MARSHALL September Canons.1 Peaceable Kingdom.2 Woodstone.3 The Fragility Cycles (“Gambuh”)4 • Todd Reynolds (vn); 1 Julian Pellicano, cond; Yale PO; 2 Daniel Schmidt, dir; Berkeley Gamelan;3 Ingram MarshallRead more (gambuh, electronics)4 • NEW WORLD 80704-2 (63: 42)
Ingram Marshall (b. 1942) is rooted in PacRim culture, and identified with it, both from a long time spent in California (L.A., the Bay Area, and the Pacific Northwest), and an extended stay in Indonesia, studying gamelan. So it may be a surprise to also know he’s from metropolitan New York, studied electronic music at Columbia and NYU before going to CalArts, and has resided in New Haven for a couple of decades now. All this is of course unimportant by itself, but it does illustrate how Marshall is a far more unpredictable and not-easily-categorized artist than some might think, especially if one only uses the label Minimalist. (Indeed, the composer says in the booklet notes that the only term he accepts is Expressivist, which I find marvelous.)
Marshall is part of the “second wave” of Minimalism, his closest counterpart being his friend John Adams. But his music, though usually slow and repetitive, has a very different feel from the “classic” version of the style. It’s more languid and textural, less pulsing, and it has a certain deep sadness and tenderness about it. I somewhat jokingly refer to him as “the melancholy Minimalist,” though don’t assume the music’s dreary from that. In fact, it’s consistently beautiful, in many senses of the word, including the traditional ones.
This disc is a great introduction to the composer’s work, because it covers a very wide chronology (1976–2002), and gives both a sense of Marshall’s voice and his range. The earliest piece is The Fragility Cycles, one of Marshall’s haunting early “environments” combining live performance (the gambuh is an Indonesian flute) with tape delay, synthesizer, and other processing. Woodstone was written in 1981 for the Berkeley gamelan, and uses a theme from the Beethoven “Waldstein” sonata as its thematic seed. Not only is there this unusual motivic cross-fertilization, but Marshall does something that you never hear in traditional Indonesian music: He blends and modulates between pelog and slendro scales, which is a ravishing effect.
Peaceable Kingdom (1990) is one of the composer’s dreamscapes, combining an acoustic ensemble with various blended ambient recordings, in this case village funeral bands from Yugoslavia and church bells from Italy. The mixing of high and low, acoustic and ambient, feels quite Ivesian (Marshall has cited that composer and Sibelius as two of his greatest influences). It’s wistful and poignant, and while its title apparently comes from the Vermont farm where it was written, one can’t but help hear it as a restrained lament over the devastation that befell the Balkans near the end of the last century.
September Canons is another piece referring to tragedy, written in the wake of 9/11, but there is nothing overly grand or melodramatic about it (thank heavens). Instead, Todd Reynolds’ violin moves into a world of electronic processing that creates sheets of sounds like rain, keening choruses, smoky harmonic clouds. This work too is Ivesian in that near its end it quotes the hymn tune In the Sweet Bye and Bye, the same upon which Ives based the third movement of his Second Orchestral Set (and which was that composer’s response to a similar tragedy, the sinking of the Lusitania).
I frankly love all this music. (Disclosure alert, however: The composer is a friend. As always, though, I would not review the music if I felt I couldn’t meet and celebrate it on its own terms.) Marshall’s music is also a little like Ives in that on the score it sometimes looks less polished or structurally “wrought” than that of some other composers. But the proof is in the listening here, and throughout his career he’s always been concerned above all with sound and its expressive impact; the intellectual issues can be thrashed out later by the scholars who will study his work.
Performances are consistently on the mark. This is maybe the best single introduction to Marshall’s work in his current discography.
Introduction to Ingram marshallJuly 16, 2014By Joseph Lieber, MD (Great Neck, NY)See All My Reviews"Ingram Marshall has had a few recordings available. One of his best is Fog Tropes II with other great works. This album is a great introduction to his brand of electronic mixed with orchestral. It is superb. It avoids the pure noise of straight electronic genre yet balances beautifully the more conservative with tape. You owe it a listen, you may become hooked!"Report Abuse