Music For The Computer Age

The Outlook (Santa Monica)

Once upon a time, composers would sit at their pianos, pen in hand, and plot out the lines for a sonata or a symphony or even an opera. Not anymore. Enter the computer age. Now composers ponder complex programs and myriad electronic variables in their search for new sonic constructions.

Michael Robinson is a composer of computer-generated music. And at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Santa Monica's Saint Augustine-By-The-Sea Church, he will offer a recital of his most recent compositions.

"I like to use the computer like a high-tech player piano, and I compose for that type of presentation," Robinson explains. "In my performances, theatricality is really secondary, although I am on the stage with the computers and the various sound modules. I rely on the computer to control the performance, but in a such a way that the music will come alive and engage the audience."

One of the key elements of Robinson's composing is a Roland sound module, which is essentially a powerful synthesizer without a keyboard. This multidimensional sound-generating unit incorporates sampled (modulated sounds originally from a live source) with synthesized (electronically derived) sounds. It is capable of simultaneously creating 32 voices, or lines, in eight timbres.

With all that equipment, how do you establish compositional perimeters? "That is a problem, because accumulating too much equipment actually offers too many choices," Robinson says. "I find it important to sometimes limit my palette so that the audience realizes that the music is coming from the composer and not from the computer."

A CD of Robinson's music, Trembling Flowers, is currently available on Azure Miles Records. Robinson's concert will feature recent compositions, including the world premiere of a four-movement piece titled "Ocean."

- The Outlook (Santa Monica), 1992