Robert Rich — Somnium. The brief history of the 7-hour ambient album

George Palladev / 29.02.2020

Robert Rich — Somnium. The brief history of the 7-hour ambient album

A 7-hour album. The longest continuous piece of music in history that has been officially released. In April 2001, this was indeed the case. While studying foreign music, young Robert Rich learned about midnight musical performances in the villages of Indonesia. He also knew about Terry Riley’s hours-long keyboard improvisations and John Cage’s long radio performances. He began to wonder: how does the audience feel listening to them? So, as a first-year student at Stanford, he posted invitations all over the town to bring sleeping bags and come to the first all-night concert of 1982. About twenty people came. A third of them did not sleep and watched Robert create very quiet ambient and drone music for them with minimal equipment.

Since then, he has given more than fifty sleeping concerts and hasn’t stopped thinking about recording a long record for sleeping. The appearance of the DVD format in the late nineties led Robert away from the crazy idea of publishing a 7-hour album on five compacts, so that they could be played by a CD-changer one after the other, even if with pauses. While the developers were polishing up the technology, Robert Rich was preparing his magnum opus. I must say that Somnium isn’t simply a recording of a concert. These are multiple fragments from performances that flow into each other with long transitions, mixed with studio materials.

The author defines Somnium as an inner journey, an opportunity to look into oneself, to find peace, relieve anxiety and forget the daily hustle and bustle. Robert insists that we don’t need drugs for this—everything is already in our minds. “One lady left to go to her car, and she came back in about two minutes later andzzsaid, Is it okay if I just sit here for a while? It’s really loud outside. She said It was so quiet in here that I can’t stand the noise any more. And to me I felt that was almost exactly what I was trying to do”, is one of the favourite stories of the author. Until 2014, Somnium remained a record holder among the longest albums. Then, Rich released the 8-hour Perpetual and combined it with Somnium. Altogether, it came to 15 hours of ambient and still people write ‘too short’ in the comments. Sweet dreams.

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