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Writings about Music

Setting the Bar High

“When I listen to Bob Dylan’s last 10 or so albums (leaving the weird Xmas one out), I get more musical and artistic pleasure than I get from, well, really, any of the new classical things I hear. I may like or even love some of them, but Dylan, for me, touches a much deeper vein. Nor is he alone, in that huge non-classical music world.”

You’re setting the bar high, Greg (quote comes from a comment he made at the given link), as well you should, by comparing composers to Bob Dylan. It was precisely a realization of this discrepancy in artistic quality that caused me to reject a scholarship from a leading graduate composition program and instead head out on my own because I didn’t wish to be compromised by what I found to be a misguided milieu. Serialism, minimalism, and the avant-garde all ultimately bored me unlike the finest jazz, Indian classical, and rock-pop, not to mention composers who proposed writing in styles of the past.

Following my instincts, in 1984, I began using a combination of hardware and software eventually named the Meruvina in its subsequent incarnations, recognizing that this new musical medium was paramount. Recently, I came across a statement from Nick Collins affirming the direction I took: “Where the 19th century saw a rush of composer-pianists, now the 21st brings the era of the composer-programmer…”

A marked preference for the sounds and colors of acoustic instruments, including many from world cultures, over abstract electronic sounds is the major difference between myself and others who use computers and technology, together with how I feel its necessary not to have any musician, including myself, interfere with the music in any way during performance. And in terms of composition, the forms and flow I follow mostly come from jazz, Indian classical music, and rock-pop because, as you indicate (referring to the opening quote above), that is the milieu we have lived in that’s real in America.

 

Ocean Avenue mixes trumpet, piano, tabla and tamboura hues and language within a dynamic rhythmic framework.

 

Encanto Drive presents a pensive rasa beginning with an infusion of shahnai and santoor color over contrasting, spectral drums.

 

That’s not to say one may not be inspired by European classical music. With so much music from myriad times and places one may turn to, I’ve only recently been captivated by the superb keyboard music of Robert Schumann and Domenico Scarlatti, the latter having a profound influence on Ludwig van Beethoven that remains largely unacknowledged. 

Bob Dylan worked as hard at his craft as Beethoven, Charlie Parker, or Nikhil Banerjee. He made the time to develop his musical gift, creating a unique musical universe of his own. That is the most any artist may hope for, and if others find meaning in it that's icing on the cake, though too much approbation can be unhealthy, too.

In 2016, I wrote about how ironic it was that the two most advanced living practitioners of the English language, Bob Dylan and Helen Vendler, were worlds apart because Dylan's style of singing, in particular, was anathema to certain persons (guessing that included Vendler), and Bob's lyrics are inextricably bound to his music, so the profundity of what he does has been lost to those persons, the lyrics by themselves only presenting half the story. My essay was sent to a number of leading literary figures, and, entirely coincidentally, of course, Dylan won the Nobel Prize for literature later that year.

- Michael Robinson, February 2019, Los Angeles

 

© 2019 Michael Robinson All rights reserved

 

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