Daniel Stephen Johnson was born in the desert and learned to play the violin. After studying viola and English at the University of Southern California, he wrote fiction at Columbia University. Then he moved to Connecticut, where he worked at a record shop and wrote about music, literature and comedy for the New Haven Advocate and the Believer. Now he lives in Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and works as a sheet music salesman in Queens. Follow Daniel on Twitter at @linernotesdanny.
Ingram Marshall: Hypnotic Clouds and Washes of Sound
The Writer of Mystical Electro-Acoustic Music Introduces His Work
Sunday, March 11, 2012
Some of Ingram Marshall's earliest recordings are of solo, semi-improvised performances, playing an Indonesian flute and singing falsetto to an accompaniment of prerecorded electronics and live tape delays. They are mesmerizing—thick, swelling, fragrant clouds of music.
His music has evolved over the decades, but the sweetest ingredients are still there. The love of Indonesian music survives in luminous, overlapping, diatonic melodies, inspired by Marshall's immersion in the gamelan, in pieces like Peaceable Kingdom for orchestra and tape (1990), and the lush atmospherics have expanded into landscapes of Romantic grandeur, inspired by Marshall's lifelong infatuation with the symphonies of Bruckner and Sibelius. And core techniques remain the same, as in Hymnodic Delays for voices with electronics (1997), composed for Paul Hillier's Theatre of Voices, where Marshall uses loops to turn melody into canon and canon into a great wash of sound.
Perhaps most importantly, he has retained an improvising performer's sense of timing. He listens long and deeply, and organizes his music according to a mysterious, intuitive, but undeniable logic. Even when he ventures into writing music totally free of electronic augmentation, his compositional voice is strong and clear, as in his surprisingly moving Authentic Presence for solo piano (2001).
Perhaps the greatest mystery of Marshall's music is why it isn't better known. Despite performances by the Kronos Quartet (Fog Tropes II, 1994) and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (2006), his music has never been taken up by the classical mainstream.
But its genius is recognized by a handful of connoisseurs. John Adams, Marshall's ex-roommate from his West Coast days, remains a steadfast champion of the composer, and with good reason—it's hard to imagine Adams writing a piece like On the Transmigration of Souls without Marshall's influence. The New Albion record label, one of the essential independent voices in modern music, was founded largely for the purpose of putting out a recording of Marshall's Fog Tropes for brass and tape (1982).
And a generation of younger music lovers, studying under Marshall, or just downloading his records, is spreading the word: here is a major American composer, even a central one, writing mystifyingly beautiful music like nobody else. Have you heard this stuff?