Category Archives: Postclassical

1998+20: in a name

in a name (1998) mixes naïveté and rigour; it was one of my earliest pieces where this was an intentional approach, at least. It is based on a musical cipher of the name of the recipient in a gift exchange. A three-note cell of B – E – A is derived from this, generating all the melodic and harmonic content for the piece by forming hexachords with other three-note cells that are symmetrical to the first: G-sharp – C-sharp – F-sharp; G – C – F and D – G – C, resulting in the keys of E major, A minor and G major respectively. As an example, a two-voice canon on the notes G-sharp – C-sharp – F-sharp – B – E – A is heard near the beginning, immediately after which it becomes the accompaniment to the repeating melodic pattern of the cipher.

The focus is always on one group of six notes or another, voiced predominantly in symmetrical patterns of fourths, fifths and sevenths and seconds, sometimes stacked, sometimes nested. The main three-note cell remains a constant.

This recording features a digital approximation of a just intonation tuning of the piano, while the score specifies the option of performing in this tuning or in equal temperament. The piece was also heard as part of the musical program (which also included my piece for solo kalimba For Findley, also 1998) for an evening-length improv by Dave Wilson’s Dream Dancers, at Dancemakers in October 1999.

Composed and recorded January 1998, Korg 01WFD

Photo: impromptu dinosaur by Kenza Russell, age 4

Music and composer’s notes copyright Bruce Russell 2018

Best of 2017

Alarm Will Sound with Meet the Composer Splitting Adams (Cantaloupe)

Sarah Cahill with Regina Myers and Samuel Adams Eighty Trips Around the Sun: Music by and for Terry Riley (Irritable Hedgehog)

Ars Nova Copenhagen First Drop (Cantaloupe)

Julius Eastman The Zürich Concert (New World)

ÌFÉ IIII+IIII (Discos Ifá)

Kelly Moran Bloodroot (Telegraph Harp)

Sampha Process (Young Turks)

Tyshawn Sorey Verisimilitude (Pi)

Moses Sumney Aromanticism (Jagjaguwar)

SZA Ctrl (Top Dawg/RCA)

Thundercat Drunk (Brainfeeder)

John Williams Close Encounters of the Third Kind · 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition (La-La Land)

Music by Linda Catlin Smith, Martin Arnold, Isaiah Ceccarelli, Chiyoko Szlavnics, Marc Sabat Canadian Composer Series (Another Timbre)

Various Artists Spiritual Jazz 7: Islam (Jazzman)

1997+20: No More Sundays

This is a remix of my song “No More Sundays” (1997). The original version was created without notation, while it is inspired by the notated compositions of Steve Reich, especially in this case, Proverb (1995). In my variation on the aforementioned work, I composed a text with plenty of vowels sounds, first singing it as a melody, and then as a series of lengthening four-part canons against a repeating two-part piano canon. I played an electronic drum part that recalled Stewart Copeland’s 6/4 backbeat on the Police song “Synchronicity I” (a track that to my ears also sounds inspired by Reich).

For the remix, which does not alter the pitches or tunings (intended and otherwise) themselves, I digitized the original 4-track cassette elements. Tracks 3 and 4 (voices, keyboards/cymbals) copied in reverse, as I transferred them using a standard cassette player which plays two tracks in one direction as side A, and the other two in the opposite direction as side B. I then aligned the reverse tracks against the forward playing tracks 1 and 2 (snare/kick, voices). This resulted in the song’s harmonic and formal structure being layered upon itself in a quasi-palindromic crab canon. It also broke up the syllable structure of the canons. I did some further breaking up and relayering of voices, especially in the introduction which was originally a vocal solo, and here now includes a set of timed echoes (digital canons).

Written and recorded February 1997, Korg 01/WFD, Yamaha 4-track cassette
Cassette transfer and remix December 2017

Music and composer’s notes copyright Bruce Russell 2017

1987+30: The Longing

“The Longing” (1987) was my dazed, departing glance at the battleground of adolescence. It was created at the beginning of my studies in electroacoustic composition—my first composition class of any kind—at York University, although not as part of my school work. Even by then, tonality was still a no. Then, as now, I didn’t fit neatly into any one musical box. Enter the DIY cassette: Earthtones, completed over several illicit late night sessions with a mix of school equipment and my own. I had the good fortune of being able to stroll from my dorm room indoors to the studio in the same college. An all-nighter that ended just as my floormates were leaving for their classes allowed for a period of undisturbed rest.

There are four musical lines: a percussive synth phrase on a reel-to-reel tape loop; the same tape loop manipulated and processed, eventually disintegrating in a wash of digital reverb; an improvised synth pad recorded backwards, i.e. the first notes heard were the last played and vice versa; and a piano part which was improvised in response to the retrograde harmonies of the synth.

As with other tracks on Earthtones (“The Longing” being the finale), I composed as I recorded, coasting on the nonrenewable fumes of naïveté. Considering I had taught myself piano and started to play in pop bands only three to four years before, this is a very early snapshot of me self-identifying as a composer.

Recorded November 1987
Four-track cassette, mixed to stereo cassette

Photo: December 25, 1987

Music and composer’s notes copyright Bruce Russell 2017

1997+20: Foyer

My excursion into cheesy, middle of the road, smooth jazz yacht was purely amusement, with no commercial purpose. The contemporary classical composer was thus along for the ride, speaking up now and then, casting a certain late century, “Saturn return” mannerist harmonic shadow. My R&B and pop influences are reflected in the palette of sounds, as is my own early history of parody as style. Despite the presence of a verse-chorus song structure, there are techniques similar to those I’ve used in my abstract pieces: in particular, harmonic variations on a limited set of repeated riffs. The bridge and outro feature a static funk groove, one which focuses on and extends one of the riffs. The phrase was probably grafted from Stevie Wonder’s song “I Can’t Help It” as sung by Michael Jackson (“running often through my mind”). The technology especially gives the whole thing a “your call is important to us” quality. Yet rather than programming in all the tracks with perfect timing and key volumes, everything was recorded by playing it in, with minor touching up of the timecode and velocity settings.

Composed and recorded 1997
Korg 01/WFD

Music and composer’s notes copyright Bruce Russell 2017

Glass Reich 80 12 18

Audio counterpoint in recognition of two 80th birthday years.

How would the photograph below sound, if the composers were substituted with their music?

Glass Reich 80 12 18

Steve Reich and Musicians: Music for 18 Musicians (1974-1976), Sections VIII, II, IIIA, IIIB, X

simultaneously with

The Philip Glass Ensemble: Music in Twelve Parts (1971-1974), Part 1

All of the music heard here is in the key of F-sharp natural minor. By placing them in a chance situation, I’ve introduced an irrational element to two compositions which are each rigorously ordered, and yet the eddying combination of their shared pitches has an eerie, reinforcing, unifying effect. While Twelve is set at a slightly lower output level than 18 relative to the original Nonesuch recordings, there is no other mixing. All tracks are complete, at original pitch and otherwise unaltered.

I do not own the copyright of the works presented here. I am claiming fair use.

Photo credit: The Wall Street Journal