Writings about Music

Remembering Peter

Peter Jablonski meditating

 

Peter Jablonski

April 23, 1965 - September 27, 2019

 

I heard him in 1989 on Transfigured Night, a WKCR FM radio program airing from 1 to 5 AM five nights a week from Columbia University in NYC. Phoned in, introducing myself, and he asked me to mail a cassette tape of my music. He enjoyed it enough to invite me on his show for the full four hours. That was an adventure, loading the first meruvina incarnation into a taxi from my apartment at First Avenue and 65th Street. We reunited for two more shows like this, once for four hours, once for three hours, both times again playing the meruvina live on-air as this was before my first CD was released in 1991.

This was the generosity and intellectual openness of Peter Jablonski. He was fascinated by my music and my ideas about music. Apparently, he found what I did unique, unlike any other music even remotely. La Monte Young is the only other composer I recall him mentioning having personally interacted with at WKCR. Peter was a remarkably original thinker and original person. His intelligence and sensitivity were both stunning. It's not everyday that I meet someone in the music world who appreciates my music so deeply.

Coincidentally, we both moved to Southern California in the early nineties, and got together several times socially. He even once stayed over with my girlfriend and I in Beverly Hills on a long weekend, including visiting his favorite Italian restaurant on Melrose, while he was living with his mother in Escondido, where I believe he was born, prior to moving to Venice Beach. Peter had since left the new-music world, finding the people he encountered being generally underwhelming. With his degree in English he became a teacher at special high schools for the gifted. The last time I saw Peter was in 1995, when he invited me to give a music performance and lecture at his school. Around that time, we had visited a storied Malibu beach together where many films were shot. I recall it being very crowded, and how startling large the boulders on the sand were.

Peter was a gifted writer, and when I went to email him today, I had in the back of my mind that perhaps he might be interested in writing about my music. You see, I did receive an email from him in 2012 expressing interest in my involvement with Indian ragas, something he clearly was intrigued about. I wrote back, expecting to get together, but didn't hear back, and didn't follow-up. 

Together with education, Peter had become a bodybuilder of all things. He even won some competitions and was featured on the cover of some magazines apparently. This was inexplicable for me, not relating to the attraction. But it was selfish of me, I suppose, to hope that he might return to music, perhaps recreating his radio show in some form, and perhaps writing about music. 

Read that he had some kind of coronary event while meditating and practicing yoga on Venice Beach at 6 AM. His studio apartment was right on the beach, and I imagine he still lived there. His students loved him apparently, as did his colleagues. 

Now, our friendship, and his interest in my music, are both divining in the air, impervious to sunsets and infrequent rainstorms. There is one YouTube video of us together at WKCR online, and I believe there's a second recording I will place online, too. This is all I have left of Peter together with several letters he mailed to me. How I regret not trying to reconnect sooner. He will always be part of me. 

Hard to imagine him leaving us at the seashore. I believe he may have had blue eyes, matching the sky and water. But maybe they were brown. Don't believe they were green like mine. What I do know is one of the best of us has left, and we are poorer for that.

 

Peter Jablonski exercising at the beach

 

I know what I have related here is inadequate for what Peter was about, as were the tears that came to my eyes while writing this.

 

 

Our interview above only has our spoken words. Below I've assembled the actual music played in the deep of night. Just realized that Peter never got to know that nearly all my music for the first meruvina was recorded a few years ago. I know he would have gotten a kick out of that. In addition to the actual music heard during our interview, I've included subsequent realizations of the same compositions for the second incarnation of the meruvina with the exception of Buki, not yet available at this time.

Here are the compositions played on the interview above in sequence, including links to the albums they appear on.

Distant Breakers

A Danish Princess album (original realization)

Fire Monkey album (subsequent realization)

 

Oil Drops

Oil Drops album (original realization)

Purple and Brown album (subsequent realization)

 

Above the Door album (original realization)

Ruby Cars album (subsequent realization)

 

White Moon

Oil Drops album (original realization)

Purple and Brown album (subsequent realization)

 

Persia

Persia album (original realization)

Purple and Brown album (subsequent realization)

 

Buki (original realization not yet available)

Buki album (subsequent realization)

 

A Demon's Leisure

A Demon's Leisure album (original realization)

Snow and Wood album (subsequent realization)

 

Here is a tribute I just found online for Peter. Wish there were some photos of us from the time together at WKCR I could post here, too. The photos included here were taken from this video.

 

 

And here is a reprint of an essay centered on Peter from 2010. His letter amounts to a review of my first album, Trembling Flowers. What a loss to the music world that he left it so long ago in view of the level of thought and insight displayed here. There is no other writing like it I can think of.

<< Letter from Peter Jablonski, Transfigured Night host, WKCR FM, Columbia University, to Michael Robinson regarding his first album, Trembling Flowers.

"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."

Above is the full text of a typed letter by Peter Jablonksi mailed to me in late 1991 or early 1992. The recording referred to is Trembling Flowers, my first CD.

While going through some old correspondence, I came across this letter, and felt compelled to share it here because this is music writing of the highest order, displaying imagination, insight, originality, and precision rarely found in the field.

Jablonksi and myself met in Manhattan in the late eighties when he was a host of WKCR FM's Transfigured Night program. I sent him a cassette tape of my music, and he invited me to perform my music live on-air. The program aired from 1 AM to 5 AM, and this allowed for an expansive presentation of both music and conversation, including some compositions that were up to an hour long. I was a guest on Peter's show three times - twice for the full four-hours, and once for three hours.

Peter graduated from Columbia University with a degree in English. He went on to teach at innovative public schools in Venice and Los Angeles, California, in addition to becoming a championship winning body builder. He had become disillusioned with the New Music world, and did not pursue radio hosting or writing about music. This stunned me because he was one of the most brilliant, principled, and inspirational persons I ever encountered in music or elsewhere, but he clearly preferred pursuing other avenues.

At the time of our radio shows together, I was using my pre-MIDI digital music system, and it was exciting to bring my equipment into the studio, and have the music performed live. (Historically speaking, WKCR at Columbia University was the very first radio station to broadcast on FM radio.) This recording is of our first show. To date, I've been unable to locate recordings of the other two programs we did together.

I was also a guest on WKCR's Afternoon New MusicLive Constructions, New Music Smorgasbord, and Transfigured Night with two other hosts. These appearances included using my first MIDI system live, and, more recently, my recordings. 

WNYC FM and WBAI FM were other NYC stations I was a guest on.

Unfortunately, I do not have a copy of the letter I sent responding to Jablonski's letter reproduced above. >>

When I last appeared on WKCR on May 29, 2019, I reflected on my time there with Peter, including the thought of reconnecting with him, something I now regret waiting too long to do.

- Michael Robinson, June 2020, Los Angeles

 

© 2020 Michael Robinson All rights reserved

 

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