Category Archives: Memoir

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

1996+20: Two Dances

Two Dances for Two Pianos (1996) draws its inspiration specifically from Reich (I was a diligent student if only through scores and recordings) and more generally Glass. In the opening of the first dance, “animus,” each of the piano parts is based on the resulting overall pattern of a stacked fifth melodic loop phased against itself (two quarter notes apart in piano one, a dotted quarter in piano two). To this four-part canon a slow hocket is added, in a higher register. This idea recurs with variation throughout both dances. In the second dance, “modus,” chord density, interval variety and harmonic ambiguity are increased slightly. To the conventions of minimalism I add the concise structure, root chord progressions and riffing more common in pop music. Both dances feature a constant steady pulse with occasional changes of rhythmic profile. Both are diatonic, staying in a single key signature throughout (D major and D-flat major, respectively).

I. animus (quarter note = 168), June 1996
II. modus (quarter note = 112), July 1996

Some of the material here is developed further in the dance theatre score WhISH (1997), the string quartet Madra (1999), the theatre track “Word from Earth” (2000), the solo piano piece “Oh Seven” (2007) and others. While Two Dances is barely a mature piece, it is more polished than anything done up to that point and helped me to keep going with my writing.

Recorded July 1996, Korg 01/WFD
Playback without effects November 2016

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

Oxford & Augusta

Oxford & Augusta (2001) is one of my simplest pieces. It consists entirely of three- and six-note melodic patterns layered in note-on-note canons. The entire piece is generated from the opening six notes, three ascending followed by three descending.

Durations are uniform; the first section is all in quarter notes, followed by a section in eighth notes and one in half notes. The gothic, monochrome and binary nature of the material brought to mind a crossroads. This image could have described my life at the time; thus, the title is the intersection at which I was living, near the heart of Kensington Market.

Recorded April 2016, Roland digital piano direct to file

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

Good News

Absurdist techno funk. A version of this song appeared on my cassette album Eccentricities (1990). Days before making the recording I’d had my first encounter with a Roland TR-808 drum machine, and spent hours learning how to program it (considering this was before internet).

The time signature is 4/4 parallel with 12/8. To achieve this, I created a grid of 24 sixteenths, which was a bit of a slog considering the front panel of the 808 only has 16 buttons. The effect is not unlike the programmed rhythmic patterns in new jack swing, a genre which was popular at the time. The resulting beat here is quirky, however, with a march-like snare dominating towards the end. There is a Reichian finale with multiple pianos and voices in a phasing soup.

Eccentricities was a project done in my student years, though not a part of my sanctioned studies. I was leaving my  “no-perfectionism” period, wanting my music to be more precise. The vocal and pitched instrumental parts are in the Lydian dominant mode in E-flat, with bluesy colourations. The original vocal lines have been substantially edited out or shuffled here. I will note the lyrics had an environmentalist theme. With that in mind, the title is evermore sardonic.

Note : Extreme nerds may enjoy knowing that I sampled the orchestral stab used on this track from the opening of the John Williams score to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” The source recording was a cassette dub of a worn vinyl LP.

#quartercentury

Composed, recorded and mixed July 1990
Analog 8-track 1/2 inch reel-to-reel tape, mixed to DAT
Instrumentation: Roland TR-808 (programmed), Roland S-50 (played manually)
Re-edited December 2015

Music and composer’s notes copyright Bruce A. Russell 2015

Come Through

I created a playlist a couple of years ago, to collect a series of 70s and 80s re-edits emailed to me in draft form for my feedback. One of the tracks arrived by way of reply to an email I’d sent with a gift of remastered music files, the source material for the re-edit. This was how it was with me and Masimba Kadzirange, Grandmaster DJ Son Of S.O.U.L., Source of Undying Love. For me it was an acknowledgement: among circles which intersected and didn’t in our brief friendship, we had this. A man of extraordinary musical gifts, recollection, insight, technique and experience, he included me among those trusted folks from whom he sought an opinion and whose musical values were understood and shared. I’m honoured by that fact.
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It’s been one month since he left us suddenly. I’m grateful to have shared in the wonderful human being he was, while part of me remembers not taking up his invitation to “come through one time” to a recent series of club nights he was putting on only a ten-minute walk from my home. I was too tired from my job or busy tending to the bedtimes and wakeups of our small children. Every time I did get to hear him spin and cut — always with turntables, music on vinyl and no software — I was astounded by his musicality and brought to my feet to dance and sing along.

Masimba made a tremendous impact in his community. He was loved. He will be missed in person, though his memory will continue to be celebrated by those who knew him, and through the music that was a central part of his own celebration of life.

“Pardon the delayed response my brother. You all will see me soon.”

Like It’s 1994/95: Uhuru

A recurring introspective retrospective of my music as it sounded twenty years earlier. In early 1994, I took my first trip to Europe, spending a week in Lyon where my music was heard at a university dance festival as well as in the subway for a pop up freestyle contemporary dance event. I spent the latter part of the year working on the indie cassette release Uhuru, which would come out the following spring, and playing keyboards and percussion in a post-punk band. In early 1995, another dance score was heard in London. In late 1995, I began graduate studies at York University, returning nine years after I had first arrived as an undergraduate.

Throughout this period, I continued to hold down a full time retail job selling classical and jazz CDs in Yorkville, as well as freelancing as a composer for dance and theatre. I also got my first taste of hosting college radio. It was my most active period being involved in music in general.

November 1994 rec. February 1995. 8 voices (2 per part), 8 track reel-to-reel. Begins with a row on the seven pitches of the diatonic scale. The pronunciation of uhuru was conflated with “yoo hoo” although I now prefer the proper initial “u” sound. This is life before autotune, for better or worse. Photo: handwritten score excerpt, 1995

Music and composer’s notes copyright Bruce A. Russell 2014

Love and the Troubles

The five-part piano cycle Gimme Some Modes was composed from 2005 to 2009. Each piece uses a different seven-note, non-diatonic mode as a basis to explore ambiguous, scalar tonal schemes. The texture evolves by way of interleaved patterns of pitch rows, arpeggios, progressions of parallel chord shapes, note-on-note canons/chorales, and high and low pedals. The result is a set of meditations on harmony.


The fifth piece, “Love and the Troubles” (2009), begins with a mode spelled C-flat, D, E-flat, F, G-flat, A, B-flat (i.e. B-flat double harmonic major or E-flat double harmonic minor). After a seven-note row on this mode is woven into an extended chordal canon, a second mode is introduced with the substitution of one pitch. This mode is spelled C-flat, D, E-flat, F-sharp, G, A, B-flat (i.e. C-flat augmented with an added flat seventh degree).

The final passage modulates through several keys, always on the pitches of the mode but highlighting its tonal ambiguity. The row appearing just before the very loud chord at the three-quarter point of the piece spells out the chord, the mode, and the bass pedal tones of the ending: C-flat, D, E-flat, G, B-flat, A, F-sharp.

The score is dated 09 09 09.

Recorded February 2014, Roland digital piano direct to file

Music and composer’s notes copyright Bruce A. Russell 2014