Writings about Music

First Album Resurrection

Rodney Oakes reviewed Michael Robinson's first three albums and interviewed Robinson on his radio show several times.

 

I was aghast hearing from composer Rodney Oakes how he had submitted a review of my 1991 first album, Trembling Flowers, to Journal SEAMUS, and was surprised it wasn’t published. Rodney disclosed this to me during a phone conversation around 2012, after I thanked him again for inspiring reviews of my second and third albums, Fire Monkey and Hamoa, both published in Journal SEAMUS. Additionally, Oakes, whose middle name is Harland, interviewed me several times on his KXLU FM radio show in Los Angeles.

Contacting Barry Schrader, who was the editor of Journal SEAMUS at the time, he said the review was never received, and that he would have published it as he did the subsequent reviews. And because this was before email was commonly used, not to mention several computer generations ago, Rodney doesn't have a copy of the review, and so it's apparently lost forever.

Fortunately, tracks on the Trembling Flowers album were played on WBAI FM in Manhattan and KPFK FM in Los Angeles. La Monte Young heard the NYC broadcast and was so excited by the music he left a message on my answering machine, and when I phoned him back we spoke for over three hours.

Just a few weeks ago, I thought to email an early champion of my music who also became a friend, and was devastated to learn Peter Jablonski had passed away last September. Rereading one of the letters he sent me, I realized part of it amounts to an extremely insightful and relevant review of Trembling Flowers. Here it is:

"I finally got to listen to your recording. It sounds great. I seem to enjoy it more with each listening - noticing things I missed before. Here are some thoughts on the music, in no particular order."

"I think there is a big difference between your music, which can have a powerful subjective effect on the listener (i.e., can arouse strong emotions), and John Cage's music, which seems truly detached and therefore without much visceral effect, evidently by his design. (I mention Cage because you seem to share some of his attitudes about the role of ego in art). Some of your pieces have a paradoxical effect on me: on one hand, the music conveys a certain “benign indifference” which I can only liken to the concept of enlightenment as understood by Zen Buddhists. I feel neutrality but not despair. On the other hand, the same piece that creates this sort of transcendental mood also evokes strong emotions. Philosophically speaking, these two reactions are incompatible. Objectivity, transcending the ego, cannot be reconciled with a subjective experience like emotion. Maybe as I listen I oscillate between the two states, and if I concentrated on one in the manner of meditation, I could sustain it."

"I wonder if the “objective” quality I feel in the music would disappear if played by performers with acoustic instruments. Is the medium a large part of the music's "message"?"

"It's amazing how much the quality of a single tone - the timbre, texture, clarity, “color” - can convey, and how manipulating these properties produces different effects on the mind of the listener, not even considering the larger musical whole. With this in mind, is it possible electronic and digital technology can produce sounds never before heard? (cf. La Monte Young) The answer seems to be yes, but even more interesting is the corollary to this question: do these new sounds have effects on the brain completely unknown before their discovery? I'm really asking how would the body and mind react to a stimulus they had never experienced before? Or is this new musical “stimulus” (i.e., the new electronic sounds) perceived by the listener as essentially the same and therefore not “new”. In other words, just as the untrained ear cannot discriminate between a 440 A and an A that is slightly off pitch, is the same true of the normal brain, which perceives a new electronic sound as basically the same as a naturally-occurring sound in the same frequency? I'm interested in any thoughts you have on the subject, as I'm sure you've pondered similar ideas about music." (Peter Jablonski letter to Michael Robinson)

Composers are truly blessed upon receiving this level of thought and insight into their music.

Just a few months ago, I found the comments just below on Bandcamp about my first album from someone named "bccl":

"wonderful, sometimes astonishing private press electronic music ranging from the whimsical (gift) to the meditative/affecting (delayed response). an incredible find. Favorite track: Delayed Response." (bccl)

Indeed, after playing Delayed Response live in the studio before the Trembling Flowers album was released, on Imaginary Landscape hosted by composer Carl Stone, I learned two men driving on the 405 Freeway were so moved by the music they had taken the nearest exit so they could phone into the station and write down the title and artist name.

To this day, I would not change a single note or coloristic-expressive detail on the Trembling Flowers album, the realizations of my compositions capturing a moment in time reflected by the meruvina configuration of that period.

To learn more about the music, including how Lee Konitz enjoyed playing along with one of the tracks that he compared to Count Basie, how Ray Manzarek liked it enough to first invite me to lunch and then to his home many times, and how Sadami Wada, the Vice Chairman of Sony Corporation, loved the title track, you are invited to visit the Trembling Flowers page.

- Michael Robinson, June 2020, Los Angeles

 

© 2020 Michael Robinson All rights reserved

 

Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).