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Bio

by Hawke Robinson last modified Nov 11, 2015 04:16 AM
As per request, Here is an attempt at my music-related biography. I am a little nervous about how open this auto-biography is, but the more personal parts are a key piece of my development, the several near-death experiences, and how the ups and downs in my life have shaped me, especially with my music, so while a LOT is still left out, I hope folks appreciate the candor, and do not hold it against me. Be warned, the music albums linked to in the early years are very poor quality. Anyhow, here goes...

BeardedLaughingOnDeckBorn on 9-11 in 1970, the eldest of three children, I am Originally from California, and spent my formative years in Santa Rosa.

In ‘74, I began learning both ballet and martial arts (initially Aikido, then later Kung-fu and other styles). We would travel to San Francisco regularly for these lessons. I continued my martial arts training on and off in various styles from '74 through '89, then again in '00 through '10. At the peak of training, from '77 through '83, I had periods of intense training of about 8 hours per day, 6 days per week. Some of the training included various meditative disciplines, including classical intensive Zen styles. This is partly where the “Zen” of “Synthetic Zen” comes from

From '78 through 2000, we lived in Utah, to be near my mother’s family of Irish miners, and I worked summers at the family mine in the wilderness of central Idaho from '79 through '87. The Lost Packer Mine is located in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, Loon Creek area. The second largest wilderness are in the USA, second only to the Mojave Desert area. As nice as it was to be near family, I found myself leaving Utah as frequently as possible, spending months at a time in various locations around the country, often adventuring in the mountains, deserts, and elsewhere. Living in Utah, I especially missed the ocean, and frequently went hiking and took road trips—both alone and with friends—as often as I could. I particularly enjoyed wilderness survival "adventures". In 2004, my travels landed me in Spokane.

I first began casually playing music as a child, From time I was 9, until I was 11, I loved the piano lessons, which were taught by my mother's accompanist, Charlotte Walker. She was a dynamic, warm, encouraging, energetic teacher, who made music fun. My mother also speaks of the years I would improvise on the piano, making “storm music". This has definitely come out in my compositions decades later. Unfortunately, due to Charlotte's busy schedule I later had to switch to some other piano teacher, and he was the exact opposite of Charlotte,:cold and aloof. He had a terse German accent and gave lessons hi his museum-like house, which was surrounded by black wrought-iron fencing and was guarded by a pair of unfriendly Dobermans. While his lessons did help me improve my technique, music wasn't fun anymore, and since I didn't have any musical career aspirations at that time, I quit after a few months when he whacked my hands with a stick for making mistakes.

My mother, an opera singer in the Utah Opera also played guitar and our home was always filled with music. Mom even had a chance to sing with The Met, but as a single mother chose her kids first (thank goodness she made us her priority!). Instead of going to the Met, she formed and ran a music group, performing at cathedrals and special events for a number of years. She later became president of the Arizona opera company until she nearly died in 2006. She mostly recovered, but needed to retire after that incident. Unfortunately she no longer sings.

I grew up listening to opera and Broadway tunes. I really didn't listen to contemporary popular music until my mid-to-late-teens.; instead, I would regularly attend my mother's rehearsals, and she was always practicing with her various groups at the house.

When I worked at mine, my older cousin Matt frequently introduced me to "real" old school Western music, Bluegrass, and The Grateful Dead.

In 6th grade, before my voice changed, I sang Schubert's Ave Maria, solo, in front of the whole school. I don't recall being nervous about it at all, and apparently it went well. I had a very high boy-soprano voice back then.

However, somewhere along the line, after my voice changed to a bass-baritone all in one year, I became far less confident about singing in front of people, since the changes made my voice completely unpredictable. Even now, while I don’t experience stage fright when acting , speaking in public but singing solo in front of an audiece seems to terrify me. Despite this phobia, I do sing for an audience with the opportunity presents itself, but I'm usually exhausted afterwards.

Because of this phobia, I focused more on musical instruments for a long time.Synthetic Zen Terra Panorama Album Cover 01

In 1988, the Christmas just before I moved out on my own, I received my first guitar, it was a wonderful present from my mother, a Yamaha CG-120 classical guitar. It has a wonderful warm tone, and I still play it almost nightly, sometimes playing myself to sleep.

Over the years, Rob—a long-time friend—helped me learn a lot of rock cover songs from Zeppelin, Floyd, Hendrix, and others. While I have always been a bit slow when reading music, I can pick up most things fairly quickly by listening and watching.

Rob and I would jam all the time. Though he was far more skilled, we had some great synergy, and we were as a duo the "Synthetic Potatoes" , often coming-up with music with a humorous twist. (Synthetic Potatoes)

For many years I lived a pretty wild life, especially '85 through '95, with the worst of those years spanning '87 through '92. I had quite a few very close near-death experiences (mostly from stupid things I did), and many of the people I knew from those "wild days", are no more. I still don't know how I survived. I have long since mellowed; especially once I became a parent and my children became my primary focus. However, living life so intensely has left me with a huge repertoire of life experiences to draw upon that certainly comes out in my music.

In food, life, and music, I enjoy "many layers of flavors". You know when you eat something really exceptional, and it passes through 2, 3, even 4+ stages of flavorful experiences? That is what I also try to replicate in much of music. Though other times I like to just get back to basics and keep it simple, including solo instrumentals and even some a cappella.

When composing, I mostly struggle with the fact that most people can only experience about 2-4 distinct layers of sound at most, while I typically enjoy 5-7+ distinct layers. I like to feel music through every part of my body on many levels.That being the case I often need to to reduce the number of musical layers in my compositions so as not to overload listeners. Admittedly, however, sometimes I just go for it anyway. This usually means others might need to listen to a piece several times, focusing on different layers of different portions, to follow the various musical ideas being expressed.

Though I am not Deaf or hard of hearing I particularly relate to Evelyn Glennie, the Scottish orchestral solo master performance percussionist, who is Deaf. She plays barefoot, and has developed her sensitivity to sound so that her entire body is effectively an "ear", feeling all the different vibrations, far beyond what those who rely on the narrow experience of ears-only I really enjoy music that I can experience that way myself, feeling it throughout my body. Glennie illustrates this beautifully in the music Bio/Documentary "Touch the Sound", which is well worth watching and listening to.

Back in the late 80's and early 90's I formed a small no-name band. We played mostly ‘60s and ‘70s rock cover tunes at the Salt Lake Community College quad and "Gong Show" type events, as well as some other small local gigs. I was the lead guitarist, even though I'd only been playing about a year, and we had a "backup" guitarist who had more experience than I, but who preferred playing rhythm over lead. We also had an experienced keyboardist, a bass player named "Torg" who looked like a big blond barbarian, and—after months of searching—we finally had a drummer as well. The drummer had been playing guitar professionally for more than 20 years, but wanted a change. Much to my surprise, although I was by far the least experienced musician, yet it was somehow "my band". This band lasted for a few years until some rough times ( caused by some dumb choices on my part) led to my being homeless for the first time, and survival became the priority. Unfortunately, the band fell apart and I lost touch with my bandmates. Muses of the Early Days Album Cover Sheas Place 20140421a

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In 1991 while working as a full time professional photographer, and occasional mechanic, I picked up a few more instruments. Especially significant was getting my hands on a Yamaha M2HB 4 track (6-input) cassette recorder. I spent endless hours creating new kinds of experimental music, that I call "improv multi-tracking I would lay down an improvisational track (drums, bass guitar, rhythm guitar), and then play along, adding more layers with each instrument or experimental sounds, such as voice or microphone feedback to amp with echo effect to create a whalesong efect. I also experimented with reverse/forward mixed tracks, etc. I still often do the digital equivalent of this today, so many of the pieces you’ll hear have been composed in this semi-improvisational way.

Occasionally, I have played as a solo guitarist and singer at a few local coffee shops, including the Java Jive in Sugarhouse. This was a good place, with inexpensive good food (really good bread bowls and soup!), nice folks, really supportive owner, and some incredible jazz and ragtime performers.

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I also played with some of the "Minstrel Guild" members at the very active local Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), including some of their parties after their massive battles in remote locations, meeting some really talented musicians who were into period pieces of music, and many of whom learned to build instruments such as lyres, flutes, harps, etc., from scratch.

Synthetic Zen Melancholy Album Cover 20090129a 550w707h300dNear the end of 1991, more of my bad decisions caught up with me, and I lost just about everything. My photography equipment was stolen, I lost my jobs and contracts (can't shoot as a photographer without my equipment), lost my apartment, and I was without any income for several months, while still trying to pay $1,700 per month in fines & restitution. I was looking at some serious prison time, and was homeless, from November through February, during the bitter Northern Utah winters. Initially sleeping on the streets, waking up covered in snow, I managed to somehow stay alive and stay out of prison. No one would hire me because I was on probation. Finally I found a job in January and began working double- and triple-shifts at 7-11, though it was almost February before my first paycheck—most of which went straight to paying fines, leaving little left over for food, and none for shelter.

Fortunately I eventually managed to get back on my feet enough after a few months, and slowly, put my life back together a little piece at a time. It was during this time I started composing a lot more of my own vocal and guitar solos, many of them, not surprisingly, are quite dark, including a number about the homeless community and people that I saw, but from whom I generally remained separate. However, I didn't have any means to record anything during this time period;it would be months, if not years before I could do so. My music of this time can be found on my 1995 to 1999 Melancholy album, and on the 2004 to 2012 Zenthesis )album. I still haven't really recorded good versions of those, and there are still many pieces composed from this time period I haven't recorded at all yet.

Finally, around late February or early March of 1992, a regular late night bartender and cab driver offered a room at his apartment as a roommate, which finally gave me some shelter. It wasHawkeHalloween7 11Clerk

while I was at 7-11 that a regular would come in during my primary shift (the graveyard shift), and share music tapes with me, eventually creating mix tapes. He introduced me to many styles of music, Skinny Puppy, Depeche Mode,

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Bauhaus, and many others. For me, the most significant of these was the duo Dead Can Dance. In the later months, as the weather improved, I carried a used Fender 1- string acoustic guitar (which I still own) on my back everywhere, walking around town and on the bus. People around town started to recognize me as "that tall skinny guy with the 12-string" over all over town. I was 6'8" and 160 lbs during this time starving months, and even at my heaviest was usually only able to get up to 180 . Boy has that changed! :-)

I think a critical part of my survival during that time period was music.

Later that Fall I finally had enough to get my own apartment. As I walked around town with my guitar on my back, I would run into various musicians and aspiring musicians, we would talk and sometimes I would ask them to come over to my apartment to jam. A few times we recorded these rough early improvisational sessions. (1993 to 2004, Meanderings).

From 1992-1995, I taught automotive, graphics design, and worked security, maintenance, and odd computer jobs, and did music was relegated to the side, with only the occasional gig. Interestingly,

Though I was self-taught on everything except my rudimentary piano lessons, I slowly racked up more than 30+ guitar students, teaching them beginner and intermediate guitar and bass guitar

My approach was to figure out exactly why they wanted to play music, what style they wanted to start with, and what some favorite pieces they wanted to be able to play. Then, I would quickly learn those pieces, and mix them in between the fundamental exercises, teaching them at first simplified versions of the songs and styles they wanted, then slowly increasing the complexity as their abilities improved.

Too many times I've run into people who were given all the "hard work" up front, and they never got that musical connection that fired them up, so they quit; most regret having done so.

Meanderings Album Cover 20140421aMy philosophy has been to first "get people hooked" on making music, so they quickly fall in love with it, and only then bringing on the harder work that is required for true mastery. It seemed to work quite well. This approach meant I rarely had a problem with students not practicing between lessons.

A number of my students were very noticeably much more naturally talented than I was once they had the basics under their belt. They picked up in weeks exercises that took me months or years to develop to the same level of proficiency. When they reached sufficient proficiency, I would refer them to more advanced musicians to further their instruction.

Two of my students later reported back that they went on to join USO tours, and several went on to make a modest but full-time living in music.

In the summer of '93 I met that same summer, the woman what would 2 years later become my first wife and mother to 3 wonderful boys.

That same year, I was given an old Amiga 2000 and I began dabbling with electronic music with such tools as Sonix 2.0. This Amiga is still running (with a number of upgrades)! Some of these pieces can be heard on my 1989 to 1994 Terra Panorama album.

In early '95 I married, and by December our first son was born. As he was on the way during her pregnancy, I decided I needed to provide a more stable income for the soon-to-be family than the mish-mash of jobs I had been doing.,so I focused on information technology and computer science.

I quickly climbed the career ladder but I rarely had time for sleep, let alone music.Still, I managed to still compose and record during those years , as evidenced by pieces on both my Melancholy and Zenthetic albums. This is when I began to take my composition with electronic music to a nZenthetic Album Cover 20150508aew level, using many tols, but most notably the Harmony Assistant by Myriad Software, a small company in France, this software (which runs on Windows, Mac, and my favorite Operating System (OS) Linux) is designed for musicians with far more technical music theory background than I had, but I managed to muddle through, combining electronic and acoustic music, and learned to improve recording/production quality.Hawke suit Tucson Christmas

I rarely had time for sleep, let alone music.Still, I managed to still compose and record during those years , as evidenced by pieces on both my Melancholy and Zenthetic albums. This is when I began to take my composition with electronic music to a new level, using many tools, but most notably the Harmony Assistant by Myriad Software, a small company in France, this software (which runs on Windows, Mac, and my favorite Operating System (OS) Linux) is designed for musicians with far more technical music theory background than I had, but I managed to muddle through, combining electronic and acoustic music, and learned to improve recording/production quality.

Since then, I have been going to school very part time at Eastern Washington University. I am steadily chiseling away at a very credits-heavy (~240) Interdisciplinary degree in Recreation Therapy, Music Therapy, Neuroscience, and Research Psychology. I have about 2 years until I finish my Bachelor’s degree, and hope to go on to the Master’s program. I am registered with the Washington State Department of Health as a Recreation Therapist, and I periodically volunteer with many people from the special needs populations including: Autism spectrum, the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Cerebral Palsy, brain injury (TBI, stroke, etc.), Downs syndrome, at-risk youth, Parkinson's, and many others.

Since September of '07 I have been the single, full-time parent of my 3 wonderful boys, at that point ages 11, 9, and 7.

Synthetic Zen Be Album Cover Petit Chat 2012 06 02 20140319a bw greenI have now spent a couple of years taking music and music theory courses at EWU, and finally my music theory is stronger. This has helped me break through many walls I was hitting in my compositions, and I think anyone listening to my older music, pre-2004, and especially since 2012+, has hugely improved. I also took voice lessons from the wonderful Steve Mortier, who has really been an invaluable help. While I still have horrible performance anxiety singing in front of people, I have definitely been greatly helped by him

Synthetic Zen Buddhalicious Album Cover 20140319a

Since moving to Spokane, I have intermittently performed on air (NR and KYRS), various coffee shops, such as Kafka's in Cheney (now something else), Petit Chat, and elsewhere, as well as many performances at Eastern Washington University in the Concert Choir, and Composer's Symposium, etc. Some of these performances were recorded in the 2006 to 2012 album "Be".

I now play more than 20 instruments, as well as compose and perform electronic music. The instruments include but are not limited to: guitar, bass guitar, keyboard, various Native American wood flutes, African Djembe drum, computer / electronic music, synthesizers, harmonicas, Indian sitar, mandolin, Bodhran (Irish drum), Irish whistles, Middle-eastern Ney (reed flute), Didjeridoo, Native American Hoop Drum, Middle-eastern Midjwiz, Pakistani horn, and many other ethnic instruments, as well as some vocals.

I compose, record, and sometimes perform many styles including but not limited to classical, opera, blues, rock, folk, world, techno, trance, meditative, new age, and experimental music. Much of my music doesn't fit a specific genre, which is very problematic in trying to distribute and get air time, the industry keeps trying to force specific categories, and that is very problematic when each musical piece can span 2, 3, or more categories.

From 2004 through 2007 I was an Internet and terrestrial radio DJ and talk show host. First with NEKKID Radio out of Santiago Chile over the Internet, as "Dr Z & The Synthetic Zen Show", then overlapping with Spokane's KYRS with a show under the same name, PLUS "Tech Talk With Hawke", a show discussing technologies and their impact on privacy, security, and civil right rights.

I have reSynthetic Zen Zenthesis Album Cover 20140319acently had some new significant health issues really slowing me down, related to my lungs. It is hoped this will be turned around eventually, but the past 3 years have been very

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difficult. This has mostly prevented my being able to perform live, and intermittently restricted my ability to sing strongly. Meanwhile I have begun playing around with voice synthesizers such as Yamaha's Vocaloid, and other tools, to get around my lack of a female vocalist, and on the days I can't sing well enough to record, as place holders for hopefully better vocals down the road. I am still composing and recording frequently, and despite the health issues, still try to fit in the occasional performance when asked. Things are nowhere as bad as a year ago, so progress is being made, but getting older takes longer to recover. :-)

Some of my compositions have been crafted especially to achieve some specific goals. As a student in Music Therapy and Neuroscience, I am constantly learning about ways to impact the body and brain though the power of music, especially for aidingwith healing, trying to improve quality of life, and as an assisting tool. Since music can directly impact physiology and brain wave modes, it is a very  helpful and potentially powerful tool when used appropriately. Examples of assisting tools would be for example, I created Somniferous as an actual sleep aid for myself (and it seems to help others).  Other pieces I created to help  with achieving various emotional states, or more mundane goals such as with focusing on homework, and others to help energize to get through doing housework, yard work, etc.

Fromsynthetic zen bits and pieces album cover label 20141027b time to time I have jammed with a number of other musicians at various locations too, but unfortunately I still feel as though I haven't really yet found people with similar musical tastes. I hope someday to form a group along the lines of the incredibly talented duo of Dead Can Dance (Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry). Though it wouldn't be identical music, their approach with many very talented supporting musicians, and blend of ethnic and modern music, is very much in-line with what I dream some day of doing

with others. For now, I have had to learn the instruments myself. I hope someday to form a "band", which would be under my leadership, but with members sharing a similar vision to the style of music I am creating on my own, but made so much better by the incredible ideas and talent of musicians that are so much better than I.Synthetic Zen Buddhalicious Album Cover with Nada and Nettie 20150507e

From time to time I have jammed with a number of other musicians at various locations too, but unfortunately I still feel as though I haven't really yet found people with similar musical tastes. I hope some day to form a group along the lines of the incredibly talented duo of Dead Can Dance (Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry). Though it wouldn't be identical music, their approach with many very talented supporting musicians, and blend of ethnic and modern music, is very much in line with what I dream some day of doing

with others. For now, I have had to learn the instruments myself. I hope some day to form a "band", which would be under my leadership, but with members sharing a similar vision to the style of music I am creating on my own, but made so much better by the incredible ideas and talent of musicians that are so much better than I.

Synthetic Zen Zentastic Album Cover 20151006b 1280x1280x300Until then, I will keep trying to do the best to express what is in my head, heart, and spirit, as much as I can, on my own. Most notably, my composing has really been taking off in recent years. In quality, complexity, emotiveness, depth, duration, and quantity, it really feels like some huge improvements getting incrementally closer to expressing what is within, hoping it connects to more of those without

Wherever you may be, BE WELL!

-Hawke (Synthetic Zen) / Sunday, November 8th, 2015.Synthetic Zen Zentropy Temporary Album Cover 20151028e 1600sq