Writings about Music

Music from the Earth

Michael Robinson navigating rocks off the coast of Maine

One day or evening at the age of 15 or 16 while walking through the living room at home, I felt a musical arabesque beckoning me from the piano, if silently, which was startling. Staring to my right at the keyboard, a specific and unusual sequence of notes somehow made themselves known without either audible sound or physical movement, and so I then sat down and actually played them, this being the ostinato bass figure for what became my first composition proper, "Promenade des Tortues," appearing on the Abode of Joy album.

Looking back now this seems to have been the moment something wonderfully mysterious and unknown enticed me to begin focusing on music composition, most likely simply a personal attraction and appetite for this form of creativity nurtured from early exposure to composers like Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Bartok together with boogie woogie and Bach.

My original title for this initial work was "March of the Turtles," but Adele Berk, the composer-in-residence for the spring semester during my sophomore year at Wantagh High School, urged me to use the French translation, and I finally complied, if a bit reluctantly. Sometimes I think of possibly reverting to the original English title.

Years later, I learned Berk had studied with Edgard Varèse at Columbia University, and with other luminaries at Tanglewood, also known as the Berkshire Music Center, where I was fortunate to study as well, invited by Leonard Altman. At Columbia University, I've been interviewed myriad times on WKCR FM, including giving live concerts featuring the first meruvina incarnation.

Very close to the present time, on December 12, 2020, I was in the studio to record piano improvisations, my intent being to focus on spontaneous improvisation. However, after the first two tracks were played, later titled "Silk Dyed" and "Last Flowers," I found myself desiring to take a different approach, and I then decided to improvise on jazz standards notably with my left hand playing a walking bass that oftentimes ranged so far intervallically as to enter the realm of stride as well, beginning with "Fly Me To the Moon," followed by eight more standards.

Intriguingly, for both "Promenade des Tortues" and the December 2020 session, the musical impetus came from the lower registers, a region of root resonance that may be described as music from the earth.

In addition to the ostinato figure, the melodic shape of the main voice for "Promenade des Tortues" is rather esoteric for someone of 15 or 16, anticipating later studies of Indian classical music. My sense is that clarinetists would enjoy playing this piece accompanied by piano.

My piano improvisations are in the process of development, including earlier this afternoon, which may be the most musicians may hope for pertaining to both that discipline and composition in terms of evolving self-realization.

The December 2020 improvisations becoming the Stargirl, Orion's Hour and Turning Rain albums reveal a new beginning at its actual inception. These were followed by Six New Piano Improvisation Albums recorded during two August 2021 sessions.

Last weekend, I watched part of the new documentary showing the Beatles collectively creating new songs in real time. Looking back at an evening encounter with George Harrison, there were glimpses into how he was inspired to compose fueled by a penchant and intensity for aesthetic allure and spiritual transport.

- Michael Robinson, January 2022, Los Angeles


© 2022 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and musicologist. His 162 albums include 149 albums for meruvina and 13 albums of piano improvisations. He has been a lecturer at UCLA, Bard College and California State University.