Azure Miles Records ~ The Music of Michael Robinson

Writings About Music by Michael Robinson

Uneven Streets

Regarding being perceived as "weird" or “strange”, I recall that after the performance of my first composition while in tenth grade, Promenade des Tortues, for clarinet and piano, one unhappy acquaintance told me derisively that it sounded like music for a horror film. I peered back at him in shock and disgust and replied: “Starring yourself!” Listening to this music now, there somehow appeared influences that sound Arabic, Indian and Hebraic, together with a most unusual boogie-woogie ostinato moving at a turtle-like pace.

At first listen, Snake Dance No. 3 struck me as a Cosmic Cha-Cha, as if Ralph was demonstrating to Norton how to do the mambo, but they were doing this in the sixties with psychedelics added to the mix. Needless to say, an element of humor in music is something both extremely rare and welcome, setting off more esoteric enjoyments from the same utterance. There was something Hawaiian too, as in a Honolulu or San Fernando Valley dive bar, the audience sipping from tropical drinks with tiny umbrellas for comfort, noticing this wasn’t the usual Don Ho and surf music.

It’s funny, the strong coincidental similarities between this and my Nightmarchers, Ruby Soul and The Fiddler of Dooney from 2012, with differences just as strong, the former being the use of unusual tunings, metal and swishing shaker percussion sounds, pitched or not, and a passion for corporeal rhythms expressed through shaken and stirred (sorry 007) melodic and rhythmic invention. Several famous songs came to mind while listening to Snake Dance No. 3: Within Without You (the melody) and Blue Jay Way (the organ). My title at the top of this page is derived from another well-known song: People Are Strange.

But you have touched on something pertinent with your comments because American conservatism (which dominates both our political parties) abhors what is perceived as strange, being different, and prefers to coddle and promote sameness to the point of absurdity and even destruction, as witness our insistence on staying with fossil fuels no matter that scientists are stating there may be only 100 years left on the present course.

Or on the subject of music, I happened to read also this morning, linked to Arts Journal, an article about the symphony in the New Yorker by Alex Ross tracing this form through the twentieth century to now. My personal sense is that the concept of symphony transcends an insistence upon maintaining certain formal procedures and traditional orchestras, and the artistic vision of symphony intersected with another grand form from India, namely raga, a natural evolution born from how world cultures have coupled in our lives and consciousness.

Thus, it was synchronously sensually and spiritually alluring and intellectually impelling for me to embark upon composing symphonic-scale works for meruvina using ragas as a prototype for the form, with content influenced by my immersion into American jazz, together with a more recent obsession with both North and South Indian classical music. There are dozens of examples of this, including Kaunsi Kanada, Sagarmatha, Bhimpalasi, Puriya Dhanashri, Mian ki Malhar and Dhani.

This is a fine performance of Snake Dance No. 3, even if I found myself imagining a realization entirely for meruvina, without anyone waking the music from its ecstatic dream.

- Michael Robinson, September 2015, Los Angeles

© 2015 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


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