Azure Miles Records ~ the Music of Michael Robinson
Writings about Music by Michael Robinson
Michael Robinson Biography and Quotes
Michael Eric Robinson's compositions and performances present a musical language, form and image inspired by American, South Asian and European traditions. He programs a meruvina to play his fully notated scores in real time, voicing each work with tone colors of acoustic instruments from myriad world cultures using various tunings.
"My music is intended for close, even meditational listening on both intellectual and spiritual planes, including elements of adbhuta rasa (wonderment, exhilaration) and shanta rasa (tranquility). Daedal aural constellations spring from a passion for meticulously fired musical elements born from my evolving thought processes and temperament. There is an expressive feel related yet varied from traditional performance that may deter some, but hopefully you will give my medium an opportunity beyond entirely familiar expectations and allow the import of the music to manifest." - Michael Robinson
In addition to an oeuvre of over 450 compositions, Michael is a writer (musicologist) focusing mostly upon music, but also art, basketball and other topics.
There are currently 113 albums available from Azure Miles Records featuring the music of Michael Robinson. Azure Miles albums may be heard on NPR, Pacifica, college, and community radio stations. These recordings are in the collections of many music libraries with complete catalogs at New York University, Princeton University, and the University of California at Los Angeles. A comprehensive collection of the composer's scores are available for study and teaching purposes at New York University.
Robinson has given numerous solo concerts in New York City, Los Angeles and Maui; music-visual performances and installations at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles and Borders; and live radio concerts in New York City and Los Angeles. He has been interviewed numerous times on radio in New York City, Los Angeles and Berkeley by a host of distinguished interviewers, in addition to several cable television interviews.
The composer was awarded the Louis Armstrong Award in New York; received six grants from Meet the Composer California; and The City of Pasadena gave him a grant to introduce school children to Indian classical music, world music, and computer music. UCLA's Department of Ethnomusicology received a one year grant from the National Endowment For The Humanities that enabled them to hire Robinson to transfer fragile field recordings from all over the world onto CDRs.
Robinson has lectured at UCLA, Bard College, California State University at Long Beach and California State University at Dominguez Hills, and has a series of interviews with Indian Masters and a jazz master. His writings about music have been quoted by Carnegie Hall and MIT publications, and have been used for classes at CalArts, New York University and the University of California at Berkeley.
He was born in Manhattan's French Hospital in Chelsea, and raised in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and North Merrick and Wantagh, Long Island.
Robinson received a BM in Composition from the Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam, where he studied composition with Don Funes, Elliot Del Borgo and Arthur Frackenpohl, and also Bulent Arel at SUNY Stony Brook. This was followed by graduate study with Mel Powell at CalArts. He spent two summers at Tanglewood in the Listening and Analysis Seminar taught by musicologists Leonard Altman and Peter Gram Swing. Altman made special arrangements for Robinson to attend the Composition Seminar taught by Gunther Schuller, Jacob Druckman, Paul Zukofsky, John Chowning and Ralph Shapey. He also attended conducting classes and rehearsals of the Boston Symphony Orchestra given by Leonard Bernstein and other prominent conductors.
Robinson's private studies include jazz improvisation with Lee Konitz, Rollan Masciarelli, Paul Jeffrey and Ken McIntyre; and Indian classical music with Harihar Rao (the senior disciple of Ravi Shankar), Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy, Kala Ramnath and Pandit Jasraj. He had private composition consultations with Charles Dodge, David Lewin, Steve Reich (via correspondence), John Cage, Salvatore Martirano and Morton Feldman.
The composer's unique involvement with Indian ragas is largely a result of his study of recordings, live performances, and books, in addition to the studies mentioned above. He is self-taught in using the meruvina.
A native New Yorker, who has lived in Maui, Robinson currently resides in Los Angeles.
"Los Angeles-based composer Michael Robinson brings his Indian raga-styled compositions into being using the Meruvina (Meru derived from Mount Meru, which the Hindus regard as the center of the universe, and Vina the Sanskrit word for musical instrument), in essence a software-hardware mix of computer, sound module, and music software that enables him to perform his fully notated scores in real time; in a typical Robinson work, sound samples of acoustic instruments from multiple world cultures appear in long-form settings of powerfully hypnotic character." - textura
"Robinson's sense of timing, phrasing, form, and flow guide listeners toward his alternative vision. His music has the clarity and ingenuousness of Chinese brush painting, some of the hard geometric edginess of Kandinsky, and a detached, ethereal, and abstract quality that nonetheless seems bound to the tight forms found in some abstract Expressionist paintings." - Keyboard
Making use of alternative tunings, and blending tradition and technology, Robinson is able to transcend cultural and spiritual boundaries. Robinson mixes the organic virtues of raga with the synthetic ability of MIDI to create 3 CDs, each a different section of the one piece. The introspective nature of the music grows and changes over the course of three CDs, creating a spiritual journey of sound. [Bhimpalasi] - NewMusicBox
"While many artists have tried to attain the state of anahata nada through their music, none has taken it quite as far as Robinson." "Organized like ragas and involving a small set of timbres per piece, this is music of a great tranquility, sounds consciously breaking the routines and expectations of daily life to allow for a clearer glance at what lies underneath – as, for example, on 2003's composition Dhani, a blissful raga-dream spanning four full CDs." - tokafi
"Nightmarchers is over too soon, in just over half-an-hour, but it leaves a deep impression and there’s plenty to take from the music over repeated listens – just try following each instrument on repeated for an immersive and enlightening experience." "Nightmarchers is an album unlike any other I’ve heard whilst writing for A Closer Listen, and for a long time before that, probably since Moondog."- A Closer Listen
"Weird as fuck but dope as hell." - Marleys World
"He's broken the mould." - Bonnie MacLean, artist
"I am playing all your CDs (especially when I am driving and have peace of mind and no one to interrupt being able to LISTEN!!!) and see that you have your OWN course that you are pursuing and that’s the best that any composer can do for a life’s work. Edgard Varese, Ornette Colman, Charlie Parker, Harry Partch, sculptor and mobile maker Alexander Calder, Jackson Pollock, Jack Kerouac and so many other artists I have been blessed to know all found their way and their own voices and often confused connoisseurs because they couldn’t be classified because they were ORIGINAL!! So keep on doing what you are doing. With all your technical skills as well as musicianship, you can do whatever you want to do and get it out there without having to answer to ANYBODY!!" "You have your OWN VOICE, and that’s the most and only really important thing." - David Amram, composer, multi-instrumentalist, conductor, author
"Unique artistic voices are rare indeed, but if anyone can lay claim to possessing one it's Michael Robinson. Having developed his artistic sensibility over the course of many decades, the Los Angeles-based composer's productions are self-contained universes that reflect the remarkably fertile imagination of their creator." "The result is a sensual music whose luscious sonorities dazzle the ear and captivate the mind."- textura
"Hummingbird Canyon is an entirely enchanting work, what with its diverse use of percussion infusing the various (especially woodwinds) parts with a pulsating music of its own, but which also perfectly complements the idiosyncratic melodic and harmonic structures that constitute an album's worth of highly inspirational listening. The charming ingemination of some of the melodies is a welcome reminder of the influence of the raga renascence that surfaced in mid-1960s SoCal and beyond. All in all, this a very fine, astounding and unique masterpiece, as refulgent in sound to captivate the ear, as the very best exhibit of Japanese flower arranging can delight the eye." - Declan "Degsy" Lewis
"Your recording sounds great. 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." [Trembling Flowers] - Peter Jablonski, Transfigured Night radio host at WKCR FM, Columbia University
"There's mood and tone and feeling in your music. It's not sterile." - Samantha Black, Transfigured Night and New Music Smorgasbord radio host at WKCR FM, Columbia University
"Michael Robinson is a jazz-influenced composer who bases (at least in part) his compositions on the ancient Indian (long) musical form of raga, but the two pieces on this CD do not consciously attempt to "sound like" ragas in particular or Indian music in general. Robinson is no mere copycat or cultural/colonial imperialist - he's studied and absorbed the essence and approach of musics of not only India but other Asian cultures as well. I’m not certain if all the sounds on this disc are created via computer, overdubbed live instrumentation or both - and I’m not sure it matters at all." "Luminous Realms has shades of "light" or "dark" coursing through it - it's a truly cerebral, challenging listen though never self-consciously or defiantly difficult." - jazzreview.com
A fascinating musical odyssey based on Indian Ragas, Jazz, Asian and African influences, computers and mice, to produce vast epic compositions, ... with no musical instrument involved at all. - The IDEA (India)
Michael Robinson makes great music. His knowledge is very deep. - Pandit Jasraj, North Indian classical vocalist
"You are reaching into the core of the spirit of Indian classical music, which is a spiritual yearning." "The rasa [emotion or sentiment] I feel most strongly in your music is adbhuta rasa [wonderment and amazement, exhilaration, and even a little fear, as when one undergoes a strange new experience]." - Harihar Rao, senior disciple of Ravi Shankar; President and Artistic Director, The Music Circle
"Michael Robinson is a renowned composer. His music is a refreshing alternative to traditional Indian classical music." "He probably knows as much about improvisation as anyone. - Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy, President of Society for Ethnomusicology; founder of UCLA Ethnomusicology Department; South Asian music scholar (He played recordings of Robinson's music for the All India Music Conference, and had Robinson lecture at one of his UCLA classes.)
"I love listening to your recordings." - Ali Ahmad Hussain, North Indian shehnai artist
"Thanks for the CD. Great stuff! Congrats! Fun playing and singing with, too!" [Fire Monkey] "Just returned and found your CD. Very nice - swings good! It's great doing the whole thing yourself. I just go in and play, and the rest is out of my hands." "Keep up the ragas!" [Hamoa] "Listened again to Chinese Legend - very nicely done. You are really doing great." [Chinese Legend] "Meditative in the slow parts, and groovin' in the parts with percussion." [Kaunsi Kanada] - Lee Konitz, alto saxophonist
"Your music has lowered my blood pressure by miles. Its very, very beautiful." - Susan McClary, author; Musicology Chair at UCLA; MacArthur Fellowship recipient
"Lucknow Shimmer presents itself as a forty-three-minute stream of uninterrupted radiance." "A harmonious mood of controlled jubilation establishes itself as fluttering drums and lead voices (shahnai, clarinet, and trumpet respectively in the sections) keep up a constant, ecstatic exchange. Each appearance of the theme is itself a delight, not only for how mesmerizing its chiming melody is but for the ululating babble of three cuicas that follows its statement every time" - textura
"Robinson is one of the individuals currently using the resources of technology and information to create sound combinations which stretch the boundaries of the definition of music. Like the innovators of the past, he leaves behind all previously created forms and has produced something truly fresh and exciting." - Lahaina News
"Lively, all right; as you said, "corybantic" -- I had to refer to Webster, like, thanks -- and the sound found for your piano (nice one, RM) is perfect for its manic-darting-of-a-part. Percussionings, performancings, designings of sounds, and its all-over splendour in mixings, combine to result in a jolly resounding and uplifting piece. Naturally. FUN. (Can't get enough of the stuff)". [Celestial Crocodile] - Derek Lovelady
"Much enjoyed listening to your piece!" [Hummingbird Canyon] - Ramon Sender, composer, visual artist and writer
"... I thought I’d end by recommending some work to your attention that you may not be as familiar with: someone whose resolutely electronic compositions do use raga forms, and do so in a way that’s nowhere near pastiche or casual plunder." "... he’s done such a good job and created such a believable audio world that it’s not only satisfying, but makes you wonder about what might be next… “music that makes you want to make music,” so to speak." "I’m still trying to digest his most recent 4-CD performance Dhani, whose time scales are really demanding (the pulseless Alap section alone is 2 CDs in length), but it’s interesting to see how this stuff breathes over the long haul (and I do mean long), and Michael has created a really personal and compelling body of work that serves as an antidote to superficial cultural plunder."- Gregory Taylor, composer; RTQE FM radio host; Cycling '74 senior content developer; creativesynth.com columnist
"He writes tonally and atonally at once with refreshing naivete, and is much taken with Asian timbres. Jade Streams and Ghosts are drone meditations, March Wind and Fire Monkey are whirlwinds, and the magna opera, Year of the Rooster and Mountain Temple are his schizo counterpoint pieces that, on repeated listening, I like best of all. No telling where he's going to spin off to, but he's an original." [Fire Monkey] -Village Voice
"Strictly based on the structural underpinnings of the raga commemorating the monsoon rains, Michael Robinson’s Mian ki Malhar encompasses a profoundly spacious quality." "By the half way point of “Vilambit, Madhya & Drut Gats,” the music has already swelled to a frenzy that is marvelously sustained until the end of the disc. As with all of Robinson’s releases the unique packaging, in this case a vividly colored silk-screened pattern on handmade Japanese paper, is equally exquisite as the music contained on the CD." - NewMusicBox
You have been blessed with genius. [Kaunsi Kanada] - Kitty Pilgrim, CNN correspondent and anchor; author; Council on Foreign Relations member
"I admire artists like yourself who find new connections and deeper meaning." Judy Mitoma, World Festival of Sacred Music
"Built primarily around Eastern instrumentation and percussion, the four works on Rainbow Thunder are very much "big picture" works. Those looking for traditional song structure or three-minute verse/chorus/verse sonic narrative should look elsewhere." "Forest Regions is a slow, lingering work full of bell-like tones; it's extremely evocative, and paints a vivid sound-picture of the distant, alien stillness of the titular location." "The Angel Of Ankara, my favorite, is a 25-minute epic of Indian instrumentalism in which oud, tabla and others create a slow, elegant, powerful sonic texture in which they play little, melodic cat-and mouse games. I thoroughly recommend Rainbow Thunder to anyone who wants to broaden a horizon or two." - Splendid e-zine
"Thank you for the notes and the music, with its shimmering version of the music of the spheres." [Mian ki Malhar] "Your intriguing set of instruments suggests that you are doing something quite new in American music." [Nagamani] - Helen Vendler, author and literary critic; A. Kingsley Porter University Professor at Harvard
Robinson is following an iconoclastic path much like Schoenberg and Cage before him. "Educated at the Tanglewood Music Center, the State University of New York at Potsdam and Stony Brook and CalArts, he has a keen sense of modern compositional techniques. The poly-tonal and poly-rhythmic Mountain Temple demonstrated a wide range of influences from avant garde jazz to Japanese drumming." - Gardena Valley News
"Charukeshi, a modern update to the ancient tradition of North Indian classical music, stands at the crossroads between new tools and traditional forms. Michael Robinson, who's been doing this kind of thing for some time now, takes a holistic approach to his projects." "Charukeshi is a raga (in a Karnatic form popularized by Ravi Shankar), though its highly stylized approach renders irrelevant any simple comparisons to North Indian classical music." "Robinson plies the sounds of his esoteric drum collection in a dense, interwoven fashion to create thick sonic meshes which evolve relative to each other and the melody." "Having said all that, there's really no point in over-intellectualizing this music. Whatever ideas the artist used to put it together, Charukeshi relies first and foremost on a tidal flow." - All About Jazz
It's more than the sounds, though. It's the textures that are so beautiful and pleasing. And Robinson's general sense of rhythm suggests that this music can continue forever in its lovely world. The recording quality of Azure Miles CDs is always beautiful. - CDeMUSIC
"Cosmic rituals." "Very dynamic but also very hypnotic." "He has spread stylistic boundaries further than most would ever dream." - Margen (Spain)
Michael Robinson, a west-coast live-electronics composer of wild imagination - KyleGann.com
"Dark Yellow was such a melodic and subtle piece with its varying rhythmic patterns and smooth modulations through the growing depth of the music. I have listened to this particular piece of Michael's work so much that it grew to be a near meditation each time I listened to it. It brought to me a sense of tranquility." - Spencer Grendahl, author, astrologist and healer
"The main thing is that his music is a definite grower. I've listened to the whole album several times at different times of the day and found myself increasingly drawn to the creativity that creates spaces that are quite unique to this composer." [Chinese Legend] - electronicmusic.com
“Michael Robinson has found a notable niche for himself, including documenting in detail his life's work to a depth that goes beyond the level of a doctoral thesis.” “…there is incredible diversity in the albums produced by him…” “His music is beautiful, timeless…” [Kaunsi Kanada, Puriya Dhanashri, Gangadhara] - jazzdimensions.de (Germany)
"Michael Robinson has released a new CD titled Hamoa. This release represents a very new and different direction for Robinson, whose earlier releases include Fire Monkey and Trembling Flowers. Using new equipment has opened up totally new musical vistas. This complements his study of Hindustani music with teacher and tabla player Harihar Rao. The impact of North Indian music is ubiquitous on Hamoa. But by moving out into worldly influences, Robinson also leaves the door open for Middle Eastern, African, East Asian, Australian, and other influences to seep into his music. This, the curious tunings used, and Robinson's particular ability to use mechanical sounds musically makes for a listening experience that is at once dreamy and astringent, beautiful and a tad disorienting." - Keyboard
"Wow! Hamoa is terrific - a big step forward for you. I'm really enjoying listening." "Please visit SF and be on my show." - Carl Stone, composer; radio host for KPFK FM Los Angeles and KPFA FM Berkeley; President of the American Music Center
I believe that future composers will be influenced by his innovations. Charlie Colin, trumpet and brass teacher, author, publisher, and performer
"He has amazing success in bringing to life music performed by a computer." - Dean Suzuki, KPFA-FM radio host; contemporary music history professor at SFSU
"Your tape just came back from traveling to Asia with me - great - really live and sparkling - good to hear it." [Hamoa] "Your tape and disc have been to So. America and Spain as I listened at 35,000 feet! Yes - Fire Monkey and Summer Streams are cooking - thanks and stay in touch." - Joseph Celli, composer and oboist; founder and director of O.O. Discs; co-director for New Music America festivals
"Michael Robinson is a composer of the modern age. Unlike composers of yesteryear, the Beverly Hills resident uses high-tech equipment to create his music." "Michael Robinson has carved out a niche in the music world." - Los Angeles Times
"Something very sincere and breathtaking is owned by you." - Diamanda Galas, vocalist, composer and performance artist
"a gift of true friendship is a most adorned pearl scented with indian jasmine amongst the thunder of rainbow piercing through tendrils into a one dot world adventure" - Eleanor Academia, Artistic Director of World Kulintang Institute; Sony and Columbia Records recording artist (quote refers to four Azure Miles CDs and two of her singles by name)
"His compositions are rich in musical ideas." "Robinson is a composer with a vision." - Journal SEAMUS
"Amazing music." "I love this piece." "Wow! You're great." [October Sky from Indian Jasmine] - Halimah Collingwood, world music host, KHLU FM
"Michael Robinson is one of my favorite composers." - Martin Perlich, author; classical music host for KCSN-FM, KUSC-FM
"Sound pours forth in a dazzling array of timbres and audio textures" "Music with its own endless source of complexity and variety" - Westwood News
"You are a creative genius." "You are royalty." - Jarvee E. Hutcherson, President, Multicultural Motion Picture Association
He's a genius. He deserves to win a Grammy Award. - Clive Fox, President, MGM Records, including Verve
"I have been an admirer of Indian sitar music ever since my visit to India in 1980. You've captured the rhythms and broadened the tonality hugely. Bravo! - H. Kenneth Fisher, physician
"The full genius of your music has flowered" - Joanne Cheng, film maker
"A true musical genius" - Rollan Masciarelli, music educator, trumpeter, and arranger
"The influences Robinson cited ranged from the Doors through John Coltrane to Morton Feldman, all of which could be heard in his most distinctive music. Robinson relies on additive motivic layers, ostinatos and absolute clarity of texture in his work, expressed through computer-controlled synthesized sounds. The chief exception to the dominance of pulse and linearity was "Delayed Response." Inspired by Feldman's String Quartet, it presents a slowly shifting harmonic pattern, conveyed in lush orchestral synth washes. In sharpest contrast was "Trembling Flowers," from 1985 the oldest piece on the program. Through sheer speed and polymetric complexity it was the most dense in information ..." "Perhaps the most structurally and thematically interesting of the works surveyed was "Summer Streams," dedicated to Leonard Bernstein. It proved much more spicy in chromatic inflections and engaging in its intimations of traditional polyphony. - Los Angeles Times
"Ingenious composition." "Exciting and innovative." - The Occidental, Occidental College
"Your music is so beautiful." "I'm curious to know how you do it!" - Liona Boyd, classical guitarist
" The important thing is that without fail, people feel that an exuberance prevails in your music, and they desire to learn more when I come back again." (referring to students in the classes he taught) - Barney Bragin, music educator; pianist, clarinetest, composer, and arranger who performed with Bunny Berigan and Tommy Dorsey
"Although influenced by all varieties of music from Bach to The Doors, Robinson has found his passion and focus on world music cultures from places such as India, Africa and South America." "Robinson feels that using a computer as a medium for his music has been rewarding. He has the opportunity to use many different instruments while creating something totally original that expresses our times of technology with talented content and depth." - Daily Bruin, UCLA
"Excellent. Very cool". "You have those rhythms down." [Rainbow Thunder and Adorned with Pearl albums] - Ray Manzarek (The Doors), collaborated on several music projects with Robinson
"Thank you for the CD. It is very impressive, and it does me good to learn that you are using your unique creative talent. Your layering of sound reminds me of the Baroque organ, which has no small pedal, and gets dynamic contrast through changing registration." [Trembling Flowers] - Perry Yaw, Professor Emeritus at Crane School of Music, SUNY at Potsdam
"He has taken Indian classical music to a new dimension." - Amy Catlin, ethnomusicology professor, UCLA
"That's very good. Whatever it is you're doing, keep it up!" [Fire Monkey] - Salvatore Martirano, computer music composer
"You are the prince of ragas." - Ginger, dancer and yogi
"Exquisite" [Gamanapriya] - Geeta Iyer, yoga teacher (India)
"If you have a performance with dance, please let me know; I would enjoy hearing it in a situation involving movement." - John Cage, composer; Merce Cunningham Dance Company music director
"You got it!" - Quincy Jones, producer, arranger, composer, trumpeter