“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
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
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
limina, for two pianos and percussion (1996), was created as an exploratory diversion between larger projects. The title, “threshold,” could suggest a point of transition or place between categories, although in retrospect the style and sound of the piece are clear. It is in the same extended musical family as Two Dances for Two Pianos, urfunk etude, Madra and Word from Earth. It ends on the same chord as it began, transposed down a semitone.
Composed and recorded August 1996, Korg 01/WFD
Remixed May 2017
Music and composer’s notes copyright Bruce Russell 2017
“Storm” is an excerpt from the 30-minute score for WhISH, an interdisciplinary fairy tale performed by Liminal Gryphon Theatre (director Derek Mohamed, choreographer Tracy Renee Stafford). WhISH premiered in February 1997 as part of the Rhubarb! Festival at Buddies in Bad Times in Toronto. The score was also released on cassette. “Storm” was the accompaniment to an ensemble dance, and is of a piece with my lo-fi, distorted MIDI 90s work. The double-layer canons—one high, one low and in canon with each other—are also found in my Two Dances for Two Pianos (1996) and string quartet Madra (1999). Here this material is heard in a just intonation tuning.
The time signature is a slow 3/2. There are two kick drum parts; one heartbeat-like, one with low bass notes doubling accents in the canons. The echo/reverb effects and lazy beat are inspired by dub and trip hop.
(Edit – February 21, 2018)
“Voices” is the finale music from WhISH. It is a short, cloudlike piece, scored for workstation and multiple voices overdubbed, and uses the same just intonation tuning as above. It passes through a series of dominant-like harmonies by gradually expanding the register of the voices, while the bassline moves generally by leaps; with a bit of tritone-itis toward the peak. The tuning would ideally involve a properly workshopped, practice-based acoustic ensemble and chorus.
Composed and recorded January 1997
Korg 01/WFD and Yahama cassette 4-track (on “Voices”)
Photo: detail from cassette cover, drawing by Carsten Knox
Music and composer’s notes copyright Bruce A. Russell 2018
Childish Gambino “Awaken, My Love!” (Glassnote)
Vicky Chow A O R T A (New Amsterdam)
King We Are King (King Creative)
Laura Mvula The Dreaming Room (Sony · RCA)
Holly Roadfeldt The Preludes Project (Ravello)
Solange A Seat at the Table (Saint · Columbia)
Esperanza Spalding Emily’s D+Evolution (Concord)
reissues · remasters · restorations · box sets
Wally Badarou Back to Scales To-Night (Barclay · Expansion)
The Emotions Blessed: The Emotions Anthology 1969-1985 (BBR)
Philip Glass The Complete Sony Recordings (Sony)
Bernard Herrmann Twisted Nerve (Stylotone)
John Williams Jurassic Park · The Lost World: Jurassic Park (La-La Land)
Various Artists Doing It in Lagos: Boogie, Pop & Disco in 1980s Nigeria (Soundway)
Various Artists Star Trek: 50th Anniversary Collection (La-La Land)
23 (2016) was composed as an homage to Steve Reich and is dedicated to him on the occasion of his 80th birthday. All of the material in this piano miniature derives from melodic patterns and sonorities in his music. (This is true to a lesser degree about some of my earlier pieces as I have pointed out elsewhere.) The starting point for this process was measure 23 from Piano Phase (1967) and Reich’s favoured key signature of D major/B minor. There are several other works and Reichian tonal centres referenced, sometimes in quick or overlapping succession.
I avoided transforming melodic or harmonic entities beyond recognition, emphasizing spontaneous musical flow over structured collage. Fans of the elder composer may enjoy listening for references however subtle they may appear. Others may note that 23 sounds similar to my other piano pieces, which reflects the great influence Reich has had on my work. A tribute seems only fitting.
Happy 80th, Steve!
Composed September 2016
Recorded live with no edits October 2016, Roland digital piano direct
Photo: Carolyn Cole
Music and composer’s notes copyright Bruce A. Russell 2016