Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Richard Lainhart Dies

(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.

Otown Media

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.


Ed said...

Can't believe it. He was such a solid working artist. An inspiration for all of us. Unbelievable that he is gone.

Jim Sande said...

Yeah I can't believe it either. I was happy to see that he had gotten continued notice for his work.

tlainhart said...

> I don't know if he kept it up.

He did - same setup in his backyard in New City where he taught my son to throw.

This goes back to when we were kids, and had tree trunks in the yard for throwing knives and axes. I'm now recalling that I bought Richard a throwing axe for Christmas one year when we were young. The stuff you could buy out of the backs of magazines then.

Thanks for sharing your memories.

Durlak said...

What a sad shock. Richard was in many ways ahead of his time. I remember beta testing music visualization software he'd helped create, amazed that the kernel of rich ideas it contained was well beyond the capacity of then-current hardware. Kind of a nice analogy for Richard himself.

tlainhart said...

Your stories re the Half Moon Cafe and knowing glances remind me of a similar experience.

In 1983, David Formanek, Roxanne Storms, Sterling Post, Richard and I played in a band named "Lap of Luxury". I don't think that we gigged - pretty sure just rehearsed in David's loft and recorded the rehearsals.

High volume improvisations were the norm. During one of these improvisations - "Mars" I think - the sound pressure was intense and we kept pushing it. As I bent over the amp and pedals adjusting for more gain (with an urgency much like shoveling coal into the steam engine of a train), I look over at Richard and he's doing exactly the same thing as we lock eyes. We both burst out laughing with the glee of pushing for more volume. Like you said, it was one of those transcendent moments of understanding that was strong enough to stay with me today.

A subset of that band, "RST" (Richard, Sterling, Todd) recorded in Richard's apartment one day, and managed to get Caroline and Richard evicted because of the noise. What we recorded sounded amazing as we listened almost 25 years later.

Thanks for sharing your remembrances. There was so much to Richard - he cut a really wide path.

So much knowledge and input into the world. It's gone now, like a mandala in the sand.

Formanex said...

It takes me a long time to respond to the really serious things; this is no exception. I feel stupid for having been out of touch with Richard for so long, and now he is gone. That is partly because I moved away, and partly because I did not return his theremin or gong for so long, that he lent me when we started Lap of Lux. He played a piece for me that he wrote for the gong, which started out slowly and muted, and became furious and loud. When my son was young, we visited the Japanese Room at the Everson Museum in Syracuse, where the curators had posted a question he could not answer: which of these objects do you not have in your house? The only one not in most American homes was a gong. I have a gong of my own now that I mostly use to send the cats to the back of the house when I go out the front door. As for the theremin, I once won a rock trivia prize for knowing which instrument is played without touching it.

When I met Richard, he always wore two neckties. I learned a lot from him. What kind of music did he like? “World music,” he said, and I had to ask what that was. “All the music that people in the world are playing.” He also told me about polyrhythms.

Later Richard moved to the third floor of the loft building next to mine, which he shared with George Kindler whom we all also miss, where pigeons cooed and fluttered in the elevator shaft. Richard and I talked about getting a band together soon after Standing Offer broke up. He came up with the name Lap of Lux. In those days, a good band name had an X in it, and I was thinking Op Nox, from “obnoxious”, but I was an angry person in those days and for many years after, though I did not realize it until last month. The joke is that Lux is a brand of soaps.

I don’t think there were more than two or possibly three rehearsals at my loft, where Susan was pregnant. I was amazed at the quality of the monitoring that Richard prepared. I was used to always wishing I could hear what I was singing. Now I could hear him, Todd, Sterling Post, Roxanne Storms, and myself. Unfortunately, perhaps because of my anger, I was interested in singing between notes; unfortunately I was uncomfortable singing “Surfing Communist Guerillas” in the higher registers. I did have fun playing theremin. Richard said, “It’s easy to make melodic theremin music. The challenge is to make interesting music with the other sounds it produces.”

Those rehearsals were as Todd wrote. They were fabulously loud, as though we had liberated a gigantic source of energy and were riding its roiling shock wave. Todd has posted the raw tracks on the internet someplace, maybe on his site. They are not pretty. We did not continue. Maybe I was busy at school, finishing my degree; people did not have answering machines; in any event, time went on and no action. Next spring, Signs of Life had their premier at Harmanus Bleecker Library. I still have _F-Leg Fission,_ their anagrammatic cassette tape, that I play sometimes. It was a powerful and beautiful performance that I like to remember, sitting on the terrazzo floor, listening and marvelling. “Congratulations,” I said. “It looks like you have found the band you wanted.” Of course it was only one of many.