Writings about Music

Are Composers Brave?

Michael Robinson (Los Angeles)

While reading a blog of Norman Lebrecht recently, I felt compelled to respond to one of his posts as follows below. Norman featured four of my essays at his blog in 2020, pertaining to Patelson's, Lee Konitz and West Side Story, Charlie Parker, and Ushering at Carnegie Hall, but has never shown any interest in my actual music, his tastes being most conservative. I'm not sure if some composers may be brave so much, but rather simply incapable of creating music other than where natural instinct and circumstances lead.

Regarding your Arnold Schoenberg post today, “There are none so brave today, none so challenging to the complacent status quo.” 

I respectfully disagree, Norman, believing my fully notated compositions and performances for Meruvina are in complete opposite of the status quo, together with content and syntax imbued with and reflecting how American jazz and Indian classical music superseded European classical music in the era I was born, as prior to myself reflected in the music of the four minimalists, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, La Monte Young, and Philip Glass, even if I find three of the four understandably went too far in the opposite direction from serialism, the break from such stasis being so momentous; my favorite by far among these four being Terry, discovering the recordings of his enjoyed most are actually improvisations rather than notated compositions. I only first listened to Riley's music last year, other than playing In C while an undergraduate, after one reviewer noted how we both use organ timbres and are influenced by Indian classical music.

As two of your original colleagues from Arts Journal have noted: “He writes tonally and atonally at once with refreshing naïveté, and is much taken with Asian timbres. Jade Streams and Ghosts are drone meditations, March Wind and Fire Monkey are whirlwinds, and the magna opera, Year of the Rooster and Mountain Temple are his schizo counterpoint pieces that, on repeated listening, I like best of all. No telling where he’s going to spin off to, but he’s an original.” (Kyle Gann, Village VOICE, writing about Fire Monkey, my second album)

Gann subsequently included me on a list of notable composers, and invited me to lecture at Bard College about my music.

“For anyone who doesn’t know Michael’s music, I’d recommend following the link he gives, and listening to it. It’s unique, extraordinary, absorbing, exhilarating. A major discovery for me, when Michael contacted me some time ago about hiring me as a consultant. That’s when I first heard his music, and — I mean this very seriously — there’s nothing else like it.” (Greg Sandow, commenting at his Arts Journal blog)

One writer, who studied with Alan Rich at CalArts, actually compared me to Schoenberg: “Robinson clearly has musical skills, and is following an iconoclastic path much like Schoenberg and Cage before him.” (Peter Lefevre, Gardena Valley News)

Also related to Schoenberg, I had a series of private composition lessons in Valencia with Leonard Stein, best known for his association with Arnold, in-between my leaving CalArts and returning to New York. We focused on counterpoint rather than atonal composition. Leonard mentioned to me that La Monte Young had been an earlier student of his. Stein once spotted Alan Rich and myself talking after a concert in Santa Monica, and while leaving the space, called out from some distance to Alan in a flattering manner I found bracing, "Be careful, he's a composer!"

- Michael Robinson, August 2021, Los Angeles


© 2021 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and musicologist who has been a lecturer at UCLA, Bard College and California State University. His 155 albums include 148 albums for Meruvina and 7 albums of piano improvisations.