Writings about Music
What I Did
Michael Robinson (Los Angeles)
An Indian conch shell conjures an arsenal of metal, wood, and skin percussion from Japan, Indonesia, China, Korea, Africa, the Near East, Brazil, and Cuba forged into two contrapuntal voices.
An early piano teacher, Barney Bragin, taught me to draw a line through staves as opposed to the more conventional circle. He believed this was closer to the tiny circles Johann Sebastian Bach used.
When I studied with Mel Powell at CalArts, he couldn't stand the lines, and would fill them in with circles whenever I was asked to make notations on the blackboard. It seemed like Powell mentioned the name of his composition teacher, Paul Hindemith, at least once every few minutes.
But the serial music Powell insisted upon teaching me actually made me feel nauseous, and I turned down the graduate school scholarship and left, ending up working at Patelson's.
I sometimes wonder if Arnold Schoenberg might have preferred Indian ragas, if he had known about them, over atonal rows given how both are essentially pitch sequences, the former also avoiding conventional Western harmony being essentially a modal form of music. And a number of the more abstract ragas actually mask where the "tonic" is, too.
A professor friend at a famed university told me the music department there decided not to teach Indian classical music because it was considered too difficult for students. In this regard, I was very fortunate, studying privately with legendary teachers and musicians.
My perceptions of Indian classical music found synergistic commonalities with the American jazz already a central part of my being.
Rock is another essential part of my musical identity, including personal experiences with Ray Manzarek and George Harrison, both of them deeply touched by Indian classical music, too, of course.
Sea Changes describes how I shaped music composition and performance.
- Michael Robinson, November 2020, Los Angeles
© 2020 Michael Robinson All rights reserved
Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).