I met Richard in the mid-eighties, when My Close Personal Friend Ron Goldberg™ was starting an independent label specializing in electronic music, called Periodic Music. Richard was a composer and a formidable multi-instrumentalist who was ever interested in exploring new sonic avenues; a lot of the stuff he put on the sole CD he made for Periodic, These Last Days, was played on the then-relatively new-fangled Chapman Stick. Richard's composing ethos was of course deeply influenced by the pioneers of electronic music, with whom he worked and studied (his reminiscences of Bob Moog, for instance, are available here). But while many of his pieces were based on patterns and repetitions that summon to mind Glass and Reich, Richard's approach was more seemingly concerned with evoking a kind of complex serenity. His music encouraged reflection but also rewarded deep engagement; I don't mean any kind of backhanded compliment when I say it was some of the least intimidating electronic music I'd ever heard. And Richard himself was always a joy to be around. A big man, he had a definite presence, but also a bit of a Cheshire Cat quality; his words were always well-chosen even when they were few, and there was always a kind of drollery dancing around in his eyes and his smile. His wife and constant helpmate and inspiration, Caroline Meyers, comprised one of the most awesome couples I'd ever met; incredibly friendly and open but also so intimately attuned to each other that you sensed they were always enjoying a kind of private joke. Not a malicious joke, mind you, but an amusing one nonetheless. (They were also great cat people, always a plus with me.)
One of my most pleasurable Richard sightings was relatively recent; April of 2010, to be exact. I had gone down to Le Poisson Rouge to catch an extremely rare American performance by the musician Anthony Moore, one of the co-founders of Slapp Happy (along with my old pal Peter Blegvad and Dagmar Krause). Moore was doing a set with young musician #Arp, as part of a series pairing new-and-old school electronics folks. Prior to the duo set, Moore did some pieces with piano and tape loops, and after it was done he thanked Richard Lainhart for lending him the vintage Revox reel-to-reel he used. Richard was in the house, I found him and Caroline, and marveled over the fact that Richard knew, well, pretty much everybody, and after the show Richard very kindly introduced me to Moore, also a lovely chap. (My conversation with Anthony produced the following immortal exchange: GK: "I was thinking about Slapp Happy the other night, because I was watching this really silly film about Baader Meinhof..." AM: "As one will.")
I was thrilled in recent years to see more and more (albeit not enough) of Richard's material getting released or rereleased on CD (not all of it, by the way, showing when you look him up on Amazon) and also delighted that he was gigging more and more, and at high-profile (for his kind of music) venues such as ISSUE Project Room and The Stone. I regret that I wasn't able to make a lot of the shows. Ron informs me that at certain occasions Richard was received by the assembled like an old master, and by God he was certainly a master. But not old, not by my clock, and so I was terribly shocked to learn earlier that Richard died yesterday following complications after surgery. He will be missed awfully for many reasons. He leaves behind a fantastic legacy not just of art but of friendship. I know that as Ron and I move forward with the musical project we picked up again recently after a thirty-year break, we'll be wondering, what would Richard think, or say. And whatever we come up with will be poorer for not having had his input.