Writings about Music
Dutch-Born Shining in Maui
I was always much taken by the sparkling, slippery guitar playing of Eddie Van Halen, including a wonderfully unpredictable sense of improvisational syntax. White Gold (1990) on the Earth's Pebbles album was inspired by his band, composed while living in Maui.
White Gold opens with synthesizer ostinato chords and bass, joined by an electric guitar phrase. These set the stage for electric oboe and violin engaging in melodic arabesques. This structural format, used in a number of works, was mostly modeled after the practices of John Coltrane and his quartet.
Pilgrim, the opening track of my first album, Trembling Flowers, expands upon my usage of the particular violin timbre used here. In subsequent Meruvina incarnations, another bowed instrument, the Middle Eastern kemanche, became a favorite used in myriad compositions, including Bhimpalasi.
Upon hearing the sad news of Eddie's passing, I learned how he was born in Holland, and had a background in Western classical music. This likely accounts, in part, for the sheer intellectual complexity of his lines.
Eddie came to America at a very young age, growing up in a blue-collar neighborhood of Pasadena, the city where I would later study with Harihar Rao if in a tonier part of town.
Zakir Hussain is among the Indian masters I've been fortunate to meet and sometimes study with, and a shared resemblance with Eddie Van Halen was immediately recognized if not articulated. Would have loved to interview Eddie about rock guitar players, a subject I discussed with George Harrison, betraying my fondness for Johnny Winter.
Thinking of Maui while quarentining here in Los Angeles, the sun sparkling on the ocean is a fond memory, though seeing something similar is only a half-hour drive away, I suppose.
Listening to White Gold and the other nine pieces on Earth's Pebbles is truly visiting another time and place in many ways, though connections to the present are there to discern in various earlier guises.
- Michael Robinson, October 2020, Los Angeles
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Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).