Writings About Music

FAQ Answered by Michael Robinson

Please note that the first two questions and answers here will be updated soon primarily because there is now a new website design!


Why are new releases and more recent CDs not placed as planets near the top of the homepage?

I like the way the colors of the Indian Jasmine, Rainbow Thunder, Sagarmatha and Nagamani covers mix with the colors of the heading. It’s easy to find new releases because they are listed when you click on the "contents" link near the top right of the homepage. New and more recent releases also appear in text form by name on the homepage.

Covers are shown as planets for aesthetic reasons. My original concept for the Azure Miles Records website was to have the CD covers appear like planets orbiting in space. Beginning with Darbari Kanada and Natabhairavi in 2007, there simply was no more room for planet depictions of albums, and so these and later albums appear in text form by name as stated above. (Please note that all our CDs come with conventional square-shaped covers, the 'planets' only appear on the website.)

What was the genesis of Azure Miles Records' distinctive website?

I am greatly indebted to Ron Pollock for the Azure Miles Records website. At the time we met at a party given by Michael Rogers at his Egyptian-themed home on Wonderland Drive in the Hollywood Hills, websites were relatively new, and the whole process intimidated me. Ron had just started work as a independent website designer, and his easygoing nature and brilliant mind (the diversity of the work he has done in various fields is staggering, including designing and performing the very first laser light shows with Blue Oyster Cult) made everything simple. I was enchanted by the Sothern California billboard-like heading he created for the homepage, along with the drop-shadows he placed behind the heading and 'planets'. The drop-shadows make me feel like the sun is shining on the island in the South Seas an Irish poet once wrote about:

Maybe in some isle of isles,
in the South Sea's azure miles.

- William Butler Yeats

Why have you chosen not to use abstract electronic sounds, or environmental sounds of urban and rustic areas, like the vast majority of computer and electronic music composers, who also interact with their digital instruments in performance, and frequently use musicians whose acoustic instruments are altered electronically?

Its not that I am against abstract electronic sounds, and the environmental sounds of urban and rustic areas. There are compositions I love that feature such sounds. They simply are not part of my aesthetic vision.

Perhaps you did not know that I studied electronic music composition with Bulent Arel and Don Funes at SUNY Stony Brook and Crane School of Music, respectively, attended seminars on computer music given by John Chowning at Tanglewood, and had private consultations with Charles Dodge, John Cage and Salvatore Martirano.

As a composer who also creates the performance of each composition, I am attracted to the unique expressive and technical capabilities of pure computer-performed music. "Computer-performed" is a more graceful and accurate description of my music than "computer-generated."

Instead of live musicians, I prefer the unique expressive and technical capabilities of the meruvina, reflecting anahata nada. The expressive and technical nature of my music is beyond the reach of live musicians. It is literally impossible for any live musician or musicians to play my music. Thus, the performances I create for my compositions are unique, and are not emulations of live musicians, though master performers of Indian classical music, jazz and many other traditions, not to mention my own past experience playing the piano and saxophone, have definitely influenced me.

For example, in the second gat of Dhani, my use of a European trumpet timbre reflects my love for the improvisations of Dizzy Gillespie and Lee Morgan, even though either of them would never have been able to perform this music in terms of expression, technique and tuning, and vice-versa, of course. The same is true for the percussion music featured in the third gat of Dhani. At a cursory glance, it may appear to be a simulacrum of a pan-global percussion orchestra, but this is a new form of percussion music that can only be performed, both technically and expressively, by the meruvina.

I was deeply moved when two critics, independent of each other, were kind enough, after writing favorable reviews, to inform me that they found my compositions to be so unusual, and even disorienting, it took repeated listenings before they got beneath the surface of the music, and were able to get a handle on it. These reactions seem to suggest that my music is actually more abstract than most computer and electronic music, similar to the way Lee Konitz playing jazz standards is often more abstract than the performances of leading free jazz musicians.

It is hard to believe now, but for a good deal of his career, Wassily Kandinsky, one of the supreme artists in recorded history, who is generally credited for creating the first abstract Western art, was under attack from critics and fellow artists for not being sufficiently "abstract!" Fortunately, he was skilled at defending himself, having been originally trained to be a lawyer, and responded: “Just because an artist uses "abstract" methods, it does not mean that he is an "abstract" artist. It doesn’t even mean that he is an artist. Just as there are enough dead triangles (be they white or green), there are just as many dead roosters, dead horses or dead guitars. One can just as easily be a "realist academic" as an "abstract academic." A form without content is not a hand, just an empty glove full of air.”

Perhaps it is more accurate to say that my approach to computer and electronic music is unconventional in comparison to other composers.

Some people have difficulty disassociating acoustic timbres from live performers, but I feel this is the essence of using technology to create music, a concept anticipated by Conlon Nancarrow with his player piano.

It is the best of both worlds to compose music voiced with samples of acoustic timbres, and performed in real time by a computer, software and sound module, the later being both a sample playback unit and synthesizer, without any human interference. This is the medium I feel reflects the metamorphosis of Western classical music in our time. There is a parallel here with the art of Duchamp, Johns, Rauchenberg and Warhol. All of these artists used found objects in new ways to illuminate their creative vision. Similarly, I use the sounds of sampled acoustic instruments as found objects in my compositions. They are an intrinsic part of what I need to realize my music.

All an artist can do is express the times we live in. We grow up mostly hearing music coming out of thin air by touching a button. And what about the way computers and technology have permeated our lives? The challange is to use technology in creative and positive ways. That is how we save the world. There is no turning back, trying to pretend we live in the past.

Even though I do not use live musicians, I get inspiration from listening to artists like Anindo Chatterjee, Zakir Hussain, Alla Rakha, Pandit Jasraj, Shivkumar Sharma, Ravi Shankar, Hariprasad Chaurasia, L. Subramaniam, L. Shankar, Vikku Vinayakram, Glenn Gould, Bob Dylan, Bill Evans, Lee Konitz, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, the Beatles, Laura Nyro, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, Frank Sinatra, and many more. Too many to mention. The same goes for composers.