Ingram Marshall

The recent Nonesuch release of Ingram Marshall's Kingdom Come brought forth praises from many critics, not the least being Adam Schatz in the New York Times who extolled the music as "some of the most stirring spiritual art to be found in America today." Touching on the "mournful, sonorous" aspect of this music, he went on to say that "the music offers a powerful recreation of solitude that is very close to an experience of the divine."

InKingdom Come,  and many other works, Marshall often combines taped sounds from the "real world," and/or electronic processing,  with orchestra or smaller ensembles, to create a world of sound that expresses a personal vision as well as a universal one which can affect the listener in a very direct and deep way. 

As a graduate student at Columbia in the mid sixties, Ingram Marshall was attracted to the possibilities of the then nascent electronic music studio, and he enrolled in the studio course taught by Vladimir Ussachevsky where he created his first tape pieces. After a trip to France in 1968, he dropped out of the academic scene and began working independently as a composer member of the NYU Media Arts studio on Bleecker Street in New York's Greenwich Village.

In 1970, Marshall went to California to study electronic music with Morton Subotnick at California Institute of the Arts, but he became entranced with the dark colors and endless forms of the Javanese gamelan, which was installed there, and spent most of his time learning that tradition. He went to Bali for three months in the summer of 1971 where he immersed himself in both Javanese and Balinese modes of traditional gamelan music. Upon his return, he worked again in the electronic medium but with a new ideal of sound and time. In a work such as Gambuh,  he merged the sounds of the Balinese bamboo flute with electronically created sounds and processed them using tape delay/ feedback techniques. He also began a series of text-sound pieces based to some degree on his study of gamelan structure and his awareness of the repetitive pattern tape pieces of Steve Reich. The best known is Cortez from 1973. Both of these pieces reflect Marshall's slowed down sense of musical time which he attributes to his immersion inJavanese music.

His sense of texture, place and evocation are already developed in these early pieces. John Rockwell, writing in the New York Times, said of Cortez:  "The music was full of mechanized rumbles, jungle-ish roars and insect like twitters. It all cohered quite persuasively as sound, and seemed ominously evocative as well."

In 1973 Marshall took up residence in the San Francisco Bay area where he became active as composer, performer, producer and occasional critic in the exciting new music scene there. Throughout the seventies he developed a series of live electronic works which incorporated some tape text pieces as well as the Balinese flute. The end result of this wasThe Fragility Cycles which he performed widely in the US and Europe. While in Sweden in 1975 as a senior Fulbright scholar (he was resident at Fylkingen, the experimental music society in Stockholm) he cultivated an interest in the poet Gunner Ekelöv, and created several text sound pieces based on his work. Some of these found their way into The Fragility Cycles, which he recorded on the Ibu label in 1979.  This recording, and the many performance realizations, received quite a bit of attention from the press . Fanfare Magazine, for example, called it "some of the more hauntingly beautiful electronic music this reviewer has yet heard." John Rockwell, again in the New York Times, found he Fragility Cycles"a compelling example of 'electronic folk music' and a further testimony to the sort of humanistic uses to which electronic equipment is being put today by composers in the San Francisco area."

In the late seventies Marshall began experimenting with combining live instrumental work with tape and/or electronic processing. A particularly outstanding example of this, and possibly his best known work, is Fog Tropes,  created in1981. This work for six brass instruments and tape was premiered by John Adams and the San Francisco New Music Ensemble on one of Adams' ground breaking"New and Unusual" series with the San Francisco Symphony. Alan Ulrich in the San Francisco Examiner referred to "the swiftness with which he makes you stop asking "How" and keeps you listening to the "What."  FogTropes suggests sonic vistas of incomparable beauty."

On that same concert Marshall performedGradual Requiem, one of his live electronic creations. It seemed fitting to record the two pieces together,  so Marshall and his colleague, Foster Reed (who played mandolin in Gradual Requiem), started a new record company, New Albion, which eventually became known as the cutting edge label for the new West Coast lyricism. Among its early releases were recordings by John Adams, Paul Dresher, Daniel Lentz, Stephen Scott and Harold Budd. Marshall received accolades by the critics for this recording.  San Francisco Examiner critic Richard Pontzious wrote: "Brooding, haunting pieces that probe nature...Of all the new pieces I've heard in four years in San Francisco, they have left the deepest impression."

Marshall continued his exploration of the live electronic medium with Alcatraz, which was a musico-visual collaboration with photographer Jim Bengston. Ambient recordings were made in the old prison and used to create a "soundtrack" over which piano, gambuh and voice were applied live--all this against the unfolding of a series of starkly beautiful photographs of Alcatraz itself.  Both creators toured with this work in Europe and the US and it found its way onto CD as Marshall's second effort for New Albion.

Wide ranging reviews from diverse musical press reflect the wide spectrum of the music's appeal. The solidly classical Gramophone wrote "Alcatraz is at times mesmeric and often uncanny in its power to conjure up the setting." and in the jazz magazine, Downbeat, Jon Andrews wrote, "Marshall achieves an intuitive blend of ambient music and turbulent musique concrete unlike anything else in the field." Eberbach, its companion piece, which used an ancient German monastery as its topic, followed in 1986. 

With the advent of digital technology, Marshall began to create works for ensembles and soloists using various digital delay processing tools. The Kronos Quartet asked him to write such a piece in 1984, Voces Resonae, which was one of their first forays into real time electronic processing (which of course has since become their hallmark). After a performance at the Aspen Festival in 1985, the Chicago Tribune criticJohn van Rhein made this rather surprising comparison. "Voces Resonae feeds the sounds of the four string instruments into electronic digital delay circuitry to create canonic structures of richly sonorous beauty. Not since Elliot Carter has a composer extended the expressive scope of the quartet medium so meaningfully; a wonderful piece."

But the lure of unadulterated "acoustic" music making did not escape Marshall, as witness his Spiritus for chamber orchestra commissioned by the Oakland Symphony, and Sinfonia Dolce Far Niente, commissioned by the Saint Louis Symphony. His string quartet "Evensongs" and the piano quartet, "In my Beginning is My End," both recorded on New Albion, also represent this trend in the chamber music field.  Evensongs, which is based on severalchildhood-rememberedcrepuscular hymns, and originally conceived for choreography of dancer Stuart Pimsler, often provokes deep responses from listeners. Mark Swed, writing in Chamber Music magazine, wrote "These are works so rich in associations, profound in their connection to our time and place in history, and so carefully and subtly made, that when they do sink in, they can very well come to haunt you."

Marshall's first solo recording for Nonesuch was released in 1992, the result of a commission for a work loosely connected to eastern European themes. Hidden Voices is a richly evocative work for soprano, tape and live processing and is paired on the recording with Three Penitential Visions, which is actually Eberbach incognito (in fact, a number of Bengston's photos appear in a booklet in the CD.). This recording, which garnered wider attention for Marshall, elicited this comment from Fanfare critic Edward Strickland: "Of the myriad American composers utilizing electronic media in the past forty years, none has been more successful than Marshall in transforming technology to expressive ends----he may be our finest exponent of electronic tone-poems."

In 1985 Marshall married Veronica Tomasic and their son Clement was born the following year in Olympia ,Washington, where the composer had taken up residence as a faculty member and artist in residence at Evergreen State College. In 1989, after nearly twenty years of living on the West Coast, Marshall and family removed to Connecticut where he currently resides. His activities in the performance of live electronic music have slowed down as he has put more effort into ensemble and orchestra music, although usually with some kind of tape part or electronic processing.

In 1990 the Los Angeles Philharmonic commissioned Peaceable Kingdom,  which is scored for chamber orchestra and tape, the tape part being created from recordings, made by the composer, of a village funeral procession on the island of Korcula off the Dalmatian coast of Yugoslavia.       In the mid nineties he worked with the early music singer, Paul Hillier, and composed Sierran Songs for voice and percussion with live delays. The texts were by Gary Snyder, John Muir,  Jack Kerouac and Lou Welch. This led to a work for Hillier's Theater of Voices ensemble, Hymnodic Delays,  in which four solo voices are processed through delay lines. The bases for these pieces were early American psalms by New England "singing master" composers such as Justin Morgan and Daniel Read.  Edward Seckerson, writing in Gramophone, described it thusly: "Echoes, re-echoes, delays, overlaps making for a timeless, quite haunting, often very beautiful sound experience"

He also wrote a series of solo works with digital delays, most notably for Libby Van Cleve, the oboist.  Dark Waters, for English Horn and tape, is based on an old recording of Sibelius' Swan of Tuonela, and Holy Ghosts, for oboe d'amore with delay and loop processing, which is based on motives from an aria by Bach. Both are recorded on New Albion.  Marshall's subtle use of technology--it is never vaunted for its own sake--is echoed in Ken Smith's review of the CD in Time Out NY, when he refers to the pieces as "springing from a musical sensibility that wears its technology lightly and never loses touch with the heart."

He has also recently written works for guitarist Ben Verdery (Soe-pa), violinist Todd Reynolds (September Canons ), and pianist Sarah Cahill(Authentic Presence). After the New York premier of the last piece, which is for piano alone without any electronic processing, Kyle Gann in The Village Voice wrote: "Its a tribute to Marshall that he managed to create a compelling new classic of the piano repertoire while staying with his own aesthetic world. Marshall proved that as much as he loves his electronic washes, he can also induce ecstasy without them."

In 1996, The American Composers Orchestra commissioned Kingdom Come, which combines orchestra and tape, as in the earlier Peaceable Kingdom. The piece ,which used sound materials the composer collected in Yugoslavia, is a memorial for his brother-in- law who was killed near Sarajevo during the Bosnia war. Nonesuch recorded this along with Hymnodic Delays andFogTropes II (a new string quartet version for the Kronos Quartet) in 2001.

This recording provoked many reactions and reviews which remarkedrepeatedly on the emotional intensity of his music. The Philadelphia Inquirer critic, Peter Dobrin, wrote "The first three minutes of pure orchestral music of Kingdom Come must be among the saddest ever written. It's more oppressive than Barber's Adagio while being every bit as delicate." Alan Ulrich in the San Francisco Chronicle wrote: "Marshall fashions soundscapes of breathtaking beauty."  And Mark Swed, in the Los Angeles Times, said: "Kingdom Come is Sibelius' Swan of Tuonela on steroids bravely swimming into dark, irresistible waters and unimagined worlds. Every time I hear it I immediately want to start it over (and usually do.)"

Throughout the nineties, as Marshall's music became better known through his recordings, a number of articles about his music appeared and he was the recipient of a number of awards, notably the Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Literature, a Guggenheim fellowship, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, various state arts councils, the Aaron Copland fund and others. For the citation accompanying theAcademy Award in 1998,  Steve Reich wrote the following. 

"Marshall isa composer with his own voice. The amalgam of influences on that voice includes Sibelius, Indonesian music, Eastern European folk song, electronics, and most recently, American hymns. The resulting music seamlessly and gracefully combines all these sources into a generally reflective and increasingly elegiac music that is often extremely moving. His recent Kingdom Come, for orchestra and tape, combines many of these sources into a remarkably beautiful work.”

In  the 2000s, chamber music emerged as a catalyst for such works as Smoke Creek/ Black RockMuddy WatersSea Tropes  Middlebank Rounds and The Balladeer. Marshall’s affinity with American hymnody (Psalm BookNew Haven PsalteryThird String Quartets “Old Hymns”) continues to center his compositional journey. Alleluia Grace and Flow  (commissioned for the LA Philharmonic) provoked a gushing enthusiasm from the LA Times critic, Mark Swed. who remarked: " 'Flow' is special enough that it deserves to bring lasting glory to the orchestra.” 

 He also continued to compose orchestral works, with and without electronics, A consortium commission for three  California orchestras, Bright Kingdoms, utilized tape playback for inherent “special” effects but the more recent Orphic Memories (Orpheus Orchestra Carnegie Hall) austerely eschewed them.

Although no longer living on the West Coast, Marshall still feels an affinity with the artistic environment there in which he developed as a composer.  Perhaps it's not a particular Californian sound or style he associates with as much as the openness, the sense of permission giving, the idea that anything can happen (and usually does), that art will find its own, best paths if left to nurture without methodology and rigor determining its direction. Often lumped in with the Minimalists,  post-Modernists or New Romantics, he prefers to think of his music as being somewhat in between stylistic categories, or, as he has said in the past, he hopes that his music is remembered more for its personality than its historical position. 

Marshall considers himself an "expressivist," if there must be any label, as he feels that his music is always about something, that it points to other things, that it's "meaning" is meaningful.