Although his music is often consigned to the new age bins of record stores and the bulk of his work has been released on labels more closely associated with that classification, Robert Rich's solo and collaborative recordings have proven extremely influential on a range of new-school ambient and experimental artists. His association with older space music pioneers such as Steve Roach, Kevin Braheny, and Michael Stearns also makes him one of the few of that generation to have interfaced creatively with the new wave of experimental electronic composers. In addition to his more ambient-leaning works, Rich also plays in the experimental pop band Amoeba, which he formed in 1992.
A California native, Rich began experimenting with electronics in the late '70s before attending Stanford University, where he completed a degree in psychology. While at Stanford, Rich's involvement in the university's prestigious Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics expanded his interest in electronic composition, as well as bringing him in contact with a wide range of nontraditional, non-Western musical ideas. Rich's performance of several all-night "sleep concerts" during this period also helped solidify an aesthetic focus on psychoacoustics, perceptible in early recordings such as Geometry and Trances/Drones. He is also a scholar of just intonation, writing regularly on the topic and co-authoring the software program JICalc.
Rich's more mature works such as Rainforest and Propagation have sought to combine that interest with more recognizable electro-acoustical elements (Rich plays a wide range of instruments, from synths and effects racks to hand drums and flute), but the influence of digital sound manipulation has also moved increasingly to the fore. Inspired by the more textural works of artists like SPK and Throbbing Gristle, Rich's interest in the edgier side of electronic composition has also earned him a reputation among fans of gothic, industrial, and dark ambient, made most obvious by his collaboration in 1995 with Brian Williams of Lustmord. He released Inner Landscapes in 1999 and Humidity: Three Concerts a year later. The seven-hour Somnium arrived in 2001, a re-creation of one of the aforementioned "sleep concerts" from the 1980s. Three years later, he released Open Window, comprising improvised piano solos.
Although a hand injury halted his production for a few years, Rich returned in 2007 with the film score Atlas Dei and another album, Illumination. After the release of a live archival set, Rich continued to issue an album per year, from 2010's Ylang to 2014's Somnium continuation, Perpetual. In 2017, Rich released Lift a Feather to the Flood, a collaboration with Markus Reuter. ~ Sean Cooper