This blog was meant to be an exploration of the music I had lived with through most of my life, music that had seeped into my soul and that I had continued to respond to through subsequent decades. In this case though I first discovered Rich Goodhart's music in 2009 when I got his album Earth Spiral Water Sound that had recently been released, while that's almost 10 years now, for me that's relatively recent. Earth Spiral Water Sound was followed by the release of Shaman Mirror Medicine Tree, which felt even more accomplished than it's predecessor and now with the latest release Forest River Pathway, I have a solid body of Rich's work and that feels as if I have lived with it for much longer than I have. I think that is because this music ties in and develops much of the spirit of the music that I first responded to.
I discovered music in the 70's, a lot of contemporary music at that time was creative, optimistic and romantic. When I was about 14 I had an elective class at school practicing meditation, it was an unusual choice, but it really filled a need for me. I did not have a religious or spiritual upbringing, although my parents did believe in and encourage creativity. In the class we learnt a number of practices, one of which was relaxation. I took this home and used it to experience music in a new way. I would turn the lights out, put on music, go through the relaxation exercise and it substantially deepened the listening experience.
I listened to Pink Floyd's Ummagumma in this way, this was music with interesting soundscapes, strange musical adventures that build atmosphere and images in the mind. Pink Floyd's music went on to become more prescribed and pessimistic. But much of the popular music at that time was full of possibilities, albums like Yes' Close to the Edge suggested a new kind of popular sacred music.
Rich was inspired by a lot of this music of positive experimentation from the seventies: Yes' Close to the Edge and Tales from Topographic Oceans, Tangerine Dream and David Allen's Gong and the band Oregon, who created proto world music.
Rich Goodhart's music doesn't sound like Yes or Pink Floyd but it delivers on some of their promise. This music seems to go where that music might have gone. Rich's music has been developing slowly across his lifetime. His first album Divining Signs is instantly recognisable as his, but with each album his expression has grown deeper and clearer.
Rich's music may entertain us, but it is spiritual expression, we know that music has long played a significant part in religious ritual, ceremony and magic. Rich as a contemporary artist is working to rebuild a sense of connection to spirit and nature. He was early on drawn to the book "Through Music to the Self: How to Appreciate and Experience Music Anew" by Peter Michael Hamel. He experienced healing through sound and sought mentors to grow musically and spiritually. One of whom was Collin Walcott from the band Oregon, who taught him tabla, getting such a teacher suggests a certain magic in the world. Rich keenly remembers the rite of passage of driving for hours through the snow to get to his first lesson. Rich has always valued his mentors: Sarah Benson who he worked with for 10 years and who freed his voice, allowing an essential vulnerability into his music and John Bergamo his world music mentor.
This is music as transformation, expression and mindful practice, built up over decades, Rich's music is both individual and ripe, an expression and envisioning of artistic contemplation.
Rich excels most through music, but he uses art and poems to come to his vision through a different medium. If he had someone else decorate his cover something would be lost. I recommend getting hold of one of his books of poems, because it builds in words, in a complementary way, what his music does in sound.
Forest River Pathway inspired me to go to a nearby tract of native bush and listen in that setting, under the shade of trees, sitting still, surrounded by undergrowth, a lot of music would seem crass and out of place, but this music only enhanced and fed my appreciation of the setting.
That's a rather long preamble to the actual music on this album. The album has two discs The title Forest River Pathway seems to refer to the first disc subtitled "Regeneration" the pieces of which connect to create a musical journey, while the second disc is more a set of individual mediations and is entitled "Soul Sanctuary".
Track 1 Call from the Mountains
This surrounds us with the full resonance of Gongs, an invocation, it amazes me how much timbre and sonic richness is captured here, the sound breaths and has space.
Track 2: Where Rivers Begin
Here starts the journey down the forest river pathway, there are guitar figures that progress, we have rhythm bouzouki and native flutes that build a sense of place and celebrate the natural world and our connection or participation with it.
The playing combines structure and improvisation giving a sense of meditative clarity.
Between the tracks are the sounds of a running river and bird song, these bring nature into the composition. Rich likes to go into a place in nature and just sit and listen, so it makes sense that he would then bring these sounds into his music.
Track 3 Water Knows the Way
Whereas the previous track felt like the start of the journey this track coming so early in the album makes it clear that the point is not just to go places but to be somewhere.
Rich plays his Cosmi-Sonic Trance Banjo with its strange natural reverb and echo, this creates a very water like undulation, around the 3 minute mark we start to again get a sense of narrative movement and we know we're still on that pathway but the journey is going within. This is a 10 minute track, the usual rules of giving your audience immediate gratification are not being adhered to here, finally the bird and water sounds return. There won't be another meditation this long on this disc, but our psychic gears have shifted.
Track 4 Crossing the Spirit Bridge
The Gong returns, it's a bit like the ginger we eat between sushi it cleanses the palate and refreshes us, it gives a sense of Buddhist contemplation, the flute melody hangs in the air and percussion mimics the birds.
Then melodica and flutes and gongs, this is a gorgeous mix of sound tones.
Track 5 Where Paths of Power Meet
The dousongoni starts setting up a rhythmic figure and again we have drums and melodica. There is plenty of space in the sound you can hear it all, yet there is also plenty of detail to spot. We have a strong sense of direction but it is a natural sense that a river takes rather than a straight Roman road. It is movement that appreciates all that is going on around it.
We hear beautiful soloing dulcitar and tuned drums
Track 6 Morning Song
Water and birds and a drone, Dulcitar talking to the birds and flute. Sunlight water, clear air freshness, natural beauty, a reminder that in our interior life we find fulness in a participation with nature.
Track 7 Stone Water Medicine Wheel
The drum returns and something like a riff and now the human voice appears, the human voice brings a sense of intimacy and humanity, Rich duets with Athena Burke, a moving chant without words just the sound of the voice, there is a pause and then we're treated to the huge haunting airy pervasive sound of a large frame drum played with a friction mallet. The chant returns and lead and rhythm drums give a variety of drum textures.
Track 8 Riding the Night River
Gong, flute and bowls, it is good how previous sounds return and build on one another. Gonje plays with flute, the gonje sets a rhythm, drums drop in, the gonje has a tripping rhythm, building textures as it progresses, the rhythm keeps transforming until at the end it breaks down and reveals again water and bird sounds
Track 9 Between Moonlight and Dreaming
Bouzouki played with beautiful clarity in the placed quality of the sound, this not narrative or more a careful slow exploration of place.
Track 10 Joyous Renewal
David Duhig from Jade Warrior guests, this is spice at the end, we move up a gear snd move as close as we come to rock music on this album, but the same spirit is there, it is as joyful as the title suggests, uplifting guitar, banjos, bass lines, keyboards and an abrupt end, it is over.
This first disc "Regeneration" was a journey, best experienced as an hour's unbroken mediation. The second disc "Soul Sanctuary" is more a set of individual mediations, that could be used when you just want to devote 10 or 15 minutes to sound healing. Of course it can be experienced sequentially but does not demand it.
The first piece is the Cosmi-Sonic Trance Banjo with melodica, the second Gong and bowls, these are like sonic baths the resonance of the sound is to soak in. The third piece “Lakshmi Chant” which has a sanskrit chant again with Rich, Athena Burke and this time Roger Mock, this piece could be used for devotional practice and has drums to fill out the sound. “Footprints in Water" is a short meditation with less sustain and more pattern. “A Stroll in the Forest” these later tracks feel more like part of a sequence and again the Cosmi-Sonic Trance Banjo but this time shorter and more cyclic.
Then we have a long meditation for bowls, which again emphasises that this disc even less than the first is to not simply be listened to but rather experienced, when I say these pieces are meditations that is to be taken literally, you should sit still, both physically and mentally and your attention should be on the sound with no expectation, for this music, or more correctly, sound medicine is not here to entertain you or stimulate you but rather to quieten you. If you feel out of sorts, unbalanced, dis-quiet then sitting down with this for 15 minutes and just watching what arises from within you could be a good practice. I know for myself what arises in such stillness isn’t necessarily beautiful, but it is in me and good for me to see, past pain can emerge and much can be gained by just acknowledging it.
The final track “Spirit Grounding” is Rich’s collaborations with Yes vocalist Jon Anderson who provides the lyrics and vocal lines. This is the only track with English lyrics but it serves as a wonderful coda to the collection. I’d certainly love to hear an entire album of them working together, yet it fits perfectly here.
So I want to thank you Rich, this music pushes me to stillness and I am always better for taking its journey within.
(photo by Joseph McCormick)
Rich's website, where you can order this cd