Art and Technology Collaborate

The Occidental (Occidental College)

Sounds of music coming from the auditorium fill the cool night air. The bass of the drum and the ring of the bells fuse to form a vibrant melody. The air quivers as the volume increases and captures the audience with its intensity. The effect is startling and one cannot help but gasp. The ingenious composition comes to an end and the composer takes a bow. He gestures towards the orchestra - a computer screen and a single keyboard.

Composer Michael Robinson performs his computer-synthesized music live and on radio broadcasts across the country, and on Saturday he will bring his music to Occidental. The New York native has studied at Tanglewood Music Center, CalArts, SUNY at Stony Brook, and earned a BM in music composition at the Crane School of Music, SUNY at Potsdam. Robinson has been awarded the Louis Armstrong Award for his saxophone improvisations.

The largely self-taught composer began to focus on computer composition because he felt his ideas were not fully realized through traditional methods. "A computer allows me to use more than one instrument at a time and there is less dependence on live musicians," says Robinson.

Robinson follows a step by step creative process when he writes a new piece. First, he notates the composition using manuscript paper. Second, he programs the computer to perform the music. Then Robinson makes subtle adjustments and modifications to maximize his original musical vision. Although Robinson has composed about 300 works, a piece titled "Trembling Flowers" is his favorite, and he said its content continues to startle him.

The composer says his music is influenced by various cultures and eras, and credits artists ranging from Bach to the Beatles for inspiring him. The computer allows Robinson to incorporate sounds that reflect myriad places and times through sample-playback and synthesis. Robinson is critical of the way the classical music community disregards the contribution of different forms of music such as jazz and rock.

The use of the computer enables the composer to transcend conventional musical mediums and explore new elements. Robinson states "I consider myself a composer of music that reflects influences from different cultures and times." Regarding the future of computer composition, Robinson points to the wide use of computers throughout popular music and describes the art of computer music as an exciting and innovative field. Critical response from the classical community has generally been positive. Several reviewers have praised Robinson's unique sense of timing and unusual blend of sounds.

A portion of Robinson's concert this Saturday will feature a dance collaboration with Sharon Aoki, a graduate of Occidental. Sharon has studied traditional Hula and modern dance. She also studied drama at the University of Arizona where she received a graduate degree. Aoki mixes her multifaceted dance background to reflect her multicultural origins. Aoki's collaboration will be the first time Robinson's music has been accompanied by a dance performance.

Composer Michael Robinson and dancer Sharon Aoki will perform Saturday, Nov 12 at 8 p.m. in the Herrick Interfaith Center.

- Andrea K. Garcia, 1994


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