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 parallel with 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. The overall structure is symmetrical.

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)

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

1996+21: limina

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 etudeMadra 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

1997+20: Storm + Voices

“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

1996+20: Coupling

“Coupling” (1996) is a section from the score to Woo: Cases of Bloodletting and Natural Selection, a multimedia work by Liminal Zoo Theatre (Derek Mohamed and Tracy Renee Stafford, co-creators). It was heard as a live mix and provided the accompaniment to silent onstage action as well as prerecorded spoken word passages. It is a drone collage, restored here using three elements from the original version: a digital track created on the Korg 01W/FD with a custom just intonation tuning; portions of an older theatre score, “The Monster” (1992), for 4-track cassette and Yahama DX-27; and various excerpts or loops from other pieces of mine that were added in performance.

The original “Coupling” ran 30 minutes in performance; I have removed 10 minutes for this edition. The piece begins with a slow canon in G and from the two minute mark onward remains fixed on D. While the drone root does not change, many different upper pitches, sound colours, textures and moods are encountered along the way.

Composed July 1996
Restoration December 2016

Equipment: Tascam Portastudio cassette 4-track, sound sources Roland S-50 sampler and Sony home CD player with loop function, across several generations of tape and Yamaha DX-27 synthesizer, Roland reverb;

Photo: detail from NOW Magazine, August 1996, newsprint, low res scan December 2016

Music and composer’s notes copyright Bruce A. Russell 2016

Crab Canons (On Six Notes)

I.

‘g/e’      c”/f’      b’/g’      c”/a’      b’/e’      a’/f’
c’/a       b/g        c’/f        g/e        a/f         b/e

II.

d”/b’     c”/f’     b’/g’     a’/f’     d”/g’     c”/a’
a/f         b/g       c’/f      d’/b      c’/a       d’/g

(2001)