Peter Manning Robinson Celestial Candy

Peter Manning Robinson Turns His Piano Into a Prism on ‘Celestial Candy’

Peter Manning Robinson’s Celestial Candy is an album unlike any other. It takes one of Western music’s oldest instruments and gives it an intensely new twist.

Celestial Candy
Peter Manning Robinson
Owl Walk Records
6 May 2022

Peter Manning Robinson creates very unusual music. The genre of the music isn’t what’s so unusual, but instead, its execution. Solo instrumental piano music that incorporates influences from modern classical and new age jazz harmonies is not a new thing, but the Refractor Piano is. Trademarked by Robinson, this modified instrument is responsible for the distorted piano sounds coming out of your speakers when listening to an album like Celestial Candy. If you’re wondering what a Refractor Piano is, the album’s press release defines it as “an acoustic grand piano (usually a Steinway), fitted with transducers and microphones, whose live sound is ‘refracted’ through a unique, proprietary system of hardware and software created by pianist-composer Peter Manning Robinson and co-developed by producer-filmmaker-guitarist Klaus Hoch”.

If this sounds confusing or unhelpful, the word “refracted” should be enough to give you a clue as to how Robinson’s music sounds. Like a light striking a prism, the notes from Robinson’s piano bounce outward in a dazzling array of colors. At times, the music conjured can be reminiscent of John Cage’s prepared piano works, with the sound of piano strings banging on metal. At other times, the pitch will bend at least twice during the duration of a concise note. Then you’ll swear that three instruments are being played at once, with only one of them sounding like a conventional piano. If there is any minimalism here, it’s confined to the composer’s left hand. Everything else about Celestial Candy, an oddly fitting album title, is straight out of the school of Why Not More? After all, this manner of sweet tooth indulgence won’t give you any decay.

When the album starts with “An Hour on Earth”, nothing will seem amiss for the first 11 seconds. It sounds like George Winston on a sunny day up to that point. Then one of the notes will warble before the lower register takes on a percussive role. Robinson’s cascading chords become warped little by little, taking a subtle approach before letting the listener know that there’s no way Winston will be showing up today. The quickly paced jumps of “Plateau of Mirrors”, a title that is likely a nod to Harold Budd and Brian Eno, showcase Robinson’s musicianship lest it becomes forgotten in the sea of refracting technology. “Mellifluous” takes a gamble with its title, mixing pleasing piano runs with twinkling ornamentals that verge on chaos. 

“Anjo Dancando”, “Vanishing”, and “Sirens of the Sun” are the three selections that find Robinson playing a straight, unaffected piano. Their placement within Celestial Candy tracks three, six, and nine, respectively, help to break apart any dizzying effect the Refractor Piano may have on the listener. The song that may make or break a listener’s sense of overall appreciation is “Obelisk”, a layering of processed vocals that sounds like something from a 1970s Parliament record. Seriously, it’s as if George Clinton and Bootsy Collins ran into the studio, screwed around for an hour, and left. Combine funk-hop with Robinson’s bent runs from Herbie Hancock’s Headhunter era, and you’ve got one magnificent diversion.

Regardless of your feelings about “Obelisk”, and whether or not you choose to include it in your playlist, Celestial Candy remains an album unlike any other. Robinson has taken one of Western music’s oldest instruments and given it an intensely original new twist. That alone would be worth something if the music of Celestial Candy were mediocre. Luckily, it isn’t, meaning that the extra refractions expound on existing strengths.

RATING 7 / 10
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