A composition inspired by midnight on the island of Maui, and played on a variety of instruments I can neither pronounce nor spell, Michael Robinson‘s Nightmarchers is an album unlike any other I’ve heard whilst writing for A Closer Listen, and for a long time before that, probably since Moondog. It’s a written work, made up of three movements (you can view the score on his site), and as far as I can tell was recorded layer upon layer by Robinson himself. Yet it sounds like it is the work of a group of musicians – maybe from Hawaii, maybe not – improvising together to create a bed of dense percussion; then a lead instrument joins the party. It’s a stringed instrument on the first movement, then the more identifiable clarinet and trumpet make an appearance.
Despite the source of inspiration – Robinson was alone, away from man-made light, looking up at the stars and trying to formulate music from their patterns – the music itself seems to spring from lengthy communal nighttime sessions around a campfire. There’s a degree more formality to the composed piece, with every note placed just so, and it doesn’t quite have that loose-limbed swing you might expect from musicians just playing rather than following a score. But what you get instead is an insistent, almost hypnotic pulse that can snap into a rhythm when all the notes are aligned, and when that happens it’s just wonderful.
Nightmarchers is over too soon, in just over half-an-hour, but it leaves a deep impression and there’s plenty to take from the music over repeated listens – just try following each instrument on repeated for an immersive and enlightening experience. Although Robinson’s notes are informative, it’s easy to enjoy the record without the context, as it’s a fascinating account of percussive complexity. (Jeremy Bye)