Writings about Music

When A Negative Brews A Positive

Regarding the subject of critics, in 1994, I attended a Kronos Quartet concert that included a composition by A. J. Racy, a UCLA professor specializing in Arabic music. Racy’s piece, which included a virtuoso performance by percussionist Souhail Kaspar (who I would later work with myself in combination with Ray Manzarek), was clearly the highlight of the evening. This was at a time when newspapers were delivered almost everywhere, and a day or two afterwards, I was aghast to read a truly ignorant dismissal of Racy’s piece by one of the local critics who is no longer with us. So great an injustice was this, I took the trouble to find Racy’s phone number, and left him a message stating how great his composition was, and that the critic was basically clueless. Racy was so grateful for my gesture that he invited me to attend meetings of his Middle Eastern Ensemble where I was exposed to alternate tunings for the first time, quickly incorporating this influence into my composing. Looking back, this education from Racy helped prepare me for subsequent studies with Harihar Rao, the senior disciple of Ravi Shankar; and also Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy, another brilliant teacher and scholar.

Recently, I met someone who runs a large arts website, and also reviews music, theater and dance. From an apparently besieged perspective whereby he had acquired a passionate hostility for aspiring artists seeking "free publicity", he bemoaned how critics have become too nice, and rarely if ever slam artists they despise. I was taken aback by this person's venom, and responded by commenting about how Leonard Bernstein found the relentlessly harsh criticism he received from Harold C. Schoenberg of The New York Times to be the most upsetting aspect of his entire career. However, I suppose that if the Los Angeles critic had not been forthright, and had instead proffered a non-confrontational review, I likely would have missed out on the transformative events described above. What a paradox! Energy creates energy, I suppose, and the best we can do is attempt to channel it into positive actions.

Here are four of the compositions from 1994 inspired by A.J. Racy: North Africa, Aqaba, Malleable, and Fresh Leaves.





- Michael Robinson, December 2015, Los Angeles

© 2015 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


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