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These first days

img  Tobias

Talking about electronic pioneers is a lot less exciting than hearing electronic pioneers talk (how's that for a confusing opening line!). There's a simple reason for that: There's just too few of them! You know, back in the days when these guys were "en mode" (and when Nixon was still president), you would actually need to have something close to a degree in electro engineering to be able to handle the first synthesizers. And then, they didn't come in a handy box for $29.95, but in the size of an entire living room (and at the cost of a complete house). Which meant that stories from those days are colourful. It also meant, however, that while the world was spared 125 new electronic releases each day, there were merely a handful of musicians all around the world who would record and release any albums using these machines at all. Richard Lainhart was one of them and by discovering him, the early years of electronic music will become a whole lot more fascinating.

Richard's story starts at the SUNY Binghamton Electronic Music Studio. Although he only studied there as a student from 1971-73, these were important years, as they brought him into first contact with electronic sound processing. Experimentation was the key word and composing was called "realizing" in those days. Richard remembers: "The studio was well-equipped with a Moog Model IIIC synthesizer, two keyboards, a ribbon controller, 4-channel monitoring, and (at the time) top-of-the-line Scully 4-track, 2-track, and mono tape decks." What today would probably constitute the equipment for a regular home studio, was then state of the art. The results of what were probably weeks and months of session work still sound as eery and "otherworldly" as ever: "The Sun Dog Trail" is nine minutes of glitchy and glibbery noise, "The Deep" uses Lainhart's own voice and acchieves a remarkably spaceous and spacy sound, while "Surtsey" feels amost like wandering through a silvery alien rain forest.

Then, in a very short amount of time, a lot changes. Richard had always been fascinated by the idea of using a singular event source, meaning only one sound for an entire composition. It required both a new approach to structuring the music as well as to listening - old expectation patterns had to be broken and minds be opened to the notion that there was a lot to discover even in a music which seeemed to celebrate a degree of "non-motion": "For me, that means sounds in which there is a great deal of detail but relatively little surface change. The analogy I think of is that these sounds are abstractions of phenomena like flowing water or wind in the trees which are ongoing but vary in their details." When he moved to work at the largest Moog Studio in the world, SUNY Albany, he integrated the ideas of Joel Chadabe about "human-machine" interactivity into his music. Basically, that meant using less algorithms and more of his own compositional and personal background - and it lead to a series of pieces that today must seem like a total sensation. "White Nights" from 1974 is a thirty minute long drone that shines and glistens like a diamond showering in rainbow light and "A River on Cold Mountain" puts a lot of today's Industrial Ambient to shame. Of course, these tracks are not "ahead of their time" - they come from a totally different background and use entirely different methods. But their immediate and overwhelming impact is still stunning.

Then there is a gap in his biography, which we can not bridge at the moment. Richard mentions work with John Cage, David Tudor and Steve Reich, so we're sure he wasn't wasting his time. He reappears in 1987 with "These Last Days", which, not counting a more recent "Best Of", is the only currently available CD by him. Released on the short-lived "Periodic Music" by Ron Goldberg. The MIDI revolution had taken hold and again changed Lainhart's concepts of composing. Still, "These Last Days" sounds neither futuristic, nor dated. It merely shows even more of the man behind the music, as it consists of five mostly lengthy tracks played live by Richard alone. As he puts it in the sleeve text: "With the proliferation of computer assisted composition systems, the human element of physical performance has often been overlooked in electronic music. These pieces are all records of such performances." The ghostly "Hall of Mirrors" and the sweetly strange "The Hidden Rose" are testaments to that philosophy's silent triumph.

"Walking slowly" backwards" was intended to be the second album for Periodic, but by 1992, the label has ceased existing. It's a pitty - listening to these tracks now makes you wonder which road Lainhart's career might have taken, had the album been released: Floating and dreamy, drenched in twilight and full of mysteries, the disc could well have been an instant success. Unfortunately, it never happens and he devotes his time to other things: Doing work for films and contributing on books and magazines on animation and software. With the advent of the Internet, he decided to take a huge step and releases a big part of his back catalogue on the Web for free. Which means you can dive into his career and history without paying a penny - and discover what a long and breathless yourney it's been. More recent albums take a more ambient direction, with electronic strings and slowly shifting melodies, which rub against each other to create harmonics and little sparks of light.

It also means that next to all those Stockhausen's, Schulze's, Froese's and Göttsching's, you will now have another name to add. It will help add to the completeness of the picture of a time that represents the seed of a revolution that would change the way music is being perceived and produced forever. Talking about electronic pioneers will soon be as exciting as listening to the music itself.

Homepage: Richard Lainhart


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