Category Archives: Electronic

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

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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

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

1997+20: Storm

“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 they are 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.

Composed and recorded January 1997, Korg 01/WFD

Photo: detail from cassette cover, drawing by Carsten Knox

Music and composer’s notes copyright Bruce A. Russell 2017

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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)