There is no past, only palimpsest

I once asked Madra, then in her late 80s and living in a retirement home, to tell me stories of her early days. She told me, “I’m too tired.” After she passed away, I cherished the short memoir she had written earlier in her life, and I typed it up. It was about nine pages in all.

I spend a lot of time archiving and documenting my own life and especially existing musical output. It is ultimately of no value to anyone but me. And yet, I do want to have stories to leave, even non-narrative, experimental music stories. All of this is for my daughter, hopefully less self-revision than continuity reaffirmed.

I’m documenting a past I’ll soon forget, if I haven’t already. I have a lot of newer pieces and unexplored ideas to attend to.

At the same time, I don’t believe in discarding, in “moving on” as though time is so linear, nor do I want to create work that is just a rewriting, colouring in over old lines. So I pay close attention to the layers underneath. It’s a personal approach, privileged by the luxury of a relatively quiet life. I’ve been lucky so far in not finding the need to stage my own creative auto-da-fé.

My wife said, memory is an unreliable narrator.

In a sense, all memories are falseI think only the sounds themselves speak with any feeling of truth about a time and place. The thing about musical sound is that no matter the vintage of its origins it is always created in the present, if it is music we are hearing at all.

By elmahboob

Bruce A. Russell aka Ibrahim El Mahboob (b. Kingston, ON, 1968) is a composer and self-taught pianist living and working in Toronto (Tkarón:to, the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat). He studied at York University with James Tenney and Phillip Werren. He has composed music for the Madawaska String Quartet, Modern Times Stage Company, McMaster Dancers and choreographers Pam Johnson and Tracy Renee Stafford. Interest in his work increased in 2020, with performances by Arraymusic, Prism Percussion, Second Note Duo, San Juan Symphony and Idaho Falls Symphony. He was host of Radio Music Gallery, and has written for Musicworks and I Care if You Listen. His interests are in 20th and 21st century concert music especially postminimalism, and music of the African diaspora including notated and non-notated forms. He is a parent of three and is employed in the financial sector.

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