the band member said this will help the audience members connect even more to one's music...
Twitter: ImagineerR

Brian Bieniowski

Over the years, I've been to quite a few live electronic music performances.  I've probably outclocked rock shows by now!

I can see the argument made that Dude Plus Laptop doesn't always make for great live experience, but most rock bands are so inconsistent live that it doesn't hold much water for me.  I watched Wolfgang Voigt "perform" Gas (essentially a CD listening party) and it was some of the most compelling moments of any music I've ever heard played anywhere. 

I think atmosphere goes a long way in these performances.  If they're in a nice place (Philly's St. Mary's church for example) or if the artist is "rich" enough to be able to bring interesting visuals, I find that I hardly even pay attention to the artist on stage, which seems preferable in this over-saturated age of retarded rock moves.  As with everything, I guess, personal tastes vary.

One of my favorite electronic music shows was Markus Popp playing Oval music before a Tortoise show in a crowded club.  I remember he had a big computer, because I think this was before the proliferation of laptops, so it was unusual to see a dapper fellow up on stage with just a computer.  Anyway, he played his gentle music over all the crazy talk and noise in the club and it was just a perfect furniture music kind of experience.  After a while you couldn't tell where music ended and audience began.

Christopher Short - Ma Ja Le'

I should probably clarify my last post a bit. I have seen a lot of one man shows including Fripp, Rich, Roach, Vidna, Johnson and others. Doing it by yourself can be very on edge, engaging and it really takes a great musician to pull it off. And the guys mentioned above have done great music both off and on stage. The point is the format is getting old, much like Rock trio's did in the 60s so someone like JD who has heard a lot of music and has been active in the genre for 35 years (I think he said) he is probably making the judgment based on how many performances of this type he has seen over the years. The question here is what do you do as an artist to keep things fresh for an audience already familiar with the genre?

I like how small and portable laptops are as an instrument, but am not convinced they make a good instrument because for one they are the same thing folks type on all day to do their work. And there is probably an association with having the computer do it for you that is in the perception of most folks that devalues a laptop as an instrument as well. Which is not to make a statement either way of what a lap top is or isn't or could be, just a commentary on public perception.

Not to mention even in "sleeper" music one would probably like to have something to look at before they drift off. I know the Gathering series does a great job with their light shows in this regard. So some of this perception comes down to stage presence, presentation and showmanship. All lap tops aside. :-)

For myself at this point I would rather play with and see more musicians on stage than not. I think there are more possibilities with this approach and could lead to untraveled areas within the genre. A journey which I and probably others would find more intriguing artistically.

Christopher Short - Ma Ja Le'

Hey Brian, What made the Wolfgang Voigt performance so compelling?

michael sandler

Quote from: LNerell on June 03, 2010, 12:30:19 PM
Anyone read John Diliberto take on Robert's and other similar concerts? Here's the link:

I'm not saying I agree with him, in fact I'm actually looking forward to seeing Robert when he comes to town, just an interesting take from someone who claims they are a fan of our kind of music.

The problem with finding a band willing to suffer along with you for your art is that most musicians want to be paid, at least if they are going to make a commitment like a tour. Should Rich stop touring because he can't afford a band? That would be a shame.

On the other hand, maybe it would be more interesting to just play what you can play live, even if it is not as complex as what you could produce with canned material to back you up. There really is something exciting about watching a skilled musician laying it down on the spot. A great musician can hold your interest for the length of a concert. Classical musicians do it all the time.



Certainly it seemed strange to me that John Diliberto singled out Robert this way.

On the other hand, I don't think John's argument can really be called "wrong."  He's basically saying it's unfortunate that a lot of musicians tour and give performances that amount to pre-recordings with live elements.  Can you really say you disagree?

I'm sure Robert wishes he could tour with Lisa Moskow or Forrest Fang or whatever group of live musicians helped create a given album, but we all know this simply isn't feasible.  I wish ambient music had a bigger audience, obviously, but since it doesn't, musicians either perform in a way that makes sense, or they don't perform at all.

I've performed live a handful of times as part of Viridian Sun, and twice with Dave Fulton in Philadelphia (and also, I guess, with Dave Fulton and Jeff Pearce together, briefly, at the same concert and radio shows), but never alone.  I haven't performed alone onstage because I feel it would be pointless. It wouldn't be the kind of show I would enjoy seeing so I'm not motivated to do it, even though I've been asked several times.  Not to say I'll never do it.  I'll reserve the right to change my mind, but at this point, firing up Ableton Live and live-mixing a number of loops doesn't seem compelling to me as a sound artist, or to a hypothetical audience of listeners.

I've seen performances of one guy on a stage with a bunch of electronic gear, and sometimes it's compelling.  More often it's not.  Saul Stokes has done some great shows, and it helps that he brings along some really cool, weird-looking home made electronic gear, and that he tweaks synths and sequences with his hands, in real time, visible onstage.  There are lots of cool lights and spinning rings of blue LEDs, and a weird aluminum controller Saul built that looks like a weird, robotic oboe. 

I've seen shows like what Diliberto described, a guy running tapes (or digital files, or CDRs) while he stood up and basically waved his hands around, and added little live "accents" over the top.  In other words 90% of what you were hearing was pre-recorded, and if the guy gave the same performances to ten crowds in ten nights, they'd all hear pretty much the same thing.  I understand why these guys performed that way, I mean their reasons make sense to me.   I probably had more fun meeting these guys after the show and chatting, though, than watching the performance.  It was just a guy standing on a stage, mostly still, while a bunch of studio-based recordings unfolded.

What's more, I have an awful, behind-the-curtain ambient music secret to reveal.  I've been to performances like this, accompanied by other ambient music-makers, musicians, label-owners, DJs or whatever, and heard my fellow audience members complain and criticize more harshly than anything Diliberto said in that article, about the entertainment value of pre-recorded stage shows.  I've been to enough shows like this, accompanied by enough different music folks, that I doubt anybody will know which shows I'm talking about, but yes -- even those of us who understand how difficult it is to perform this kind of music live, might go to a show of this kind, and on the way out, mutter something about "What did I experience here, other than meeting the guy, that was different from just listening to the CD at home?"

I really do see both sides of it.  I don't blame ambient artists with a higher profile than myself for saying "I can play a couple dozen shows per year, make some money, spread the word about my work, and shake hands and take pictures with the fans.  On the road, I can meet some DJs and reviewers and fellow musicians and have a good time.  Why not?"   Even if they know the stage show isn't quite, you know, Queen Live Killers or something.

I also have a hard time feeling the artists are putting one over on the audience.  I mean, when the audience shows up, they MUST know what kind of thing they're going to see.  If you're going to see Robert Rich, unless it was one of those solo piano shows he did briefly, you KNOW he's not going to perform everything live in real time. 

Having said as much forgiving, understanding stuff as I can, I still think sometimes artists take a shortcut and rely too much on invariable, pre-fab recorded elements.  To me there's a huge difference between improvising stuff on a laptop in a way that not only isn't prefab but couldn't be repeated twice even if you wanted to (such as my last two live shows, one with Viridian Sun, and the show with Fulton in Philly), and standing up with a bunch of tapes or CDRs or digital files spinning.  The audience may not even know the difference, unless they're savvy about what's happening, where the sounds are coming from. 
[ Mike Griffin, Hypnos Recordings ] email mg (at) | |


One thing I meant to finish up with is that I've seen Robert perform and I always get a sense of integrity and respect for the audience from Robert.  That's the one aspect of the John Diliberto article that bugged me.  He seemed to imply that Robert exemplified, somehow, performing artists who short-change their audience.  Frankly I think it's bizarre to choose Robert Rich to make that point, especially since I know John has met Robert numerous times.
[ Mike Griffin, Hypnos Recordings ] email mg (at) | |


QuoteIt was just a guy standing on a stage, mostly still, while a bunch of studio-based recordings unfolded.

I've seen solo pianists just sitting on a bench not moving anything but their hands (which are not always visible.) However, I don't think one has to be a Liberace to entertain an audience.

The nature of many genres of electronic music is repetition via automation. What's the difference between an arp, step sequencer, sequencer, loop-building, pre-recorded loops, or an iPod?  It's all hands-free music (with an occasional tweak, sometimes.)  Does Dilberto also include Tangerine Dream in his criticism because of their automation?

I think what sets Klaus Shulze apart from a talented top-notch laptop performer is mostly stage presence and name recognition.

As technology advances and new and innovative user interfaces are introduced, both performer and reviewer have to get with the times. There has to be something more than just music coming from the stage; be it emotions evoked by body and facial expressions, dancing girls, colorful blinking lights, mind-bending video projections, odd and oversized glasses, playing the keyboard with your feet, etc.

On second thought, perhaps Liberace was right.

judd stephens

Robert Rich himself acknowledged this and said how he tries to distinguish himself from the guy with the laptop on stage who "might as well be checking his e-mail".  For a one-man act, Robert couldn't be doing much more between the flute playing, the lap steel, and all the 'tweeking' of knobs from one synth to the next.  There was a laptop, but he rarely was there longer than a few seconds, often leaning toward it while his other hand was on another module. 

Sure, a percussionist live to play along with Rich would've been really cool, but the ticket price probably goes up, and so on.  Maybe if all the gigs he played were bigger, like 50-100 people, then you'd have the 'economy of scale' to still charge less.  Or, occasionally do a smaller venue like Santa Fe, if you can still fill some seats in the bigger cities.  How's about a college musician student who takes some time and learns Robert's sets, could accompany him during the summer, sort of an "ambient apprentice"?  Maybe there are other ways to get a supplemental musician in with him who has little stake in making money on the tour, like a retiree who's in it for fun-   :-\  I don't know.

I can see at least a percussionist with Robert being pretty neat, but for what it's worth, it was pretty cool and I'd do it again and Robert was no slouch when it comes to the creativity and improvisational impulses.  He definitely veered from the 'playlist' that his wife Dixie had shown, improving and adding here, subtracting there- also he said at the beginning he wasn't sure where he was going to go, but let the inspiration take him and it might be a "couple hours" or so, to which there was a gentle round of cheers and applause...

One cool little tidbit at the beginning as he was speaking into the mike was a few seconds into his address to the audience, I noticed some warped, distorted and low-key background voices.  It sounded like a swampy, muffled conversation you might here in an ambient song.  Soon after it dawned on me that it was Robert's own voice delayed by a few seconds, through some kind of filter to make it sound 'dreamlike'.  That part was particularly neat, and it assured that the music we were about to hear was going to be deep and technically cool stuff. 

Oh, and here are some turntable/laptop wizards who have made their act interesting (for their fans at least).  No this isn't a deleted scene from Logan's Run