Michael Robinson

Dazzling Darkness

Cover art is handmade paper from India

 

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1. Dazzling Darkness (2019) 67.04

meruvina:

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All music Composed and Programmed by Michael Robinson for performance and recording in real time without any overdubbing or added parts.

Recorded and Mastered by Catharine Wood at the Planetwood Productions studio in Eagle Rock (Los Angeles), California.

 

Some music we seem to enter into as if it was there before and will always be there after listening, too. Perhaps this is true of Dazzling Darkness more so than any other previous composition of mine.

One stunning characteristic of Lahaina, Maui is how one may stand near the shore at night witnessing a pure black sky touching a pure black sea without any visible demarcation on a fairly regular basis. So it was last winter, experiencing this fantastic black field. At once, Raga Bairagi, centered on E, came to me along with the title, “Black Sky Black Sea”, subsequently changed to “Dazzling Darkness” after reading Emily Dickinson and how Helen Vendler relates one of her poems to seventeenth century Welsh metaphysical poet Henry Vaughan. 

Dazzling Darkness is a contemplative, dance-like composition combining a pensive, searching Optigan organ with two assertive, alternating drum ostinatos shifting every seventeen beats. Seventeen is a most welcome rhythmic cycle because Harihar Rao taught me an engaging 17 beat tala early in my lessons with him. And Raga Bairagi is an invention of Harihar’s guru, Ravi Shankar, inspired by Karnatic music.

Unifying the organ and drums are synthesized voices intoning Sadja and Panchama, namely the tonic and fifth. These breathy vocal sounds hover in the charged sonic atmosphere like pulsating moisture in the air, sliding smoothly back and forth across the sonic canvas.

Harihar once told me that with my music, “You are reaching into the core of Indian classical music, which is a spiritual yearning.” Bairagi is a raga with such possibilities waiting to be woken.

Connecting India and Hawaii, some historians and archeologists theorize that the first Hawaiians (Polynesians) set sail from India. Similarly, some believe that the people who journeyed from the Caucasus Mountains both into Northern India and Europe included ancestors of the Jewish people. While these theories may be impossible to prove or disprove, they hold special intriguing resonance given my immersion into the classical music of India together with my Jewish ancestry and having spent a significant part of my life in Maui.

The driving percussive elements of Dazzling Darkness combined with a meditative raga recall how John Coltrane was transformed by Indian musicians including Ravi Shankar and Bismillah Khan, resulting in music that shares similar characteristics while remaining distinctively varied. Therein lies a key musical synergy informing my own music - connections between jazz and Indian classical music voiced by an instrument new to both traditions: the Meruvina.

Well over an hour in duration, Dazzling Darkness is my longest piece in over fifteen years. Such things are never planned. What happens is the music of the time informs me how long said composition must be. It does feel good to be back in this especially spacious realm. That said, I've regarded recent albums with two or three compositions as unified utterances collectively similar in duration to this effort.

- Michael Robinson, June 2019, Los Angeles

 

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