Writings About Music

Dhani by Michael Robinson - NewMusicBox review

Michael Robinson: Dhani (Azure Miles Records)

Michael Robinson, who has released 50 self-produced CDs of computer-generated performances of music inspired by world music traditions, each packaged with a beautifully-designed cover on hand-silkscreened mulberry tree paper from Japan, has really outdone himself this time… His latest release is a performance lasting nearly 3 1/2 hours, divided onto a total of 4 CDs.

Based on the pentatonic Hindustani Raga Dhani, which features a minor third and a minor seventh along with a perfect fourth and perfect fifth, Robinson's Dhani (2003) is arguably the longest-ever pentatonic composition. Following the structure of a North Indian classical instrumental performance, the raga is divided into alap, jor, jhala and 3 gats.

In the alap, which takes up the first 2 CDs, the raga is introduced in a slowly unfolding exposition across a wide range of registers and timbres, including several atypical to Indian music such as the Balinese jegogan.

On the third disc, the jor and jhala are presented together without pause: the raga, now presented on a timbre closely approximating the clarinet, gains rhythmic momentum eventually climaxing in rapid ascending and descending cascades that would never be possible on a clarinet operated by a human performer.

But the real surprise is the final disc, where the rhythmic cycles of the traditional North Indian tabla are replaced by complex polyrhythms scored for a simulacrum of a pan-global percussion orchestra highlighting sounds normally associated with traditional musics from West Africa, Brazil, Cuba, China, and elsewhere. A percussion jam lasting nearly 20 minutes precedes the re-introduction of the pentatonic raga, which this time is presented in fully-notated emulations of virtuoso instrumental improvisations based on a series of pre-composed melodies against the rhythmic scaffolding.

- Frank J. Oteri, NewMusicBox (2004)