Emil Richards






Stones by mallet instrumentalist Emil Richards (born 1932) is the intransigent yet tacit Space-Age work of the 60's, always bubbling, never boring, hardly hailed. Released in 1966 on the Uni Records label, its overarching topic of transcoding the forms and esoteric powers of the 12 birthstones is intriguing at first sight but utterly neglected after the very first note already. Richards does not gaze onto the stones in awe, he does not risk the meticulous look that New Age or Ambient artists claim for themselves. Instead, he unleashes chaotic structures, worships the polyhedric finish and whets the many twisted vertebrae; the geometrically ordered beauty and rounded edges of the 12 sacrosanct sparklers are of secondary importance. Moog synthesizers meet more conventional instruments.


Emil Richards gathers a sextet with him as the synthesizer player and mallet instrumentalist at the epicenter, Paul Beaver on the clavinet and Moog hardware, Mike Craden as the percussionist, Dave Mackay on the piano, Joe Porcaro on the drums and Bill Plummer on the bass. Stones is unlike anything the Exotica devotee has ever heard. Space-Age albums like the 101 Strings' Astro-Sounds From Beyond The Year 2000 or Enoch Light's Spaced Out (both released in 1969) are genteel, uplifting and easygoing in comparison, but their playful quirkiness is easily outdone by Stones. This is an alienating album of the Free Jazz kind. The are a few soothing instances, but apart from these gems, the album is bustling, bursting, burning, blustering, bubbling and takes the listener on a wild crusade to, through and beyond many microscopic (or even intergalactic?) destinations, all of them unique and envisioned by Emil Richards. Without further ado – for there is much ado on the LP itself –, I dare to take the outlandish journey.


One does not need to listen to the first full second of the opener Garnet (January) to catch Emil Richard's drift he is going to take with this album… a mere 500 milliseconds ought to be enough to be either enormously excited or blatantly estranged. Texture- and timbre-wise, not much can beat Garnet: Indian goblet drums, wonky synth flecks, dissonant Space-Age splinters and glacial vibraphones create a strangely comforting yet quirky-hazy atmosphere in which the euphony is as jagged as the crystalline granularity. Everything glitters and bounces. Add castanets and organ droplets to the scene, and you got yourself a galactic glob of glee. I was not aware of January for being such a weird month! Amethyst (February) then unleashes bubbling Moog farts of the oscillating kind, car horn-evoking mirages as well as tropical marimbas in tandem with a delicate conga beat, curiously enough on the left speaker only; the right one is reserved for the messier, rockier and more effervescent eruptions. Paul Beaver and Emil Richards seem to battle themselves, Joe Porcaro meanwhile fires his drum kit through the roof, with its frizzling hi-hats and cymbals clanging constantly.


A title like Bloodstone (March) sounds both pernicious and Oriental, but both assumptions are lessened by the sheer weirdness of the arrangement. The warped timpani are the signature element and leave a threatening impression, the remaining ingredients, however, are anything but soaked in galactosamines. Bubbling wah-wah blebs, a Honky Tonk impression by Dave Mackay on the piano, chimera chimes and rapidly firing xylophone spirals forcefully clash, making Bloodstone a Third-Stream tohubohu that is as hard to swallow as the titular stone. Diamond (April) then takes things down a notch or two while still retaining the craziness. A galloping drum pattern is entangled with a lachrymose Calypso music box, luminescent melodies of the jolly kind swirl next to the over-the-top raspy Moog pointillism. As expected, the dissonances grow at times, but the group always finds its way back to sun-dried territories. The term cyberspace was not invented until 1983, but this tune depicts an oasis of that kind, gleaming and fracturing like a diamond.


Whereas the über-accessible Emerald (May) is a truly awe-inspiring piece of Ambient Exotica (♥) with sitar-esque gamelan airflows, refreshing wind chimes, multiple layers of mysterious but genuinely warmhearted bells, whistles and gongs as well as an enormously haunting synth string melody in-between the vibraphone-created alcoves, side A ends with a comic relief version of a pandemonium called Moonstone (June) that places a downwards-spiraling xylophone motif next to a wobbling Space-Age Moog haze. The xylophone then whirls in serpentine ways above and beyond the laser-like sounds. Desperation and genius are dancing with each other, and I for one am glad that this track is rather short, for it would be unbearable if it was any longer.


Side B is less adamantly ebullient. It opens with Ruby (July), a orchestra bell-fueled conga-accentuated and cymbal-smashing piece of enormously bouncing and screeching synth guttersnipes of the eupeptic and exotic kind thanks to the warm marimbaphone placenta, with Sardonyx (August) then boosting the Exotica factor even more by putting the xylophone into the limelight; a limelight which is soon enough swallowed by interplanetary harpsichords, synthetic kettle drums and the vivid chirping of space birds. The brazen-aqueous physiognomy of this tune make it a rather enchanting one. Sapphire (September) is another hodgepodge that kicks off with orchestra bells and later moves to bouncing mosquito susurrations, polyphonous xylophone cascades and dial tone maelstroms. Chaos as usual, but strangely melodious. Or it is the brain that finally adjusts to the noise?


The following Opal (October) is the best tune of side B despite its beatless structure. Relying on an enigmatic ambience, Emil Richards and cohorts stitch space shawms, coruscating clavichords and pulsating buzzes together. The result is the king of all eerie Space-Age tunes and a mind-blowing audio experiment that resembles Tony Scott's Voyage Into A Black Hole (1988) which surfaced 20+ years later. Topaz (November) is the languorous lullaby for the kids with shedloads of iridescent chimes and glockenspiels, a scattered rhythm and magnanimous luminosity. Everything glisters, twinkles, scintillates, floats. A highly accessible incarnation, frosty and sparkling, with the added omnipresence of a pitch-black backdrop. The finale is called Turquoise (December), a track that mirrors the comicality of Moonstone (June) but adds a mellifluously vesiculating glassy-glossy vibraphone aorta to sleazy piano chords and gyrating Moog gales. It is yet again – and naturally for the last time – a surprisingly melodious and luring critter in comparison to side A, a worthy closer.


Two things or tendencies come to mind in terms of Emil Richard's Stones: it swirls truly in a class – or galaxy – of its own, and it is incredibly labyrinthine or downright melodramatic. It is a unique and faithful Space-Age album, climbing the tone ladders up and down, breathes the hazardous haphazard harshness of the harpsichords, synths and Moog coils and depends as much on chance, contingency, improvisation and Free Jazz as on a wealth of textures. It is easy to be impressed by the many surfaces, given the fact that electronic devices are used throughout, but gaze through the translucent helix, and you find an oxymoronic formulaic nucleus called variety. The energy level of this album is huge, especially side A bursts at the seams and can turn away many a listener in no time. No wonder the subtitle of the album is New Sound Element (foreshadowing Richards' 1967 corker New Time Element). In Emil Richards' parallel universe, the term Easy Listening has yet to be coined.


Side B is much better, for it is calmer, less purposefully acidic, although the Ambientoid Emerald (May) on side A proves to be the exception of that observation and lies up to the other cozy foil Opal (October). Exotica fans are definitely not the target group of this release, but might find its elements convincing, especially so the huge amount of mallet instruments and chimes. Those who know Martin Denny's Moog album and hope for something similar will be shell-shocked by Stones, though. The whole album is a flurry, a void, a black hole and a supernova all at once. The esoteric idea of worshipping these stones seems strongly New Age-focused, but Stones cannot even be fleetingly linked to the – back then brand-new – idea(l) of transfiguration via synth carpets. It is a demanding album which becomes tamer over its course, but remains eclectic, polylayered and twisted ad infinitum. If you do not know it yet, you better prelisten to it. It has been re-issued in 2012 and is thus available in its original vinyl shape as well as a download version and on CD where it is coupled with Emil Richards' superbly psychedelic Exotica suite called Journey To Bliss (1968).


Exotica Review 319: Emil Richards – Stones (1966). Originally published on Mar. 1, 2014 at AmbientExotica.com.