Gradual Requiem became a requiem, gradually, as its name implies. In the late '70s, I was developing several ideas for “live” electronic music repertory, ideas that might coalesce into concert length semi-improvisational performance pieces. I had already composed and performed The Fragility Cycles which employed a two tape recorder delay-loop system, and I was looking to create a sequel of sorts.
It was only after I had focused on a chain of synthesizer chords (the “minor ladder sequence”) and introduced the sweet/bitter timbre of the mandolin, that I began to feel the music as elegiac. When I began to experiment with vocal keening through the delay matrix, and realized the melodic shaping was somehow related to the requiem chant I had heard (in fact, the “gradual” is a liturgical form and the “requiem aeternam” sequence is related to it), the music just became a requiem, or self identified as such. By the time it was ready for performance in the early '80s, it had become a requiem for my father Harry Marshall, who had recently died. Working on that music, and performing it, helped me to get through that period of deep sense of loss and mourning.
I am a strong believer in the idea that music makes reference to many things, that it is, in fact, full of meaning. Although Gradual Requiem is tightly sructured (see my notes on the New Albion recording) it is not “about” its formality; it is about what the music makes you feel, which is, I finally realized, about grief and the affect of inconsolable loss.
But I have come to realize that this music is not just for my father — although it’s is dedicated to his memory — but for anyone and everyone who has suffered loss.
I performed the piece many times with my friend Foster Reed playing mandolin (I supplied keyboard, synthesizers, voice, Balinese flute and electronic processing) and each time, I became more aware of its healing, consolatory power as I thought about my father during the performance. My memory of him, and my memory of composing this music for him, merged more frequently and became, for me, more universal. So, in effect, it is a secret, intimate memory piece as well as a more general, universal expression of sorrow and remembrance.