1992+30 Prepared Piano Piece No. 2

Prepared Piano Piece No. 2 (1992) is an unscored, improvised work combining live performance and experimental tape technique. It was created and recorded the day after Vermilion. Both pieces are part of a set of short works for prepared piano(s) which, as it would turn out, were created three weeks before the death of John Cage, inventor/pioneer of the prepared piano and a giant of 20th century music. It was the last time I would record in the house I grew up in, where I’d returned for a few days.

In the spirit of earlier explorations, I worked with whatever ideas came to me that morning, with whatever was on hand around the house. For that reason the piano was only partially prepared, with all of the useful objects I could find and with a mind to not overwhelm my family’s upright piano. I also altered the tuning of certain notes slightly, in a gesture towards just intonation (i.e. without any particular accuracy).

The piece was recorded on a co-owned 4-track cassette recorder, which by that point was five years old and in a poor state of repair. The sound quality is thus low even for the medium, though some light remastering was performed on the digitized file.

I managed to transcend this sonic limitation in exploring backwards tape technique. The first half of the piece was recorded on the first two of the four tracks of the cassette, and the second half on the last two tracks with the cassette flipped in the recorder. My performance in the second half was in response to the sound of the first half in reverse. During remixing I flipped the tape in the same way at the halfway point, in order to always have my live performance playing forwards, mixed at times with the recording sounding backwards at a slightly lower volume.

In other words, at the halfway point, the backwards background becomes the forwards foreground and vice versa. The result is a special instance of a crab canon, created electroacoustically.

Composed and recorded July 1992
Four-track cassette digitized 2000, remastered 2012

Photo: Mark Russell
Lake Nipissing, Callander, Ontario, October 1992

Music and composer’s notes copyright Bruce A. Russell 2022

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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