Category Archives: Piano

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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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

Best of 2016

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, for piano

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

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

Best of 2015

Some great new discoveries and otherwise the usual company in abundance.

John Adams Absolute Jest · Grand Pianola Music San Francisco Symphony · Michael Tilson Thomas · John Adams (SFS Media)

Bang on a Can All Stars Field Recordings (Cantaloupe)

eighth blackbird Filament (Cedille)

Mahan Esfahani Time Present and Time Past (Archiv)

Morton Feldman · Erik Satie · John Cage Rothko Chapel [Gnossiennes, In a Landscape, etc.] Kim Kashkashian · Sarah Rothenberg · Steven Schick · Houston Chamber Choir · Robert Simpson (ECM)

Floating Points Elaenia (Luaka Bop/Pluto)

Kendrick Lamar To Pimp a Butterfly (Top Dawg · Aftermath · Interscope)

Steve Martland Band Martland (NMC)

Steve Reich Music for 18 Musicians Ensemble Signal · Third Coast Percussion · Brad Lubman (Harmonia Mundi)

Max Richter Sleep (Deutsche Grammophon)

Linda Catlin Smith Thought and Desire Eve Egoyan (Earwitness Editions)

Stephen Sondheim Liaisons: Re-Imagining Sondheim from the Piano Anthony de Mare (ECM)

Ann Southam Glass Houses for Marimba Taktus (Centrediscs)

Tennyson Like What EP (self-released)

Kamasi Washington The Epic (Brainfeeder)

John Williams Star Wars: The Force Awakens Gustavo Dudamel · William Ross · John Williams (Walt Disney)

reissues · remasters

Bernard Herrmann Obsession Special Archival Edition (Music Box)

The Spinners Spinners (BBR)

John Williams A.I. Artificial Intelligence Expanded Archival Collection (La-La Land)

John Williams Jaws and Jaws 2 (Intrada)

John Williams, Herman Stein, Hans J. Salter, Joseph Mullendore, Alexander Courage, Cyril J. Mockridge, Gerald Fried, Leith Stevens, Robert Drasnin, Fred Steiner and others Lost in Space 50th Anniversary Soundtrack Collection (La-La Land)