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Ingram Marshall

"I hope my music is remembered for its personality rather than its style or historical position." Ingram Marshall feels that his music emanates from an extremely personal and private source, and that critical attempts to lump him with the minimalists, downtowners, New Romanticists or the "California School" are futile. "Stylistic monikers are handles which make discussion of art easier. I might say I am a minimalist just to let someone know, right off the bat, what I am not (e.g., not a serialist, not a rock n' roll song writer), but usually I regret having said it. I feel strongly now that music always points to something else, has other meanings - even when it means only itself - and in this sense I am an 'expressivist'".

Much of Marshall's aesthetic was developed in the mid-sixties to mid-seventies when he spent hours in solitude working in the sonic cave of an electronic music studio. Even though he has moved away from purely electronic music, and composes more for instrumental ensembles or mixed media, Marshall's earlier "one-to-one" experience with electronic music seems to have shaped his personal, "painterly" approach to music making.

His earliest encounters with electronic music were in the mid-sixties while a graduate student at Columbia University. Although officially working in the area of historical musicology, he managed to study with Ussachevsky, Davidowsky and Mimarogulu at the famed Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. After leaving Columbia he decided to concentrate on composition and worked briefly at the NYU Composers Workshop in Greenwich Village with Subotnick and Tcherepnin. In 1970 he became a graduate assistant to Subotnick at Cal Arts and stayed on to teach there for several years after receiving an MFA in 1971.

It was at Cal Arts that he became seduced by the dark colors and endless forms of Indonesian music, for there it was possible to study the gamelan traditions of Java and Bali under the tutelage of the master Jogjakartan musician, KRT Wasitodipura. A summer study trip in 1971 to Indonesia, and further work at the ASEA summer schools in Berkeley and Seattle in subsequent years furthered his knowledge and interest.

Much of Marshall's music has a quality of slowed-down sense of time and dreamy evocativeness that is clearly derived from what he heard and played in Indonesia. The gamelan gong forms have also influenced the way his music is structured in some works, but he has not made a major theoretical issue out of this, feeling that form and procedure is largely intuitive and personal.

With his interest in the technology of electronic music and love of the traditions of Asia, it was not surprising that he developed, in the mid 70s, a series of live-electronic performance pieces which employed the Balinese flute (gambuh), and analogue synthesizers with elaborate tape delay systems. Marshall also maintained an interest in "text-sound" composition which resulted in a series of tape pieces based on the manipulation of the spoken voice. A Fulbright Fellowship allowed him several months in Sweden in 1976 to pursue his interest in that area. His most significant live-electronic performance work from this period is "The Fragility Cycles", which combines music from the gambuh series with experiments in the text sound genre. Marshall performed this work widely in Europe and the USA.

His fascination with tape delay systems in the live electronic solo work led him to try similar ideas with instrumental combinations. "Non Confundar" (string sextet, clarinet, alto flute), written for the San Francisco Conservatory New Music Ensemble in 1977 was an attempt to bridge the gap between the immediacy and personality of the soloistic live-electronic medium and the more formalized environment of the fully notated ensemble piece. He has since developed a series of instrumental works which require real time electronic manipulation through tape delay or digital processing. Examples are "Fog Tropes" for brass sextet and tape (1982) and "Voces Resonae" for string quartet written for the Kronos Quartet in 1984. "Fog Tropes" has been widely performed and is perhaps Marshall's best known piece. It was selected as one of two official American entries for the 1985 UNESCO International Composers Rostrum in Paris.

Marshall's main focus since 1985 has been ensemble music, both with and without electronics. His "Sinfonia 'Dolce far Niente'", commissioned by Leonard Slatkin and the St. Louis Symphony, is his most ambitious orchestral work to date. This one-movement work juxtaposes gamelan-inspired textures and rhythms with music which unabashedly derives its inspiration from composers such as Bruckner and Sibelius. Based on a four-note motif, it uses gradual accumulation and subtle repetition to build up its structures.

The recent "Hidden Voices", commissioned by Nonesuch Records, had its premiere at New Music America at The Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1989. It features digitally sampled voices from old recordings of Eastern European lament singers along with a "live" soprano. One of the main conceits of this peice is the simplicity and purity of the solo voice over the wild, keening, often frenetic choirs of vocal sounds he concocts through his electronic wizardry. Marshall's new work, "A Peaceable Kingdom", commissioned for the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group by Betty Freeman, uses a chamber ensemble in concert with a tape part. Bearing some relationship to "Hidden Voices", it combines multi-layered textures of church bells and a Yugoslavian village band with the peaceable utterances and commentary of woodwinds and strings.

Marshall's most recent work has been with the Kronos Quartet ("Fog Tropes II") and the singer Paul Hillier who is performing "Sierran Songs" with the composer in the 1994-95 season. He is currently working on a commissioned work for the American Composers' Orchestra.


* Alcatraz: Ingram Marshall, music, Jim Bengston, photography; 1991 (New Albion, NA040)

* Fog Tropes; Gradual Requiem; Gambuh I: 1988 (New Albion, NA002)

* Fragility Cycles: Marshall, voice, electronics and tape; (IBU 101, LP)

* Three Penitential Visions; Hidden Voices: 1990 (Elektra Nonesuch, 9 79227-2)


* "Fog Tropes" from American Elegies: works of Marshall, Feldman, Adams, Ives, Diamond; Orchestra of St. Luke's, John Adams conducting; 1991 (Elektra/Nonesuch 9 79249-2)

* "Gradual Siciliano (for Gus)": Marshall, piano and electronics, Fausto, mandolin; from Cold Blue: works of Chas. Smith, Peter Garland, Daniel Lentz, Michael Byron, Jim Fox, Read Miller, John Kuhlman, Rick Cox, Michael Jon Fink, Eugene Bowen & Harold Budd, James Tenney; (Cold Blue, L10 LP)

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New Albion Records / 584 Castro St #525, San Francisco, CA 94114 /