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Album Review: Double Helix
Peter Manning Robinson
Cover image of the album Double Helix by Peter Manning Robinson
Double Helix
Peter Manning Robinson
2020 / Heart Dance Records
72 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Double Helix is a two-disc collection of original music by Peter Manning Robinson, a multiple- award-winning pianist/composer best-known for his music for films and television. Disc 1 consists of eight tracks performed on a Refractor Piano™ (more about that in a sec) and Disc 2 is eight piano solos on an un-refracted piano. So what is a Refractor Piano™? Invented by Robinson and co-created with his friend, director and filmmaker Klaus Hoch, the Refractor Piano™ is a combination of hardware and software that allows Peter to create a whole new way of playing and composing music live with just an acoustic piano. To quote the explanation on his website, “Transducers attached to the piano allow the instrument to become ‘refracted’ live through a series of software and hardware chambers and channels. There are no pre-recorded tracks, synths, virtual instruments or triggered samples, just an acoustic piano. Peter then creates ‘environments’ or the unique alga-rhythms and sonic pathways that give each piece its distinct signature. He then controls the flow with pedals and the acoustic piano itself. The musical sounds build, morph, and interact with each other to create a unique tapestry. Although there are always distinct motifs and compositional development, no two performances of a piece are ever the same. The music assumes a life of its own, controlled and refracted by Peter. The instrument itself forces him to approach his music in new ways and in the process, creates a distinct new genre: Refractor Music’.”

Disc 1, the Refractor Piano™ disc, is a unique listening experience, and it’s hard to believe that an acoustic piano produced all of these sounds. The piano itself is a Steinway acoustic - no synths were used. The range of sounds and rhythms that flow in and out of this piano is mind-boggling, and there are several videos available that show Robinson playing it live. I highly recommend checking those out! “Surfing the Sunrise” is an almost euphoric expression of fun and excitement. A dancing melodic theme weaves in and out of percussive rhythms that merit a resounding “Wow!” “Secret Sauce” is a fascinating melange of rap/scat/vocalizations, driving beats, and piano jazz with a definite groove. “Moon Vines” smoothes out to an almost ambient style, although there is an easy rhythm that flows throughout - ethereal and very beautiful. “Fugitive Heart” kicks up the tempo to a lively and very playful groove, incorporating lots of otherworldly sounds. The driving “Dark Moon” is jazzy piano with lots of heavy percussion - again, how do all of these sounds come out of one piano? Amazing!

Disc 2 is titled “Transformational Explorations” and is original piano solos performed on an “unrefracted” piano. These beautiful pieces are on the quieter side - quite a change from Disc 1! “Labyrinth of Petals” has a peaceful delicacy and an easy flow - a soothing daydream of a piece. “Enigma” feels like a slow, relaxed improvised meditation at the piano, just letting the music flow as it wishes. “Swimming With Ghosts” is something of a swirling jazz waltz - lively yet dreamy. “Sweet Shadows” has a slow, gentle and freely-flowing movement that makes me think of an ethereal dance. “Inside Out” expresses graceful movement - perhaps ripples of tall grasses in a spring breeze or the ebb and flow of a peaceful ocean.

Double Helix is definitely for more adventurous listeners, but I have to say that I have really enjoyed my time with the album and look forward to hearing more unique music from Peter Manning Robinson! The album can be downloaded or streamed from a number of sites including Amazon, iTunes/Apple Music, and Spotify.
October 25, 2020
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