Writings about Music
Roll Over Nancarrow
A congregation of hummingbirds made a kaleidoscopic, frenzied counterpoint, their interwoven tapestries of flight reflected in Hummingbird Canyon with every tone and percussion stroke (over 85,000) carefully notated.
"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 is 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. Maria Schneider and her Orchestra could glean so much from Hummingbird Canyon, and to borrow a legal term but losing its courtroom connotations: res ipsa loquitur; and, aesthetically speaking, nothing of value or import here has been neglected -- oh, no, no, no, no -- because everything has been cared for so wonderfully well, with rapturous innovation and a vivid imagination." (Declan "Degsy" Lewis, April 2015, Liverpool, England)
"It's interesting that one of Robinson's inspiration for Hummingbird Canyon was Charlie Parker, not so much because of his well-known nickname Bird but for the soaring nature of his playing. By his own admission, Robinson also tips his hat to The Beatles' Abbey Road in surprising the listener with a closing statement (played by furin bell, spokes bell, kalimba, and three cuicas) that only appears after Hummingbird Canyon has seemingly achieved formal resolution. But obviously the main inspiration for the recording is the hummingbird, an inspiration that came to the composer as he encountered on a walking route a dazzling mass of seemingly ecstatic hummingbirds whose “(k)aleidoscopic, frenzied counterpoint” captivated him. And with canyons being equally ubiquitous in the Southern California locale that Robinson calls home, it seemed only natural for the work's title to combine the two ideas. Consistent with the rapidity of the hummingbird's wings (apparently they can beat up to 200 times a second), his delightfully exuberant music often flutters at an equivalent speed, resulting in a vibrant sound mass that tickles the ear and never fails to keep one engaged." (textura, August-September 2014, Canada)
Grateful for these writers not being intimidated by music that doesn't copy styles and forms of the past, fearlessly welcoming the challenge of reporting on a new form of composition and performance.
My essay title, modeled after the Chuck Berry song, Roll Over Beethoven, partly refers to how I've always endeavored to use the superhuman virtuosic capabilities of the Meruvina in the musically unique expressive context of each composition as opposed to something technical unto itself. Coincidentally with the title, Conlon Nancarrow composed music for player piano rolls he created himself.
Some of my earlier compositions compared to Nancarrow by the Village VOICE and WNYC FM are March Wind and Trembling Flowers. There are some connections related to conceptual semblances between the Meruvina and the player piano given how I had not yet heard Conlon's music prior to writing these.
Original inspiration for Hummingbird Canyon came from Blinded By the Light as performed live on the Midnight Special by Manfred Mann's Earth Band, this version being much preferable compared to the original studio recording. Regarding the presumed meaning of what this song originally by Bruce Springsteen is about, something he has officially denied, I never tried the stuff, responding to the song in terms of life exuberance.
And how cool is it getting such a fine review from Liverpool of all places. If George was still here I would love sharing it with him. Same for "and tell" Stockhausen the news.
- Michael Robinson, July 2020, Los Angeles
© 2020 Michael Robinson All rights reserved
Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).