Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
When I was three years old, my parents bought a piano for the home. I sat down at the piano and immediately started playing. I remember saying to myself “I’ve done this before”.
Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer and pianist?
As I say in my concerts, I have been influenced by everyone, admired many, but I listen to no other music except my own. My most significant musical influence was Phil Cohen, director of the Leonardo Project at Concordia University who re-trained me after i developed tendonitis in my early 20’s. My most significant collaboration is with Klaus Hoch, my director-producer and the co-developer of the Refractor Piano™.
What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?
Certainly, not being able to perform for over a decade due to my tendonitis was a huge challenge. However, if this had not happened, I would never have learned about humility and appreciation.I choose not to dwell on the negative elements, only the joys of creating!
Tell us more about your Refractor Piano™ and your “Refracted Music”….
I always strive to swim the uncharted waters. Although I had worked extensively with synths, samplers, and virtual instruments, as technology developed and more people started using them, I realized this was my time to create yet another genre that had never been done before. I set up the criteria that this new instrument, The Refractor Piano™ and the music that comes from it, would be completely “live: no pre-recorded tracks, no synths, samples, or virtual instruments: just an acoustic piano being fed into the Refractor. I design the sounds for each piece in software, then use various live- performance techniques including pedals, faders, and the piano itself to constantly modify and “Refract” the sounds and of course, the music Klaus Hoch,was “instrumental” in shrinking the physical footprint, developing the software, and refining the “environments” that I use to create the compositions. Each piece has its own refracted world and each composition is very different. It really doesn’t fit into a specific genre…one has to experience it. It is not “sound design, new age, or any other type of passive music.
For me, it is a great challenge combining composition, performance, improvisation, programming, and the aleatoric nature of this new instrument. If one hears one of my pieces 10 times,they will certainly recognize it through the motifs, melodies, and sounds, but the internal structure of the piece will be different every time.
As a composer, how do you work?
Each composition is different, but I use the Taoist concept “let your mind be empty…” then whatever fills it becomes the starting place. Once I have the initial idea, it’s a lot like the great sculptor Henry Moore’s quote: “How do I sculpt a face? I just remove anything that is not a face”. Usually for me, it’s about removing anything that doesn’t fit or lead to a direct musical experience within the composition. Because traditional notation is useless with the Refractor Piano™, I have developed many ways of documenting what I am doing. I then constantly record and make adjustments in order to see the progression of the piece.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Please listen to your inner voice..it will tell you what to do, where to go. Understand that this voice will constantly change and develop as your life experiences happen. Everyone will have an opinion… yours is the one that matters. Be humble and open to others. Be appreciative for everything that you have!
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
I do not think of the future or the past…we only have the present, so make the most of every day.
What is your present state of mind?
I get to create music that has never existed before now. I get to share it with new people who are profoundly moved by it. I get to experience life with joy and exuberance…what could be better?
Peter Manning Robinson is a pianist, an Emmy and multiple BMI award winning composer, inventor of The Refractor PianoTM and vegan chef. Performing live with his newly created Refractor PianoTM, Peter plays a new style of music called “Refracted Music”. Without prerecorded tracks, triggered samples, external sounds or MIDI instruments, he creates a unique new music using only an acoustic piano that is “refracted” during his live performances. Peter’s foundations in classical structure and jazz improvisation induce a transcendent musical experience.
Peter Manning Robinson was born in Chicago and grew up in Vancouver, Canada and Los Angeles, California. Peter started playing the piano at age 3 and began performing with bands by the time he was 12. Though touring and playing in clubs at a young age, he still managed to receive formal music training at USC and Berklee College of Music in Boston. He has performed and recorded with such jazz greats as Ernie Watts, Phil Woods and Freddie Hubbard. Peter’s film and television scores have won him many awards including an Emmy Award for KABC’s Above and Belowand five BMI Music Awards for Without a Trace. His orchestral works have been recorded by members of the London Philharmonic, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and Musica Nova.
In his early 20s, Peter developed severe tendonitis and was told by numerous doctors he would never be able to perform live again. Still able to play for short periods of time, he immersed himself in session work and film scores but was determined to resume live concertizing. Through a mutual friend, Peter met Phil Cohen, Founder/Artistic Director of the Leonardo Project at Concordia University in Montreal. After evaluating Peter, Phil told him he could retrain him but he would have to, in Phil’s words: “unlearn everything you know about playing the piano.” Peter agreed and through Phil’s techniques, he developed a completely new way of playing within a year.
During this time Peter continued to evolve his already healthy lifestyle to encompass vegan food, meditation, yoga, kickboxing and growing his own herbs and produce. An accomplished vegan chef, he uses a unique nutritional regimen to keep his mind, body and spirit optimally fit. Peter views both his Refractor Piano™ and his kitchen as “laboratories” where his complex cooking recipes inspire new music compositions and vice versa.
He met director and filmmaker Klaus Hoch while scoring Klaus’s film Flypaper andreconnected in 2010 to collaborate on the creation of the Refractor Piano™. The Refractor Piano™ is the culmination of Peter’s lifelong work and experimentation with alternative forms of musical instruments (acoustic, Asian and electronic). In April 2016, Peter presented his acclaimed debut concert with The Refractor Piano™ at Bergamot Station, Santa Monica incorporating both his Refractor Piano™ and acoustic piano compositions with unique visual elements.
The Refractor Piano™ Refractor Music
The Refractor Piano™ is an acoustic piano (usually a Steinway), fitted with transducers and microphones, whose live sound is “refracted” through a unique, proprietary system of hardware and software created by pianist-composer Peter Manning Robinson and codeveloped by filmmaker Klaus Hoch.
Mimicking visual refraction or quantum refraction, the instrument, when played by Peter, is capable of generating a remarkable array of never heard before sounds. The music incorporates both composition and improvisation and while each piece is always recognizable, the “refraction” process makes each performance unique and never an exact reproduction. One can think of the “refraction” process as layers of sound that are uniquely manipulated, morphed and layered. These sounds create chambers that open and flow, in numerous ways, to other chambers that can exist individually or intersect and “refract” each other. This creates an ever-changing, evolving sound.
Peter decides which elements to “refract” in real time and “rides the refractions” as he and The Refractor Piano™ bends and morphs the sound. These new textures form the distinct instruments and voices of each composition. Using the entire piano inside and out with his fingers, mallets, and other implements, Peter conjures never heard before sounds in this new type of music. Thus Peter is functioning as a composer, pianist, and conductor in real time. With compositional foundations in classical structure and jazz improvisation, the new “Refractor Music” played by Peter creates a truly unique, transcendent live music experience. “Refractor Music” needs to be heard live!
(Photo: Michael Reuter)