The HeART of Joshua Tree’s 3rd Ear Experience

By Lisa Morgan

Second only to the distinct beauty of the National Park, the heart of what makes Joshua Tree captivatingly interesting to those traveling through, is the incredible collection of unique individuals this desert chooses to call her own. Those who have settled here will concur: The desert chooses you, you do not choose the desert. Many have thought they could choose, but they live somewhere else now. Robbi Robb is one of the chosen.

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, this musician, magical realism writer, poet, editor and now, filmmaker, took political asylum in America in 1986. “I then sought soul asylum in the California desert,” shares Robb. “I spent many years frequenting Pioneertown where I spiritually adopted and was adopted in return, by Harriet (original owner of Pappy & Harriet’s, Pioneertown, CA). She is my soul mother.”

Robb’s band at the time was discovered by Pearl Jam and went on numerous tours with them throughout America and Europe. Around the year 2000, Robb quit the music business altogether, married Amritakripa in 2004, and subsequently moved to Joshua Tree. “As fate would have it, I was kind of sucked back into the music world, partly out of necessity and partly because of the opportunities that came knocking,” admits Robb. He formed the space rock band, 3rd Ear Experience, in 2012, and toured Europe and America under the new moniker until Covid darkened the live stages.

“I met Bobby Furst around 2012,” shared Robb, “and together, we built on the foundations that Furst had already laid for FurstWurld. He had set up one of the best music and performance venues in the high desert, many might say, in the world.”

Currently the President and Program Director of FurstWurld Theater for the Arts, Robb played a big part in helping FurstWurld become a 501C3. Having done everything from working front of house, sound, lights, hosting shows, handling marketing and promotion (he’s even done some of the cooking), Robb has had a hand in much of the recent developments around the compound. When Bobby Furst fell ill prior to the pandemic, Robb kept things going. In the face of the lockdowns, Robb turned FurstWurld into a broadcast studio to reach audiences in their homes. He has most recently played a huge part in developing a mentoring program and film school where underserved kids get hands on experience making mini films on local activists and entrepreneurs. He has also assumed the big job of grant writing to find funds to support the 5013C in hopes to reach a higher level of service to the greater community.

JTV: “Tell us how 3rd Ear Experience came about and how it’s grown into this new release?”

Robb: “I hooked up with Tom O’Key, our local astronomer and activist, to do some live shows at his astronomy theater. We called them “Star Parties.” The thing was, I was already being affected on deep levels by the open desert spaces, the long- distance views, and by the Milky Way; these became like shamans to me. As a result, I lost the desire to say anything in music, except to be omnipresent like those distances, and like the Milky Way. How, I asked, does one write such music? Well, first you gotta ditch lyrics, and secondly, YOU don’t write the music. I needed to become like Tom’s giant telescope, sending its eye into deep space, and then project what is seen there onto these huge screens, for people to enjoy, like the distant galaxies and nebula and such. So began the journey into formless music, music that has no structure but the one that presents itself in the very moment it is played. So Kripa (Robb’s wife) and I attracted some great musicians to set up a studio in the FurstWurld gallery. One of us, Kripa or myself, would start jamming by ourselves, and musicians would wander in and out picking up their instruments when they were moved to and joining in with the jam. We recorded everything. There it was – the first real 3rd Ear Experience album was born: Peacock Black. We called it 3rd Ear Experience because of the intense listening in the moment that has to happen between the musicians as we jam with no compass, sextet, or flame other than the moment to guide us.”

About Danny Frankel…

Danny Frankel toured with Lou Reed for several years, and has performed and/ or recorded with John Cale, Wilco’s Nels Cline, Rikki Lee Jones, k.d. lang, Laurie Anderson, Fiona Apple, Jewel, Everlast, Marianne Faithful, Beck, and Victoria Williams, among others.

“We would often just invite Danny to join us at FurstWurld on warm nights to have a feast and a jam.One time we had a gig booked at Joshua Tree Music Festival, so we called Danny and asked him the night before if he would sit in with us. We called ourselves “Kurosh Showghi and the Cosmic Sail Band.” Kurosh is a didgeridoo maker and player, and I just love his middle earth name. Anyhow, we rocked that set, and people were dancing like crazy, and it was the first set of the day! It was a long time coming that Danny would drum on an album with us.”

“3rd Ear Experience has had a tremendous amount of positive press, with albums voted “Best of the Year.” We are now considered to be at the forefront of the space rock genre, and one of the best space rock bands in the world. When you start getting that kind of reputation, it began to feel important to me, to break things up so we don’t get concretized and fixed into anything. So, I stopped promoting albums, just doing silent releases and such.”

“Then Covid hit, and Danny wasn’t working as much. We had the gallery to ourselves. I thought it would be great to bring Danny in as a collaborator. He is always the side man, but the guy has a deep well of water to draw on. I wanted him to step out of the sideman role and become a bit more active in the collaboration. So how does one do such a thing when there is no music being written, no forms, and no… well, no anything, really? I was restringing my Rudra Vina when the idea of how Indian classical music is structured hit me. I invited Danny over, and we sat and listened to Rudra Vina music, discussed, and imagined it. There is a form to its formlessness, from no time, to almost time, and then to raging time. Those three elements set the foundations. By the time we went into the gallery to jam and record, with no words needed to communicate, we just began to play and have fun. We would listen and follow Danny wherever he led us, from rocking rhythms to the most subtle invisible grooves you ever heard! We named the album, Danny Frankel’s 3rd Ear Experience.”

JTV: “What were your feelings and, perhaps, struggles during a global pandemic? How did you choose to “gather” to create and record?”

Robb: “The pandemic came with the lockdown and the EDD payments. So it was, “Stay home, don’t go anywhere, and here’s some money.” Well, you couldn’t ask a better person to do this. I love solitude, and in my house with Kripa, we have so many magical portals, and vortexes to go through. I spent many hours developing my guitar technique, and a deeper practice of jazz, voicings, how to use them in space rock, and how to break them up so as not to sound like jazz. I was pretty ripe when Danny agreed to go in and record. So, we brought Hutch in to record us. Hutch was Kyuss’s sound guy for many years, and he has gathered up some awesome miking techniques. He captured the sessions beautifully.”

“The album isn’t a mad rocking album; it is very contemplative, very thoughtful, musically dynamic and colorful. I think that these qualities were nourished in all the players as a result of being locked down all those months.”

This newest October 2021 release found this listener (who is usually inspired by lyrically based music) thoroughly entranced and engaged. The flow was so easy, and the transitions were flawless. It seemed impossible that this music wasn’t written down and painstakingly rehearsed. It was also captured with absolute perfection by the desert audio wizard known as Hutch. Like a Pied Piper, these tracks, each in their own way, summoned parts of my creative energy I had no idea had been lying there latent or dormant, and I was stone cold sober. This is not your mom’s meditation soundtrack, unless of course, your mom is
a badass.

Check it out immediately at
www.robbirobb.com

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