In all honesty, I have no idea how to write a review for this wondrous album. It’s bizarre, actually, because for the most part, though I have always listened to albums in full, I haven’t been able to listen to most of this album. Maybe the first and last few minutes, but never what’s in between. There is a good reason for this, which I will explain later on, but first, perhaps a background on this artist and album would help?
If you don’t know who Robert Rich is, you should. Though there are many artists out there such as Brian Eno, Steve Roach, Lustmord, Tangerine Dream who have made their place in the world of ambient music, Robert Rich stands out the most with his unique style of music. It supposedly started when he was young, as he discovered Tangerine Dream when he was 11, and at about 14 started to build his own synthesizers. However, trying to find a way to perform his extended ambient soundscapes proved difficult, until while at Stanford University in 1982, he started sleep concerts, where people arrived in sleeping bags, and Rich would play to sleeping audiences until around 8 in the morning. These concerts proved very successful, but unfortunately, Rich could not perform these concerts forever, due to other personal problems. Therefore, after years of sculpting his unique blend of ambient soundscapes and world influences, along with building up his studio with an array of different instrumentation, he decided to create an album that was literally a recreation of the sleep concerts he did in the 1980s. The result? Somnium.
Now this is where my review becomes harder. I have tried to listen to this album in full, but I simply can’t at the moment. One of the reasons is that this is perhaps the longest album ever released physically: 7 hours of music on a single DVD. Obviously, I don’t have the time at the moment to listen to this album in full. However, for the past several days, I have been listening to the album in the way that Rich intended it: sleeping to it. I have broken some rules of his, though. For one, Rich suggests playing the music very quietly at night, as people could find themselves waking up more often to it at night. As for myself, I’ve been playing the music at a moderately high volume, and have only waken up on these conditions: the last few minutes of the piece, where bird songs and light drones appear, and/or the music stops completely (the power at my place even went out at one point, stopping the music only a few minutes after the 3rd track began, which if I remember correctly, I did wake up to). Obviously, each person will have different experiences depending on how they listen to it.
Also, Rich does say that the music could make you remember more dreams, and that they could appear vivid and intense. Though this has occurred, for myself, the music has actually increased dream activity at night. Usually, I dream once in a while, but most of the time, nothing happens. Since listening to this album, every night, I have had some pretty crazy dreams. Again, people will have their own different experiences when listening to it, so don’t take it that this album will improve your dream activity. It did with me, but won’t necessarily for everyone else.
Overall, it is very hard for me to describe how the album sounds, let alone give any further thoughts. Obviously, it is ambient and has extended, slowly evolving drone soundscapes, but also, it’s not so much what the music sounded like to me, but how it affected me. As far as how it affected me, I would say that this is definitely one of the greatest and most ambitious ambient albums ever made. The 7-hour long duration certainly makes it ambitious, but the fact that it is made for sleeping is also ambitious. It has worked wonders with me that no other ambient album has done before. This is not an album that you can listen to lightly. You either play it in the background, or listen to it upfront while trying to sleep. Nevertheless, I love this album, and hope that further listens will give me a better perspective on how to review this album. Highly recommended listening nevertheless.
Artist: Robert Rich
Released 2001 by Hypnos/Soundscape
Available now at all major retailers!