Ingram Marshall, composer, dies at 80

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Ingram Marshall, an influential American composer who used combinations of electronic sounds and standard orchestral instruments to create deeply moving, atmospheric, and often melancholic soundscapes, died May 31 at a hospital in New Haven, New York. Connecticut. He was 80 years old.

He had complications from Parkinson’s disease, said his wife, Veronica Tomasic.

Mr. Marshall’s music has drawn on a multitude of styles, from 18th century hymnody and lush romanticism to electronic composition and mid-20th century minimalism – a range of influences that have made his music almost impossible to categorize. He was sometimes called a post-minimalist, but he disliked the term, suggesting postmodernism as an alternative. But his music also embraced an element of time expansion – a sense of slow unwinding – born out of his fascination with Indonesian gamelan, a traditional drum set he discovered as a student in the late 1960s. .

Trained in the use of computers to produce musical sound, first at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center and later at the California Institute of the Arts, he created pieces with purely electronic timbres – “blip and bloop” textures and bleep”, as he once called them – but generally preferred to collect real-world sounds and modify them with digital delays, loops and other techniques, often adding live instruments or vocals, which would also be processed electronically .

His best-known work, “Fog Tropes” (1981), uses sounds he recorded near San Francisco Bay, including fog horns at different heights, ringing buoys, seagulls and wind. Looped and processed, the recordings became an atmospheric score of hauntingly dark hues, to which he added music for a live brass sextet. In 2010, director Martin Scorsese used a section of the room in his film “Shutter Island”.

“I never worship technology for its own sake,” Mr. Marshall told the online music website Perfect Sound Forever in 2003. “It’s just a tool and you have to avoid the trap of always wanting the newest and most up-to-date technology in order to make his music, because that perfect technology will never exist. It is better to use what you have, what you find available to you and make the most of it party – then you are in charge.

Another of Mr. Marshall’s most admired scores, “Kingdom Come” (1997) – a meditation on the Yugoslav wars of the mid-1990s – uses heavily processed recordings of Christian and Muslim sacred music recorded in Serbia, Croatia and in Bosnia, wrapped in a rich orchestral and choral fabric. Mr. Marshall had collected the music during a visit to the former Yugoslavia in 1985. When his brother-in-law, journalist Francis Tomasic, was killed in Bosnia in 1994, Mr. Marshall wrote the work as a sort of requiem for the victims of the conflict.

“’Composers, poets and artists always feel useless in the wake of a disaster,’ he told the New York Times in 2001. “We’re not firefighters; we are not philanthropists or inspirational speakers. But I think it’s the tragedy and the calamity of life that we’re trying to make sense of, and that’s the stuff of our lives as artists.

Other works, including ‘Gradual Requiem’ (1978), ‘Hymnodic Delays’ (1997), ‘Psalmbook’ (2011) and ‘Magnificat Strophes’ (2014), also tap into an innate spirituality.

Mr. Marshall occasionally used repetition and other minimalist techniques, but he dismissed the dogma that drove the style, telling the New York Times in 2007 that when it came to minimalism, “what was important was not so much the process than the expressive use of it”. .”

And while his music embraced dissonance when needed to communicate a particular idea or mood, he was also adept at writing graceful melody underpinned by lush romantic texture, as he did in “Authentic Presence.” (2002), for solo piano. , or “Dark Waters” (1995), for English horn and tape.

“Ingram Marshall is the great poet of the indistinct,” wrote Village Voice critic Kyle Gann in 2002. “His music is vaporous, nebulous. It melts. He enters discreetly and dies while slipping away slowly. In between, the drama can be gripping, but it sneaks up on you.

Ingram Douglass Marshall was born in Mount Vernon, NY on May 10, 1942. His father was a banker and his mother was a homemaker who was also a talented amateur pianist and singer and encouraged her son’s interest in music.

Mr. Marshall continued his musical studies at Lake Forest College in Illinois, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1964, and at Columbia University, where he studied musicology with Paul Henry Lang and composition with Vladimir Ussachevsky. and Mario Davidovsky, two pioneers of electronic typesetting. .

In 1966, Mr. Marshall continued his work in electronic music at the California Institute of the Arts, where he was a graduate assistant to composer Morton Subotnick. In addition to studying electronic music, Mr. Marshall discovered Indonesian gamelan at Cal Arts and studied with KRT Wasitodipura before traveling to Indonesia and Bali on a Fulbright scholarship to further his research. He completed his MFA in 1971 and remained at Cal Arts to teach.

Mr. Marshall was in the San Francisco area from 1973 to 1985, composing such works as “Fragility Cycles” (1978) for gambuh (a Balinese bamboo flute) and synthesizer, and “Fog Tropes”, which began as a contribution to the work of another composer. one evening’s work on the weather in San Francisco. For a time, Mr. Marshall used the electronic component of the piece, then called “Fog”, as a prelude to performances of his “Fragility Cycles” (1978). But in 1981, John Adams – then composer-in-residence at the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra – invited Mr. Marshall to present a concert of his music and suggested that he add horns to “Fog”, an idea that given “Fog Tropes” in its final form.

In 1985, Mr. Marshall married Veronica Tomasic, who survives him, and their son, Dominic Marshall; a daughter from a previous relationship, Juliet Simon; and four grandchildren.

After teaching at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, Mr. Marshall joined the faculty at Yale University in 1989 and settled in Hamden, Connecticut. He was Visiting Professor and Senior Fellow at the Brooklyn College Institute for Studies in American Music in 1990 and 1991.

Several of Mr. Marshall’s students, including Timo Andres, Christopher Cerrone, Jacob Cooper, Armando Bayolo and Tyondai Braxton, became respected composers.

Among the musicians who have commissioned and performed Mr. Marshall’s music have been the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Kronos Quartet, the American Composers Orchestra, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, guitarist Benjamin Verdery and pianist Sarah Cahill. He composed a concerto for classical and electric guitars, “Dark Florescence” (2004) which was premiered at Carnegie Hall by Verdery and Andy Summers, the guitarist of Police. He also collaborated with photographer Jim Bengston on the multimedia works “Alcatraz” (1982), about the Californian prison, and “Eberbach” (1985), about a German monastery.

“I have to confess,” Mr. Marshall told the New Music Box online in 2001, “I’m not prolific. I don’t write a lot of music and it takes me a long time to finish things and that worried me. I used to think, “Oh my God, my career, it’s not going anywhere unless I get four or five symphonies,” you know, and more of this and more of that. But I always think of the poets who publish maybe every five years a very small volume of poetry…. I think about my work a bit like that, you know, there’s a certain essence, there’s a certain concentrated quality in my work and that’s the old quality versus quantity thing. I just try to focus on what I do well. It’s not much, but I hope you get a lot more out of what I did.

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