ArtsATL > Music > Concert preview: Music pioneer Dick Robinson still performing, improvising and “having fun” at 88

Concert preview: Music pioneer Dick Robinson still performing, improvising and “having fun” at 88

Robinson in his home studio. (Photo by Mark Gresham)
Dick Robinson, whose music has been strongly influenced by the visual arts (especially Wassily Kandinsky), will perform with composer Pedro Rivadeneira in a concert of improvised electronic music on Sunday in Decatur. (Photo by Mark Gresham)

When Dick Robinson came to Atlanta in 1951 to join the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra as a violinist, he brought with him his skills as a composer. In the six decades since, he has been a persistent if often reclusive creative undercurrent in the city’s new-music scene. Though long retired from the ASO and nearing his 89th birthday in July, he hasn’t stopped composing, collaborating or improvising. On Sunday, June 10, at 5 p.m., Robinson will team up with composer Pedro Rivadeneira for a concert of completely improvised live electronic music at Sycamore Place Gallery in Decatur. Admission is $10.

This will be their first live public collaboration, although the two have recorded improvisations in Robinson’s studio. The concert will mostly involve digitally generated real-time audio synthesis, with Robinson using Kyma software on his laptop computer and Rivadeneira playing both electric guitar and a laptop armed with SuperCollider software.

Simultaneously with the concert, Sycamore Place Gallery is exhibiting visual artworks by Robinson, Lucy Stovall, ArtsATL’s own Jerry Cullum and others.

Born in Chicago to parents who were both doctors, Robinson experienced firsthand the Windy City’s artistic ferment in his youth. He was introduced by a friend to the work of great visual artists through the Art Institute of Chicago.

When World War II erupted, Robinson was 18 and the ideal age for military service. But he was one inch too short to be inducted and, instead, studied mechanical engineering. After two years, he gave that up to seriously pursue the violin, which he had played since age 12, and become a professional classical musician.

When he moved to Atlanta to join the ASO, he found that the city wasn’t exactly anxious for his modernist artistic perspectives. When he couldn’t find composers in Atlanta who were interested in the avant-garde, he began to hang out with a handful of visual artists. Notable among them was the young Judith Alexander, whose New Arts Gallery showed work by significant modern artists such as Jasper Johns, Jackson Pollock, Jim Dine, Ellsworth Kelly and Franz Kline from 1957 to 1964, when it closed.

Visual arts have always informed Robinson’s musical sensibilities. He considers himself a visile composer, one whose music is inspired as much visually as aurally. That explains his affinity for abstract art, he says, because he thinks it’s closer to music. He has also found himself greatly influenced by the art and writings of Wassily Kandinsky, who believed that all art tends toward music.

“Many years ago [the High Museum] had two shows of Kandinsky while I was still in the Symphony,” says Robinson. “Some days, instead of eating, I would go over there between rehearsals and soak it up.”

His work as a composer began with writing for traditional acoustic instruments, then moved into electronic music in the 1960s, largely inspired by Robert Moog. Even though he composes computer music now, Robinson shies away from describing himself as being on Atlanta’s cutting edge. “I’m sort of a ‘classical’ avant-gardist,” he says. “I really don’t have a background in computer science like many younger people do. So I do my own thing.”

He says he was attracted by the complexity of electronic music. “It really goes back to early influences. Webern and Stockhausen influenced me. The complexity that I was drawn to back in the ’60s and ’70s was, around here, impossible to play. I was pretty much, as is my preference, isolated from what was going on. The acceptance of contemporary music is much wider now.”

Over the decades, Robinson’s music has been performed in North American colleges and in Europe. And he has a long list of collaborations and a wide range of musicians he has performed with, including Col. Bruce Hampton and Pauline Oliveros. “I’ve always improvised, and have collaborated since the ‘70s without the thought of anything more than having fun,” he says. 


With Dick Robinson & Pedro Rivadeneira

Sunday, June 10, 2012 at 5 p.m.

Sycamore Place Gallery

120 Sycamore Place

Decatur, GA 30030

Info: 404-660-9967 or

Admission: $10

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