Propagation by Robert Rich (Review)

Rich’s music is often dark and forboding, but it also sounds completely natural and familiar.
Propagation - Robert Rich

You’ll probably find Propagation in the “New Age” or “World” section of your local music store. But mind you, Propagation is neither. Although it has earmarks of those two amorphous genres, it is much more. But it’s not really ambient, either. The music is not spacey or dreamy in the usual “ambient” way. The songs on here are actual songs, with definite melodies and rhythms. The beauty of this is that this album easily stands up to active listening, as well as serving as a sleeping and relaxation aid. But it doesn’t mean they’re any less atmospheric or haunting. The music of Propagation sounds as if it were recorded in ancient temples, buffeted by alien monsoons and overrun by rainforests.

Rich’s music is often dark and forboding, but it also sounds completely natural and familiar. Part of that comes from the environmental recordings, called “glurp” by Rich, that are so prevalent throughout the album. Sounding like a mixture of bodily sounds, primordial goop, and various bubbling and frothing matter, “glurp” flows through the music on here like a thick river, serving as an organic, unifying element.

Throughout the music, flutes and guitars soar over dense electronics and complex rhythms, played on traditional forms of percussion. These instruments achieve rhythms that no machine could ever duplicate. The result is eerily organic, rising and falling in timbre and sound with fluid grace. Fretless basses add a smooth, jazzy feel and Rich’s bank of synthesizers and samplers slowly unfold the atmospherics at just the right pace.

The album culminates in the 11-minute “Guilin”; a zither plays a seemingly random melody against a backdrop of organic sounds and electronics. Slowly, one by one, various gongs begin to chime in. With one deep, sonorous tone, everything coalesces together into a beautiful cascade. The dancing rhythms of the gamelan are underscored by a mournful violin melody, forming an exotic dance that’s as sensual and mysterious as the concepts of life and procreation that Rich discusses in the liner notes.

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