Writings About Music

Music of Reflexive Adjusts

This is an interesting premise. Off the bat, without being familiar with those who count themselves among nonlinear composers, and not finding satisfactory answers after conducting a search, I would say that any music is linear simply because it consists of sound moving through time, which holds true even if, to use one extreme, there is no change at all in that sound.

There were two personal experiences with how music moves through time that influenced me enormously. One was hearing the Kronos Quartet at CalArts in 1980 or 1981 play a piece by Morton Feldman that seemed more in the moment than actually moving through time.

This sensation was amplified profoundly in my mind when I heard what I believe were several Dagar brothers from India singing an ancient form of alap known as dhrupad at Washington Square Church in Manhattan in 1987. (I’ve contacted the World Music Institute about this several times, requesting them to verify who the performers were, but have not received a response.)

What happened during that New York City performance was truly experiencing in an internal manner how music may reflect the reality of the moment, moving moment to moment, without fear for the future beyond that immediate perception, trusting that by using one’s musical reflexes to adjust to each moment, the music will achieve seamless continuity.

I find it inconceivable that Morton Feldman was not profoundly influenced by the alap form of Indian classical music. However, I’ve never come across any evidence of Feldman acknowledged this. Perhaps, similar to how Charles Ives apparently wished to conceal the influence Claude Debussy had on his work, Feldman preferred to keep the alap influence a secret. (Conlon Nancarrow too, as far as I know, never credited the influence of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie (and other related jazz artists) on his musical conception, even though it is abundantly evident in his compositions.)

- Michael Robinson, January 2016, Kula, Maui


© 2016 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer.