Writings about Music

The Life of Thought

This is an interesting post as always! One general observation: Simply because something is a financial and populist juggernaut doesn't automatically bestow profundity upon it. Things move cyclically, and thus inevitable forces sometimes manifest on a smaller scale, that being the only possible pathway of pertinent artistic evolution at times.

Morton Feldman once observed that composers battle for the primacy of their individual visions in the current time as Brahms and Wagner -- his comparison -- once battled in the past. It is mostly a silent battle of pencils and pens on manuscript paper and/or keyboard typing into computers coming before the actual recordings and/or performances of those efforts, and who will actually hear them.

What denotes importance in our time? Is it KUSC here in Los Angeles, perhaps the largest classical music station in America, playing almost entirely European composers of the past? Is it WKCR New Music in Manhattan playing almost exclusively improvised music and some of the same minimalistic composers over and over? Myself, I was fortunate to have wjkoradio recently request all 106 of my albums for a nightly program of my music from 9 to10 PM pst.

When I lived in NYC in the eighties, one Transfigured Night host on WKCR decided to have me as a guest for four hours from 1 to 5 AM, and this was repeated on two other occasions. Jablonski had no apparent interest in prevailing trends, demonstrating an open mind and enthusiasm for individualistic voices. In more recent years there seems to less individuality among hosts, and they tend to do what is expected and predictable and perhaps even sanctioned officially or unofficially by the music department at Columbia University, which owns WKCR, the world's first FM radio station. The interview portions of my first appearance with Peter Jablonski are on the YouTube video below. Links to the roughly three and a half hours of music played that morning may be found at the actual YouTube page. 

We live in reactionary times whereupon world leaders have chosen to maintain the status quo of fossil fuels for energy despite science having proven that this course imperils the world itself. I perceive a similarly inflexible mindset in the way classical music radio stations cling almost exclusively to the past, in effect relinquishing any claim for today's music to the realm of popular forms only, and presenting limited perspectives that undermine the imaginations and spiritual and intellectual growth of listeners.

The liner notes of my current album Moonrise and Rain-Mist open with a quote from Helen Vendler’s Our Secret Discipline: “…the life of thought has no time for the rules and constraints of “civilized” stasis.”


During the fall of 1997, Martin Perlich, the distinguished KUSC Los Angeles radio host, played Chinese Legend in-between music by Mozart and C.P.E. Bach, describing my music as “highly recommended for people interested in living composers.” Martin took the time to announce all of the instrumental timbres employed for my composition: sitar, tabla, African harp, kawala, erhu, biwa, clarinet, cuica, bonang, esraj and two tanpuras. He also raved about the cover art consisting of handmade silkscreened paper from Japan selected to reflect the content of the album also titled Chinese Legend.

Two years earlier, in 1995, Keyboard Magazine columnist Titus Levi played a number of selections from my Hamoa album of that year on KUSC, including Chinese Berries.

Afternoon New Music, Live Constructions and New Music Smorgasbord (as well as Transfigured Night with two other hosts) are some other WKCR shows I've been a guest on.

- Michael Robinson, April 2016, Los Angeles

© 2016 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


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