Visionary composer and performer Ingram Marshall dies at 80: NPR


Composer Ingram Marshall, photographed in 2021 by his son.

Clem Marshall/Clem Marshall


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Clem Marshall/Clem Marshall


Composer Ingram Marshall, photographed in 2021 by his son.

Clem Marshall/Clem Marshall

Composer and performer Ingram Marshallwhose honors include awards from the Guggenheim Foundation and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, died at the age of 80 from complications of advanced Parkinson’s disease. His death was confirmed by his wife, Veronica Tomasic.

Marshall forged unusual links between minimalism and electronic music, drawing on sophisticated yet understated techniques to create unexpected expressive landscapes that stand in contrast to the more abstract creative modes favored by his contemporaries. Marshall’s friend, composer John Adamscalled it music “of an almost painful intimacy”.

“Its essence is deep and brooding,” wrote Adams in the liner notes of the 1984 New Albion recording of Tropes of Fog, Gradual Requiem and Gambuh I. “Although its generously layered surfaces are often painted with a rich, almost opiate luxuriance, the message is, nevertheless, always spiritual, one might even say religious, in its content.”

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In addition to the legacy left by his music, Marshall encouraged generations of young composers. He held teaching positions at the California Institute of the Arts in the early 1970s and Evergreen State College in the late 1980s, as well as visiting positions at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Brooklyn College, and at Yale University. Its alumni include the distinguished composers, musicians and musicologists Timo Andres, Armando Bayolo, Christophe Cerron, Tyondai Braxton, Jacob Cooper, Adrian Knight, Matt Sargentand Stephen Gorboswho wrote a thesis analyzing the composition of Marshall dark waters.

Ingram Marshall was born on May 10, 1942 in Mount Vernon, NY just north of New York. His formal education included an undergraduate degree at Lake Forest University in 1964, followed by graduate studies at Columbia University, where he was affiliated with the Vanguard Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center below Vladimir Usashevsky. He also studied with Morton Subotnick, a pioneer who composed with early synthesizers, in a workshop at New York University and the California Institute of the Arts. Marshall, who would long be associated with a West Coast aesthetic, earned his MFA there in 1971.

His real awakening at Cal Arts, however, was occasioned by a profound encounter with the school’s Javanese gamelan ensemble, which happened to be led by one of the island’s greatest modern composers, Kanjeng Pangeran Harjo Notoprojo. Marshall studied music carefully, not wanting to do anything else for a while, and eventually spent four months in Indonesia.

“It really changed the way I think,” he said. in an interview for the Oral History of Yale University’s American Music Collections. “I realized that the kind of formally curated ‘zip and zap, bleep and blap’ electronic music I was trying to do just wasn’t my way and I had to find a slower, deeper way to approach electronic music.”

Unlike other composers who fell in love with the glittering bronze instruments of the Orient, Marshall wrote little for the gamelan itself; gambuh, a Balinese bamboo flute which he played in several plays, was the exception. Instead, the music influenced the way he structured time, no doubt a response to the expansive and suspended quality of ritual time that is such an important part of Indonesia’s pre-industrial cultural heritage. These generously layered surfaces of Marshall’s music also seem to mirror gamelan in its constant motion, an imitation of nature. In short, his experiences set him on the path to pursuing what he called “the dark, the beautiful, and the infinite.”

Musician Ingram Marshall in an undated publicity photo.

Nonesuch Records / Courtesy of the artist


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Nonesuch Records / Courtesy of the artist


Musician Ingram Marshall in an undated publicity photo.

Nonesuch Records / Courtesy of the artist

Marshall’s early works are text-sound pieces for tape alone, such as the raspy Cortez (1973). They progress to feature live vocals and instruments with electronic processing – some of which Marshall himself played – in conjunction with pre-recorded elements, such as in the windswept wind. Cycles of fragility (1976).

Tropes of Fog (1982), the first of which Adams conducted, is Marshall’s best-known composition (and the soundtrack to a seasick Leonardo DiCaprio at the opening of the film shutter island). Initially a tape collage of foghorn recordings made by Marshall in the San Francisco Bay Area, the composition has expanded to include a live sextet with pairs of trumpets, trombones and French horns. Using his keen awareness of the interval, Marshall fashions a texture in which the brass players make ideal companions for the foghorns with their penetrating moans. The streamlined soundscape immediately evokes a sense of place, paradoxically leaving the listener both enveloped and adrift. In the same way, alacatraz (1984), a collaboration with photographer Jim Bengstonis defined by the sharp slamming of a mighty steel door.

Although Marshall defined his music on his own terms, he had a vast knowledge and appreciation of the classical repertoire. His compositions often incorporate quotations, including that of Beethoven Waldstein Sonata (wood stone1982), by Bach Mass in B minor (Holy Spirits1999), by Stravinsky Orpheus (Orphic Memories2006), and several references to Sibelius (Cycles of fragility, Orpheus, dark waters), with whom Marshall felt a special affinity. But rather than using these fragments to center Western high art culture, Marshall placed them within larger conceptions of sound and the world.

Many of his pieces are elegiac, as in 1997 kingdom come composed as a reflection on the Yugoslav wars, and September gunsa play to commemorate September 11 written in 2003 for violinist Todd Reynolds. Remarkably, despite the violent nature of these historical events, the works feel emotionally grounded.

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Reynolds credits Marshall with “quiet power and quiet wisdom”. Composer and pianist Timo Andres explains these works in the context of Marshall’s spirituality, which may characterize his memory as well as his life.

“Many of his other pieces are about grieving, coming to terms with death, even finding some kind of ecstatic joy in the anticipation of it,” Andres wrote in an email to NPR. “Listening to him is a sort of mourning ritual, connecting us to the greatest pool of human grief. Yet there is nothing bombastic or exaggerated about it; he never tries to sum up anything. either, to raise the fist to the sky, to condemn or to comfort. On the contrary, one has the feeling of an individual contemplating the immensity, trying to understand while simultaneously knowing that it is impossible to understand.

Ingram Marshall is survived by his wife Veronica Tomasic, son Clement Marshall, daughter-in-law Samantha and two granddaughters, daughter Juliet Simon and two grandsons. A concert honoring Marshall is planned at Yale for the 2022-23 academic year.

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