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CD Feature/ Richard Lainhart: "Ten Thousand Shades of Blue"

img  Tobias

In a recent debate on an internet forum, someone asked if there were any Richard Lainhart CDs available. At first, this seemed like a pretty queer question: In a time when every tonal utterance is recorded and published somewhere on this planet, it should not be difficult laying a hand on a release by one of longest standing synthesizer pioneers, after all. On closer inspection, it has its justification. After all, Lainhart’s early compositions were tape pieces which were played in a live context but never made it to any record shop. Later on in his career, he made almost every single note ever played by him available freely on the internet, including several concert registrations. Effectively, “These last days” from 1987 remains the only regular studio album available – a second one, “Walking slowly backwards” was shed five years later, because of the demise of Ron Goldberg’s “Periodic Music” label. “Ten Thousand Shades of Blue” therefore does not seek to constitute a typical “Best Of”– it effectively closes a painful hole on the market.

Other than that, it also allows for deep and substantiated insight into the methods and philosophy of a man whose oeuvre has the potential to touch more than just a small niche crowd, even though he never intended that. While many composers despise the act of explaining their art, Lainhart has been extremely outspoken about it and where he left a detail or two unanswered, some of his friends, including aforementioned Goldberg and Joel Chadabe of the Electronic Music Foundation have been quick to step in. What emerges is that Lainhart’s music is inspired by organic phenomena, such as the surface movement of water or the complex processes behind a seemingly simple element such as fire. Instead of pinning the listener down on a certain meaning or an emotional response, he is interested in multi-interpretable statements or even techniques which do away with the notion of rational deductability alltogether.

Sound is not just the basis for his pieces, it is their point of origin and their goal. These tracks start with the first audible signs of a sound and they end when it ceaeses. In between, there is nothing but an area in which it exists for itself and is. For the listener, the exploratory pleasure does not derive from the act of observing a development on an arrangement-level, but in gaining greater knowledge about the organisation and nature of the sound at hand. This implies that for the experience to be a rewarding one, there needs to be a layered system underneath the smooth surface, which reveals its structure only upon closer inspection, shifts within itself and creates links and gateways to adjacent regions inside its body. “Understanding” Lainhart’s work means being able to pinpoint the functionality of his resonating worlds and to accept its possible inbuilt contradictions as serving a specific purpose.

Quite obviously, this approach requires a lot of time at the stage of sculpting the sounds and an equal amount of time in allowing the music to present itself. Subsequently, the contributions to “Ten Thousand Shades of Blue” are long, sometimes even very long. Essentially, however, their absolute length on the disc is merely an indication of what they represent. Where there is no development in the strict sense of the word, the only reason to stop the tape is because it is full or because you desperately want to go for a cheese sandwich - the fourty minute long dronestate “Two Mirrors Face One Another” is actually just an outtake of the complete, one hour long version. What could be tedious turns out to be anything but in practise. Effectively, Lainhart offers a new mode of listening, of demanding close attention but allowing the audience to withdraw occasionally to digest what they have heard and to come back at a later stage. Three pieces from the mid-70s until the beginning of the new decade all follow this principle and it is interesting to see how a music that in its entire outset does not provide emotional guidance resonates so deeply inside – be it with waves of consolation in “Bronze Cloud Disk” or the threatening roars of “Cities of Light”.

With the 80s came software tools enabling new ways of arranging one’s music on stage in a process of improvisation and mutual stimulation between man and machine. Even though Lainhart remains true to his philosophy, his music takes on completely different character traits. The title track to this compilation plays tricks with the means of the ambient genre and “Staring at the Moon” manages to move and confound at the same time. More and more, it emerges that sounds is not just a clinical “object” waiting to be dissected, but a sort of archetype which resonates with our body, mind and heart. The latter track is a perfect example: Different lines within the same tonality are pulled with various strings and into unforseable directions, their individual paths sometimes crossing and then again moving away from each other.

On the surface, this music should be easier to connect to than the stretched-out drones which were taped ten years earlier, but instead they remain even more mysterious and beautiful. It is not the intellect, but intuition which tells us that it is worth every second getting back to them to unravel their secrets. If you are looking for a CD to start your journey into Lainhart’s vita, then this should be the one.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Richard Lainhart
Homepage: XI Records

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