Video Interview with Jason Robinson

March 6, 2018

Robinson's concert-length suite Resonant Geographies, released on March 1, 2018, from pfMENTUM, was composed during 2015 and 2016, acts as a meditation on the relationship between geography and personal history, structure and expression.

Professor Jason Robinson’s earliest memories revolve around music. He recalls growing up in Northern California and riding his bicycle past the prison immortalized in Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.”

His father, a rock guitarist and songwriter, often invited Robinson into his studio. “I remember as a little kid helping mix things,” Robinson says. “I feel at home in a recording studio.”

It’s no surprise that music has remained an integral part of Robinson’s life. Now assistant professor of music at Amherst, Robinson has a bachelor's, master's and PhD in music. He plays a variety of instruments in numerous music groups, and is the founder of the independent record label Circumvention Music, which released his first studio album, From the Sun (1998).

Now, he has recorded his fifteenth studio album, Resonant Geographies, which he began composing in 2015. “The album is a glimpse into research for someone like me,” he says.

Robinson and his band, the Janus Ensemble, performed "Resonant Geographies" in Brooklyn, New York's ShapeShifter Lab on January 4.<br>Photo by Scott Friedlander (c) 2016

The themes and concepts Robinson explores in his compositions directly connect to the histories he explores in his written scholarship. “I’ve researched telematic performances"—which make use of telecommunications to connect performers in separate locations—"and use it in the classes I teach and as a creative practitioner,” he says. “I’ve written about Jamaican music, and tour with a reggae group. And I’ve published on the jazz avant-garde, which is a big touchstone in my creative work.”

Resonant Geographies is an example of the latter. It’s a concert-length suite of compositions—“difficult and layered music,” he says—for jazz improvisers. Composed of seven movements inspired by places in California and Massachusetts, Robinson says, “the album serves as an autobiographical sound map of some of my life experiences.”

Though Robinson cites the idea of place as a musical influence, he also notes that the album is not a soundscape project. “I’m not trying to replicate the literal acoustic environment of a place,” he says. “Instead I’m thinking on the level of metaphor and how different ideas of form and structure might be inspired by a place.” 

Resonant Geographies also connects to the courses Robinson teaches at Amherst. “My improvisation music seminar course is in there, and the jazz courses I teach are in there as well. Teaching and the two components of my research are totally interrelated. I teach courses that draw from both my written scholarship and creative practice.”

Robinson employs student interns for a variety of research-related projects each semester. For Resonant Geographies, he worked with music major Jamie Sandel ’17, who oversaw some of the organizational aspects of recording the album.

“Sharing this part of my work with students is a real thrill for me,” Robinson says. “And it offers them a glimpse into just one of the many possible ways in which music might be central to their life after Amherst."

Related Content

Music major Jamie Sandel '17 assisted with the recording of Robinson's fifteenth studio album "Resonant Geographies."<br>Photo by Scott Friedlander (c) 2016

Listen to Resonant Geographies

Robinson's album is comprised of seven individual movements, including "Futures Unimagined," inspired by the history and topography of The Quabbin Reservoir in Western Massachusetts, and "Facing East," inspired by the Presidio, in San Francisco, California. 

Jason Robinson

Futures Unimagined
(Quabbin Reservoir, 2012)

Jason Robinson

Facing East
(Presidio, 1981)

Jason Robinson TEDxAmherstCollege talk

Robinson's TEDxAmherst talk

In 2013, Robinson delivered a talk about telematic performances, which make use of telecommunications to connect performers in separate locations.