Calling Down the Sky
Running time: 1:14:00
Erasing Traces - 13:17
Overhead - 5:34
Vertigo - 21:34
Supplication - 7:23
Borealis - 6:01
Lost Landmarks - 6:25
Adrift - 4:56
Recognition - 8:50
This 74 minute live recording documents an entirely improvised concert in Denver CO, on Saturday July 26, 2003, with an intimate audience who came prepared for anything. With a thunderstorm forming outside, breaking to a peak mid-concert, this improvisation refered directly to the recent weather I had experienced on tour that summer. Below are two journal entries that might flesh out the meaning of the cover artwork, visually interpreted by John Bergin.
Tuesday June 10 - East of Oklahoma City
I'm watching a giant storm cell bubbling to the south. My position eastbound on I-40 is perfect, at the edge of the storm avoiding danger, far enough away that I can observe the shape of the towering cumulonimbus with its top sheared off into ice crystals high up in the stratosphere yet close enough to study the battleship green shelf of mammatus clouds overhead to my right, a clausterphobic ceiling textured underneath with curling roiling bruise-colored tubules, not unlike giant intestines. My sense of distance gets boggled by the size of this storm, on the horizon of a flat land, possibly centered 100 miles away, yet with tendrils that drop an occasional pocket of heavy rain and lightning on the highway in front and behind me. I'm mesmerized by the power and danger that this living entity represents, enchanted by its awesome beauty.
Monday July 21 - Tornadoes in Southern Michigan
Driving southwest to Peoria I hit the most intense weather I have seen yet on this trip. Blue-black clouds up ahead, deep opaque blurs underneath, telling me I'll hit heavy rain. I tune into the radio news, and listen to tornado warnings for the two counties north of me, with a tornado moving southeast. It'll probably miss me, since I'm driving west, but the weather looks big.
The 18 wheel semi in front of me slows down as we approach a wall of rain. The driver turns on his hazard lights, and for 20 minutes those blinking red lights provide my only clue about the road. We're driving about 15 miles per hour through an airborne lake. Water hits the car so hard it's deafening, and the wipers prove useless. I feel like I'm driving a submarine. Common sense would have suggested I pull over and wait for the storm to pass, but I figure I'm OK as long as the truck in front of me stays on the road.
From the Liner Notes:
Heavy weather tailed me during Summer 2003, as I circled the country giving concerts. From wind storms in the desert to tornadoes in the Midwest, flooding in the East and lightning on the high plains, the sky exerted its influence.
All came into focus during this improvised house concert in Denver, a journey joined by a circle of 26 friends. A dialog between music and the
elements took form like a shamanic exchange, an act of supplication in respect to stronger forces, calling down the sky to return a gift from the clouds.
A review of "Calling Down the Sky" published in Deep Listenings Magazine, Italy (www.deeplistenings.it)
'Overload' stasis, which resumes 20 years of ambient music a discreet flowing, slow moving waves, dim lights to illuminate the horizon but, more precisely, a twilight in which the mind-eyes conceive mysterious elements. Indeed an overwhelming route. 'Vertigo', the longest track (21 minutes), comes to claim its due space, and everything get wrapped into oriental-like fumes a so sweet, reverberated, slightly dissonant bamboo flute plunged into its own evolutions, like a puff of innocent wind amongst so much violence, to symbolize human fragility when dealing with the power of Nature. Take a look at the cover, which appears full of darkness and bleak clouds, full of troubled water that shake the Earth the threatening, ruthless spiral of a tornado... the music reflects a state of distress, submission, and resignation, just like the prayer of a man ruled by superior forces a man begging for mercy. Little acoustic malformations add to electronic lines or the flute, distant beats place themselves above like ghosts the lull seems to have cleared off, only its distant growl remains, and its thunder. A lyric, gloomy, raising song relies upon the wind in a mysterious, frightening way, and then the light returns, being announced by flowing, struggling notes which spread across an immense sweetness, while the re-start of the leading theme seals up a new innermost harmony, like a landfall at a safe harbour. This is one of the most brilliant works of this so rich season.
Another review of "Calling Down the Sky" published in Wind and Wire Magazine (www.windandwire.com) by Bill Binkelman:
Calling Down The Sky is a live "house" concert recording taken from summer 2003 when the artist was in Denver, Colorado as part of his cross-country tour. For fans of Robert Rich's deep and somewhat dark ambient work (although not Stalker dark), this is a must have album (if they don't already own it). The CD easily illustrates why Rich is a singular voice in drifting ambient soundscape music, as many of his past trademark talents emerge at one point or another throughout the recording's 74 minute (!) duration. When it soaked in that this was a concert recording, I was amazed at the sheer wizardry of Rich's talent on display here. Even if this was a full-blown studio album, Calling Down The Sky would be most impressive. When you realize this is a live show, well, it's more than a little startling.
From the drifting calm of the opening "Erasing Traces" (with its ebbing and flowing drones and pealing lap steel guitar notes that build slowly but inexorably, almost as if the listener is being slowly swallowed up by a pleasant vortex) to the sparse shadowy textures of "Overhead" you are led into the 22 minute-long "Vertigo" which unfurls from its opening electronic minimalism and morphs into a deep primal soundscape with the wafting notesfrom the artist's characteristic wondrous flute merging with drones and distant echoed rumblings and textures. "Supplication" offers bird calls and shimmering electronics combined with echoed subterranean sounds and hints of percussion as well as foreboding swells of drones. Other trademark Rich musical touches abound on the remainder of the album, such as his soaring and forlorn lap steel guitar work that has a quasi-vocal nature to it on "Borealis." This track takes my breath away with the sheer beauty of it. It's as if a Greek Siren was calling from across a dark sea, luring me to certain death but a death through rapturous ecstasy. Later, "Adrift" features appropriately spooky sounds and traces of undulating musical textures, painting a sonic portrait of being cast about on a lonely ocean under a grey sky, alone and unsure of one's fate. "Recognition" concludes the album on a somber but beautiful note, with more of Rich's fantastic lap steel guitar work.
Fans of Rich's more overt electronic earlier works (Gaudi or Geometry) or his ethno-tribal rhythmic albums (e.g. Rainforest or Propagation) may be less enthralled by Calling Down The Sky (there are few if any rhythmic elements on the album) but those who love his drifting ambient style would, I have to think, love immersing themselves in this recording (especially in a dark and quiet room). Engineering and production is flawless, which is no small feat for a live album. This must have been a truly magical concert to witness live, and I'm certainly glad that this album gives a glimpse into what transpired on that summer night in Denver. Recommended.