(I'm reposting this today because I can't think of letting it just go away in time. It needs more time, more attention.)
Outstanding contemporary music composer Richard Lainhart passed away on Friday.
I'm so shocked I can't think straight.
I went to college with Richard, same music department, same years at the State University of New York Albany.
After school we worked together on and off for several years, mostly from around 1985 to 1991. There was the 'Emergency Music Ensmble' with Richard Kelly, Richard Lainhart, and me - 'Eyes Left' which was Richard and me - and 'Signs Of Life' Richard, Rocky Petrocelli on drums then later Mark Foster, and me. We collaborated on some pieces too.
He was a terrific musician. Back then he played the vibes, keyboards, bass, and the Chapman Stick. He always had the latest dazzling gear and produced interesting work.
This is a tough loss personally, it makes one do some deep reflection.
We all just want his family to get through this in the best way possible.
Richard was a unique person. One day I was over at his house, this was in the summertime, in the afternoon. He was in his fenced in backyard. Richard had set up a circular wooden tree section at the end of the yard. He proceeded to open up a box of finely crafted throwing knives, and he began to throw them at the wood. He was a sport knife thrower. I don't know if he kept it up. I don't think I've ever known anyone else who did this activity in their backyard or anywhere else actually. I didn't think anything of it at the time and only narrate it now.
Back in the late 80s Richard got into using a portable Mac computer and MIDI. He used the setup to build the type of electronic pieces that he always gravitated towards and had a strong artistic inclination to produce. I recall one performance we did at the QE2 in Albany. We had one set of music which was typical. I recall doing one song which Richard wrote that was about someone who was engaged in the thrill of a car chase, with the police speeding behind. The song had the lyrics - "This is it, this is where I want to be." Richard built a wall of sound using his Chapman Stick and I recited the lyrics through a megaphone, sort of the inversion of the typical where it normally would be the police yelling through the megaphone, in this case it was the perpetrator speaking a stream of consciousness through the microphone, his inner voice. The set ended with all performers leaving the stage after Richard turned on a dense loop he had created on the computer which shifted through overtones in a random way. So we joined the audience and watched the computer sit there while unusual electronic music played though the club. That's how it was.
One night we were playing as Signs Of Life in the Half Moon Cafe which was on Madison Avenue in Albany NY in the "Mansion Neighborhood." We were doing our set and I don't know if we were bored or restless or what, but we decided to start making up songs on the spot. Now this wasn't something we had pre-planned or even talked about. We just started to throw out chord changes and hammer it out Ramones punk style, real heavy eighth notes real fast and aggressive. It was some kind of atonal punk music and this is in the middle of some other song. Richard is playing the Stick and doing a great job pounding out eighth notes and I'm hammering the guitar. With each change we are looking at each other and laughing harder and harder. Mark Foster was playing drums and he's laughing. Eventually we are bending over laughing yelling out changes, real angular changes. Now this goes on for way too long maybe 4 or 5 times longer than it should, but that's how we did things. If we liked a sound we would play it for an hour, didn't matter how many repetitions it went through. I think there were times when we found this type of stillness in the center of repeated sound. This was something that came through in Richard's work and I truly loved to hear it. It was magic, it was magic being there in the center of that. Somebody out there has a recording of this session through Richard's connections with people at RPI.
Back in the mid 70's Joel would bring into the music department different artists from NYC. Some were fabulous, some were so-so. At one concert this artist starts doing a minimalist performance except its on his body. He is tapping out a rhythm with his feet, a different one with his hands clapping, and a different one with vocal sounds. And then after some time one component changes, then another, etc etc. This was one way that composers organized material then. I'm sitting there taking this in and I'm laughing - for many reasons really. It was bright, it was smart, so its delightful but it also looked like an organized tantrum. And to top it off the artist was not athletic or physically "gifted", he was a little bit awkward shall we say. So the artist is fighting his own internal vulnerabilities and there was some poignant humor in that as well. So I'm laughing and I turn around and there's Richard sitting there laughing out loud too. We caught each others' eye, the knowing eye, you know what I mean. It was a cool connection for me a cool moment because I knew that here was someone that I shared something important with, that I connected with in a really good way. I have tears writing this, this is a sad loss.