Author Archives: elmahboob

About elmahboob

Bruce A. Russell, aka Ibrahim El Mahboob, is a composer and self-taught pianist. He studied at York University with James Tenney and Phillip Werren. He has composed music for the Madawaska String Quartet, McMaster Dancers and Modern Times Stage Company. He was host of Radio Music Gallery, and has written for Musicworks. His interests are in postminimalism, music of the African diaspora, and the intersections of technology, media and popular culture. Bruce lives in Toronto with his wife and three children.

Larger in the Past

Grateful for so much as my history unfolds in reverse. Summer’s first journey to my birth mother’s home, with a family whom I’m so proud of with me. Upon our return my paternal side manifested. A grandfather in the Jim Crow South. Voice on the line who shared this family’s history of migration to the north, who invited me to holiday gatherings and told me, “You’re not alone in this.” Music and accomplishment has flowed through both sides. My genetically aspirational test results confirming Bahamas, Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica as ancestral places. And out of the sky, my long-failed career as a recording artist is suddenly not quite so failed (recall: history in reverse).

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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

rundfunk

rundfunk (1994) is the extended instrumental of my song “run2Dfunk.” The music is based on a four-part canon loop played on two pianos, from which all the other parts are derived. The first section is in B Dorian with a time signature of 7/8, and the short second section, D major hexatonic and 5/8.

Like many of my pieces, this could almost be subtitled “after themes by Steve Reich,” recalling in particular Eight Lines and Music for a Large Ensemble. It is otherwise a direct response to the global popular music of my youth.

Composed and recorded 1994
Remixed 2007
Korg 01/WFD

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: urfunk etude

urfunk etude was premiered in February 1997. It presents two separate ideas simultaneously: two-part ostinato canons for solo piano, and harmonic progressions in a 5-limit, just intonation tuning. The piece may also be performed in 12-tone equal temperament with no special tuning. Some of the melodic patterns here were adapted for my string quartet Madra (1999). #microminimalism #PianoDay2017

Composed and recorded January 1997, Korg 01/WFD

Music and composer’s notes copyright Bruce Russell 2017