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Spool is proud to announce the release of
THE MACHINE IS BROKEN
by Terry Rusling
(April 2, 1931 – November 27, 1974)
Terry Rusling was a Canadian composer of electronic music. He also worked as an engineer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). In the case of Gilmour’s Albums, hosted by CBC broadcaster Clyde Gilmour, Rusling was occasionally on air, especially when the music selected was experimental.
In the early 1960s, Morris Surdin, a composer working at the CBC, suggested to Rusling that he try out the renowned Electronic Music Studio at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Music (UTEMS), which included instruments designed by Hugh LeCaine, such as the Special Purpose Tape Recorder. Through Surdin, Rusling was introduced to Dr. Myron Schaeffer, to whom he submitted his first electronic compositions. Schaeffer invited Rusling to attend a graduate seminar of his at UTEMS. Among the other notable composers who studied at UTEMS were John Mills-Cockell, Pauline Oliveros, Ann Southam, Gustav Ciamaga, and John Beckwith. Rusling was awarded the title of Research Associate at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Music.
During this period Rusling was the recipient of a Canada Council Grant in support of his travel, education and production of electronic music. He continued his studies and composed music in studios at the Psycho Acoustic Institute at Ghent University, Belgium; the University of Utrecht; and the University of Illinois. He also did work at the University of Rochester with Wayne B. Barlow as well as in Paris where he met Pierre Schaeffer.
Many of Rusling’s public performances of electronic music were at the famous Bohemian Embassy in Yorkville, Toronto. He collaborated with visual artist Zbigniew Blazeje in a large multimedia exhibition in 1966–7, called Audio Kinetic Environment. Rusling provided electronic music. It began at the Art Gallery of Ontario, then toured to 10 showings in 9 cities 1966-7:
• Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Jan. 20 – Feb. 6, 1966
• Mackenzie Art Gallery, Regina, Feb. 17 – Mar. 10
• Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, Mar. 24 – Apr. 14
• Winnipeg Art Gallery, Winnipeg, Apr. 28 – May 19
• Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Jun. 28 – Aug. 21
• Confederation Centre Art Gallery,
Charlottetown, Sept. 20 – Oct. 9
• New Brunswick Museum, Saint John, Nov. 10 – Dec. 11
• Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston, Jan. 6–29, 1967
• UBC Fine Arts Gallery Feb. 1–11
• Expo 67, Montreal
Several of his works, including The Trains (1966), a piece of musique concrète, were broadcast on the CBC. Other projects included a CBC Radio program combining Rusling’s music with Earle Birney’s sound poetry. After the piece was performed they discussed their personal approaches to their art forms. A related collaboration with poet Gwendolyn MacEwen, combining poetry with electronic music, was also broadcast on CBC Radio. In another project, Rusling worked with English performance artist and sound poet Bob Cobbing. He composed incidental music for CBC Radio shows including an electronic theme for the CBC nightly television news and incidental music for TV shows, including the series Telescope; in particular, an episode on Marshall McLuhan (1967).
His scores were submitted to John Cage’s Notations project and two items are included in Cage’s book. They demonstrate Rusling’s use of graphic notation.
Whole Note Oct. 2019 review by Tiina Kiik
The Machine Is Broken by Terry Rusling (Spurn 3)
Shed Metal by equivalent insecurity (Spurn 1)
Car Dew Treat Us by dk & the Perfectly Ordinary (Spurn 2)
Uxbridge, Ontario-based label Spool’s new Spurn series is titled irreverent. The brainchild of musician Daniel Kernohan, there are currently three releases in this group of possibly difficult-to-classify, yet ear-opening, enjoyable music. Spool has other series with numerous eclectic releases available. An intriguing cross section of electronic works by Canadian composer Terry Rusling (1931-1974) are featured in the 2019 third Spurn release, The Machine Is Broken. Rusling’s experience as an engineer for CBC understandably gave him the necessary technical grounding to create his unique sound. At composer Morris Surdin’s suggestion, Rusling worked at the University of Toronto’s Electronic Music Studio (UTEMS), which lead to further international studies/work, and tape collaborations with such artists as Earle Birney, Gwendolyn MacEwen and public tape performances at Yorkville’s Bohemian Embassy. Rusling’s short life resulted in an immense creative output that’s only touched on here. Producers David Porter and Daniel Kernohan have selected 17 tracks, arranged in a listener-friendly order to maintain interest. The almost two minute opening Reel 1H sets the stage with sound effects, quiet spaces and brief moments of tonalism. Creaky effects, crackling sounds, loud volumes, slides and glisses highlight Reel 2A’s early electro sound. The spoken male/female statements at the start of Title add a human dimension to the electronic effects. Rusling’s use of silent spaces between electronic sections in his works builds subsequent musical interest, such as Reel 2B where the silences set up such intense effects as the classic electronic sounds of that time, like washes, repeated notes, feedback and for the lack of a better description, loud crashing about. Rusling’s early electronic music holds current sound appeal while also, at its very best, foreshadowing future sounds.
The earlier two Spurn releases also feature contemporary sounds. Shed Metal stars Equivalent Insecurity in performance. Kernohan, (named dk on the sleeve), and colleague Dan Lander play 22 tracks on theirs self-described “instruments, toys, stuff, sound.” Recorded in Toronto in 1987-89, their sound brings back wonderful memories of the Toronto improvisational scene of the time. The clear recording opens with a march-like feel and an almost sing-along melody interspersed with electronic effects. Too much fun being had by the two performers, as the music includes washes, electronic shrieking effects, occasional almost pop grooves, pulses, horns, vocalizations, moments of anxiety, etc. Especially love the water sounds in track three. It is a gift to the listener that their music was even recorded, and later released. Car Dew Treat Us features Kernohan and the perfectly ordinary (Allison Cameron, Rod Dubey and :Lawrence Joseph) with different guest artists reciting intermittent text from Cornelius Cardew’s Treatise against an electronic soundscape featuring clicks, held tones, wavering dynamics, wobbling tones, bell sounds atonalities and percussive effects in a challenging soundscape. Some may find it difficult to listen to but worth the effort to experience.
Bravo to Spool’s Spurn series for these three contrasting releases showcasing amazing Canadian experimental talent.
Musicworks online review of Terry Rusling, The Machine is Brokenby Nick Storring
Despite his collaborations with notable poets (Gwendolyn MacEwan, Bob Cobbing), affiliations with pioneering studios at stalwart institutions (BBC Radiophonic Workshop, the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music, and others), and ties to that legendary beacon of Toronto subculture the Bohemian Embassy, composer Terry Rusling (1931–74) and his works remain on the periphery, even among curious listeners. The Machine is Broken, a cryptic compendium on the newly revived Spool imprint, shines some welcome—albeit dim—light on his eccentric and short-lived career.
The reissue realm is saturated with documents of unsung artists, rife with dates and technological ephemera. The fact that the packaging of The Machine Is Broken is devoid of the meticulous detail typically found on similar archival electronic-music projects is actually a breath of fresh air. The absence of context serves to compound the air of mystery surrounding these works. The music has plenty to say on its own.
Seventeen tracks—most bearing curt, utilitarian titles—are haunted by recurring fragments, making them flow together as one episodic mirage. Coarse textures with serrated edges cut through hazy-hued pools of sound. Caustic dub-like spirals of feedback magnify delicate trickles of notes that are reminiscent of Hugh Le Caine’s Dripsody. Overdriven flotsam follows the warp of what feels like the sonic equivalent of undersea Mylar photography.
The recording is clearly of the day, cast in tape’s unmistakable quasisepia tone, full of chirping pause-button edits, and subject to varispeed manipulation tactics. Yet Rusling’s outlook remains gleefully out of step with the dominant sounds of the era. Instead, he shares the small eccentric cubby carved out by the likes of Tod Dockstader, Daphne Oram, and Ruth White—composers whose unflinching leaps into abstraction are supported by fleeting melodic shapes, proto-ambient washes, and gradient approach to legibility of sound source.
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