Writings about Music

Mesmeric Mantra Enchants Even Ravens

Thanks for bringing up Mantra. I had never listened to the complete composition before, and put it on before taking a late afternoon nap. Then, I was interrupted by strangely beautiful bird tones coming through the open windows, and, astonishingly, a group of twelve or more (thirteen?) ravens had congregated on the telephone wires bordering my property, seemingly entranced by the loud-playing music (some nap!), including one of the ravens joining in with his or her own counterpoint, sounding like an exotic pitched guiro. This was extraordinary because I’ve only heard angry sounding tones from ravens before, and the impression was that Stockhausen’s music had managed to charm something seemingly demonic, transforming it into an enchanted songbird! (Thirteen is mentioned as a possibility because that is the number Mantra is based upon, but not recalling this at the time I spied the ravens, they were not counted carefully.)

No doubt, our regard for ravens has been unfair, colored by Edgar Allan Poe. Native Americans regarded ravens as gods who gifted fire to humans, having stolen it from the sun. Ravens were also believed to be masters of transformation, something my experience related above would appear to confirm.

Getting back to Mantra, my impression is that this was an admirable foray into a Lennie Tristano-pigmented jazz, and the electronic component was the composer's response to Jimi Hendrix.

My absolute favorite composition by Karlheinz Stockhausen, who I once ought to be mentored by, remains Zodiac, but only in its original design for twelve music boxes built to play twelve distinct compositions each representing signs of the zodiac.

The first and only time I heard the original Zodiac was on Carl Stone’s (alternating with Bonnie Barnett) Imaginary Landscape, KPFK Pacifica in Los Angeles, radio program, introduced by Carl’s guest, Art Jarvinen, a percussionist and composer I attended CalArts with.

The magic of Zodiac is how it both captures and transcends the template of our time with the composer creating the performance to be played in real time by the instrument itself without any intervention from musicians or the composer, which would wake the music from its ecstatic dream.

What’s uncanny about Zodiac is how the music boxes seem to come alive, as if Karlheinz had gifted them with what is known in Africa as numinoisity. This remains the formidable challenge I personally enjoy engaging with using technology I have named the Meruvina, which I brought into the studio for live performances on Carl’s show several times after hearing the Stockhausen music.

- Michael Robinson, May 2015, Los Angeles

© 2015 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Dear Michael,

beautiful to read!!

In Inda cows, snakes and ravens are considered closest to human beings, with human emotions….

So this is sure proof!

Thanks for this. It made the night!

Mit herzlichem Gruß

Kathinka Pasveer

Stockhausen-Stiftung für Musik


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