Sunday, June 6

For those who crave musical stylings outside of the norm in terms of structure and instrumentation—or those who are fans of the long-running radio program Hearts of Space—the ambient, exquisitely textured soundscapes of Robert Rich at Solar Culture Gallery were an uncommon gift.

Comfortable and stoic on stage, Rich, a 30-year veteran of ambient electronica, treated the rapt, seated audience to a 90-minute-plus improvised performance. His arsenal included a MacBook, a lap steel guitar and elaborate looping gadgetry with loads of pedals and knobs that would make anyone in the recording industry drool. For each synthesized, manipulated and processed sound, there was a more traditional musical tool to match. He was masterful on the bamboo flute, and added detailed percussion with homemade contraptions to fill in the more tribal qualities of his sound.

There was no talking in the audience, and no banter between Rich and his fans. It was a time for yogis, massage therapists, fungi enthusiasts and others interested in finding their center via relaxation/meditation to revel in the escapism he offered. The green and blue lights on the walls behind the stage unfolded to resemble remnants of a cataclysmic celestial explosion; it was akin to witnessing the composition of a soundtrack to a documentary about the creation of the universe. The trance-like layered sounds effectively enveloped the gallery space, creeping up behind me and making the tiniest of my neck hairs stand on end.

At times, the organic wave-like cacophony was as cozy as the womb. On occasion, there was a sense of urgency in the looping, yielding bizarre results for the listener. For instance, some clever prerecorded bird-chirping sounds reminded me of the velociraptor stalking scene in Jurassic Park. Once I opened my eyes and reacquainted myself with the gallery surroundings, I realized I was safe. He's that good.

Considering the vast array of tribal, hypnotic sounds emanating from Rich's proficient handiwork, it all seemed effortless; Rich emoted little himself, allowing the audience to draw from their own emotional palette. Without being overly sophisticated or showy, he helped people transport themselves from the warm Tucson evening to wherever they preferred to be.