Writings about Music
Sometimes we get lucky. In 2002, one of the most gifted music writers of our time, Amanda MacBlane, included my music both in essays and individual album reviews while working for NewMusicBox. Below are excerpts from her essay, "One of A Kind", which you may read in full here.
"In a society where the bottom-line rules, the sun rises and sets with the Dow Jones, and the word "culture" is often preceded by the modifier "pop," the life of an American composer is a bit of an aberration. Hard work doesn't guarantee success, success doesn't guarantee an abundance of money, and people with an abundance of money, often don't care to hear anything new. The truth is that what most Americans identify as American music (R&B, rock, pop, rap, country, folk) does not include the classical music tradition. Therefore, those who choose the path of a composer in the United States are inherently strong-willed mavericks, going against the grain of their culture. While Michael Tilson Thomas has a specific idea of what constitutes an "American maverick," I would argue that each and every American composer is a true individualist, a part of a small community of risk-takers, marginalized by the corporate heartbeat of the US."
"While retro instruments have intrigued many composers, another contingency has found inspiration in brand new instruments. The realm of electronic music attracts maverick composers from all walks of life who want to experiment with a whole world of new sounds."
"With his most recent works, Puriya Dhanashri and the three-CD set Bhimpalasi, Michael Robinson fuses raga music with traditional Western orchestral instruments and computer-generated sounds. As if this weren't original enough, each recording comes with a one-of-a-kind cover made by Robinson himself from paper imported from Japan and India."
John Cage, Morton Feldman and Lou Harrison are among the other composers mentioned in the complete essay.
Aurelian Balan was the intern at NewMusicBox who first noticed my music, bringing it to the attention of Amanda. Previously, I had written to the editor without receiving a reply. However, a year or so later, a friend from China who was so enthusiastic about my music she purchased the entire Azure Miles Records catalog, urged me to try again, and this time it worked. Here is Aurelian's first email to me, which I've italicized for differentiation.
September 26, 2003
If you were to send us some of your CDs we would gladly include them in next months issue of NewMusicBox. Also, could you send me your birthdate so I could add you to our database of composers?
Hope to hear from you soon!
Curious to know what Aurelian might be doing now, I searched online to discover he's an honored physics and astonomy professor at Delta College in Michigan, where he also had a superb radio show fortunately preserved for our collective benefit. Here's a riveting article detailing Aurelian's fascinating life story to date, including a degree in violin performance from the Crane School of Music. Coincidentally, I received a BM in Music Composition there, my teachers including Eliot Del Borgo and Don Funes. In conjunction, a memorable semester was spent at SUNY at Stony Brook where I studied with Bulent Arel and Sarah Fuller. Rene Fleming is the most famous graduate of the Crane School of Music, part of SUNY at Potsdam.
Listed below are the subsequent reviews and essays that resulted from Aurelian's initial interest in my music.
Charukeshi - Amanda MacBlane review
Bhimpalasi - Amanda MacBlane review
Puriya Dhanashri - Amanda MacBlane review
Gangadhara - Amanda MacBlane review
Mian Ki Malhar - Randy Nordschow review
Dhani - Frank Oteri review
One of A Kind - Amanda MacBlane essay
If My Life Were A Movie - Amanda MacBlane essay
Globe Trotters and Jet Setters - Amanda MacBlane essay
Amanda has worked for several other prominent music organizations since NewMusicBox, including Lincoln Center. One may only hope she might again have opportunity to write about my music. Her uncanny insights rendered as beautifully as poetry are dearly missed. I'd settle for a book about my music, a perfect match and challenge for her creative and intellectual abilities, as opposed to more common and expected projects. This is a general idea raised in a more recent review of the Tunis Phantom album, the difference being the most welcome suggestion that a graduate student make my music the subject of a dissertation. I've been fortunate to interact with leading figures in the music world like Lee Konitz, Ray Manzarek and John Cage, and I consider MacBlane at that level.
Amanda is a Cornell graduate, as is my childhood best friend, Richard Ellenson, who coined the term: "It's not TV. It's HBO," and later owned a leading advertising company in NYC. Bob Longhi, a legendary figure in both the insurance and restaurant business, and the person who introduced me to George Harrison, one of a number of his friends who were among the most accomplished people in the world, was yet another Cornell alumni. I suppose you might say I'm a fan of the place. They're obviously doing something right there.
- Michael Robinson, June 2020, Los Angeles
© 2020 Michael Robinson All rights reserved
Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).