Holding Pattern

Holding Pattern (2003) is the closest thing to garden variety minimal music that I’ve written. It’s somewhat less a composition than an active meditation ritual. The steady, two-against-three rhythm established in the opening measures remains the same for the entire duration of about ten minutes. The right hand remains fixed on a droning, pendulum-like figure on the notes D, E and A. The left hand cycles through a gamut of dyads on complementary pitches, usually changing one note in the dyad at a time while the other acts as a common tone. The upper note of the dyad is occasionally added to the right-hand part. The hands eventually cross as higher inversions of the dyads are played, revealing more complex melodic possibilities.

In 2003, I had briefly returned to songwriting and was trying to stay engaged as a vocalist on my demos, during a particularly unhappy and unrooted time. I felt disengaged from the idea of being a composer. I found myself gravitating as a diversion—from all of that though not unmindful of it—towards the simple tension and release of familiar and sometimes dramatic chord progressions, locked in a basic polyrhythmic groove.

In 2021, the distraction was away from a relatively positive though sometimes traumatic set of personal and artistic changes in the preceding 24 months. Something to practice daily for a few weeks.

The harmony moves most often by a descending fifth in regular groupings of four or eight measures, moving through several different key centres in a partly recurrent, partly through-composed structure. I felt free to leave the material as is, without applying transformations like phasing or additive process or layering in other parts. There are few if any surprises or random moments. It’s just a stream of harmonies in the middle register, though not quite ambient music. With relatively little piano technique required, the focus is on flow and overall shape.

Composed 2003
Recorded March 2021, unedited take on Roland digital piano

Photo: NYC, 2003

Music and composer’s notes copyright Bruce A. Russell 2021

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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