Like It’s 1994/95: Uhuru

A recurring introspective retrospective of my music as it sounded twenty years earlier. In early 1994, I took my first trip to Europe, spending a week in Lyon where my music was heard at a university dance festival as well as in the subway for a pop up freestyle contemporary dance event. I spent the latter part of the year working on the indie cassette release Uhuru, which would come out the following spring, and playing keyboards and percussion in a post-punk band. In early 1995, another dance score was heard in London. In late 1995, I began graduate studies at York University, returning nine years after I had first arrived as an undergraduate.

Throughout this period, I continued to hold down a full time retail job selling classical and jazz CDs in Yorkville, as well as freelancing as a composer for dance and theatre. I also got my first taste of hosting college radio. It was my most active period being involved in music in general.

November 1994 rec. February 1995. 8 voices (2 per part), 8 track reel-to-reel. Begins with a row on the seven pitches of the diatonic scale. The pronunciation of uhuru was conflated with “yoo hoo” although I now prefer the proper initial “u” sound. This is life before autotune, for better or worse. Photo: handwritten score excerpt, 1995

Music and composer’s notes copyright Bruce A. Russell 2014

Kenza, for piano

Today is the second birthday of my second child Kenza, firstborn to my wife Nehal El-Hadi. Just before her birth, I wrote a short three-movement work for piano dedicated to her.

Like the work written for her older sister Remi, the music here is diatonic, in the key of C major/A minor throughout. I work with simple forms and materials to create something that is both childlike and abstract.

“Fourths + Fifths” is structured around a sequence of six diatonic modes, each associated with a melodic pattern. Each pattern is built up from a single arpeggio into a homophonic canon by layering the pattern against copies of itself with different starting points or octaves, although this process is only made clear with the first pattern. The intervals of the fourth and fifth predominate both melodically and harmonically throughout.

“Moon” builds the texture once again from a single line to homophony, harmonizing a melodic fragment with chord clusters and a descending bassline. The second section expands the bassline by one note and replaces the earlier chords with arpeggios. The title refers to Kenza’s favourite single-word expression of wonderment.

“Golden” is dated “12 12 12” and like the first movement features a sequence of six modes. Here, a twelve-note pattern is played against pedal notes in the bass and treble, varying with each change of harmony. The pattern comes from my kalimba piece Lonely Little Boat, and is in this way an expression of continuity. The title refers to my wife’s nickname for me, as well as my daughter’s first and middle names Kenza Aurélie, which translate in Arabic and French respectively as “treasure” and “golden.”

Happy birthday, dear Za!

Composed 2012
Recorded 2013-2014, Roland digital piano direct to file

Photos by Nehal El-Hadi

Music and composer’s notes copyright Bruce A. Russell 2014

I Care If You Listen – Hamelin performs Feldman

I’m delighted to share my debut piece for the excellent contemporary classical magazine I Care If You Listen.

It’s a review of Marc-André Hamelin’s performance of Morton Feldman’s For Bunita Marcus at the 21C Music Festival in May. Have a look and let me know what you think!

Get It up for Love, Five Pianos Re:cover

This is based on Táta Vega’s 1978 cover of the song by Ned Doheny, played downtempo. It is for multiple pianos and combines elements of contemporary classical, jazz and popular dance music. The track could serve as a demo for a live performance, or for a studio recording with acoustic pianos.

The first two pianos, the bassline and main chordal part, were recorded in an evening as a last minute favour for a producer friend. An additional three pianos – lead/solo, second bass/chord and repeating patterns – were added over the next several evenings. A notated version would condense the music to four pianos (score pending).

The piece is faithful to the original material, with a layer of variations added later on, especially in the long outro section. The spirit is one of fun and admiration for the artist and repertoire.

Recorded March 27-31, 2014
Roland digital piano direct to GarageBand, no effects
All playing is live; no programming, looping or quantization

Original recording on Motown arranged by Al Johnson, produced by Winston Monseque, co-produced by André Fischer

Music copyright Warner Music Group and Longdog Music (ASCAP)

This arrangement and notes copyright Bruce A. Russell 2014

Love and the Troubles

The five-part piano cycle Gimme Some Modes was composed from 2005 to 2009. Each piece uses a different seven-note, non-diatonic mode as a basis to explore ambiguous, scalar tonal schemes. The texture evolves by way of interleaved patterns of pitch rows, arpeggios, progressions of parallel chord shapes, note-on-note canons/chorales, and high and low pedals. The result is a set of meditations on harmony.


The fifth piece, “Love and the Troubles” (2009), begins with a mode spelled C-flat, D, E-flat, F, G-flat, A, B-flat (i.e. B-flat double harmonic major or E-flat double harmonic minor). After a seven-note row on this mode is woven into an extended chordal canon, a second mode is introduced with the substitution of one pitch. This mode is spelled C-flat, D, E-flat, F-sharp, G, A, B-flat (i.e. C-flat augmented with an added flat seventh degree).

The final passage modulates through several keys, always on the pitches of the mode but highlighting its tonal ambiguity. The row appearing just before the very loud chord at the three-quarter point of the piece spells out the chord, the mode, and the bass pedal tones of the ending: C-flat, D, E-flat, G, B-flat, A, F-sharp.

The score is dated 09 09 09.

Recorded February 2014, Roland digital piano direct to file

Music and composer’s notes copyright Bruce A. Russell 2014

Anni

Anni, for Nina is dedicated to my wife Nehal El-Hadi on her birthday, as we enter our second year of marriage and anticipate the birth of our first child.

The piece is for solo piano in three movements; the first and last a prelude and postlude, respectively, to the longer and more developed middle. I have posted the audio for this movement only.

The first movement simultaneously references the music of Steve Reich in its interlocking patterns – here between the left and right hands, as opposed to separate instrumentalists – and Philip Glass in triads that shift via neighbour tones. Each hand plays a different triad opposite the other to create a six-note harmony overall. There are no melodies per se. The movement begins and in D major and shifts to D minor (there is a neighbour-tone motion in the top voice as the keys change). The rhythm is in five beats, then seven, then seven plus five.

The key of the second movement is ambiguous during the opening chorale, then settles into A major/F-sharp minor. It is based around an ostinato – once again the hands are interlocked – that varies both metrically and melodically. There is a distant relation to J.S. Bach’s famous C major prelude from The Well-Tempered Clavier (a relation hundreds, if not thousands, of pieces could claim). Later in the movement, a simple two-voice counterpoint appears above the ostinato. Finally, the ostinato emerges as a playfully additive melody in two voices.

The third movement is in A major. It begins with another chorale, references a melodic shape from the second movement, then returns to the interlocking chords from the first. The chords for the most part expand or contract symmetrically, and the intervals of each chord are arranged symmetrically. The final two six-note chords are the ones from the opening of the first movement.

Anni was played live straight to master without a mixer or recording software; the outer movements in a single take each, and the inner with two edit points.

Composed and recorded October 2012

Music and composer’s notes copyright Bruce A. Russell 2012