May 8, 2014
Next to feature in our Reissued on Vinyl series is Ingram Marshall’s Fog Tropes // Gradual Requiem, a haunting double pack plucked from the deepest recesses of that notional archive of American minimalism. A student of Morton Subotnick whose fragile juxtapositions of field recordings and sparse instrumentation soundtracked Scorsese’s Shutter Island, Marshall here finds himself in the safe hands of fledgling label Arc Light Editions whose reputation has already been cast by their reissue of Arthur Russell’s Another Thought last year. The Vinyl Factory’s James Hammond reveals just what what we’ve been missing.
Words: James Hammond
Fog Tropes // Gradual Requiem
(New Albion / Arc Light Editions, 1984 / 2014)
Arc Light Editions made a bold start to their output with last year’s vinyl edition of Arthur Russell’s Another Thought, and this reissue of two lambent exercises in sonic juxtaposition, suspense and elegy from Ingram Marshall is their shrewdly chosen second foray. Originally issued in 1984, the two works here are most definite highlights of Marshall’s intriguing back catalogue, which has been spent largely on the innovation of tape composition and the merging of live and pre-recorded sounds for orchestral and chamber works.
A former student of Morton Subotnick, and a composer who drinks from many musicological streams Marshall’s years of development were within a ferment of East Coast/ West coast minimalism, and on travels to Indonesia to study Javanese and Balinese Gamelan, the sounds of which have had a constant footing in much of his work. Indeed his playing of an idiosyncratic Balinese flute known as the gambuh has appeared in many of his recordings, and is one of the tape processed elements which sets the tone in the first few minutes of Fog Tropes. It blends into an impending vortex of sound that places instruments against field recordings, as foghorns, buoys and wind eventually combine with a brass section. These first two minutes have oddly enough been Marshall’s most widely heard composition, as they provided the soundtrack to Leonardo Di Caprio’s voyage through turbulent seas in Scorsese’s Shutter Island, and whilst they may have been paired against DiCaprio’s seasick retching, the enveloping cloud of sound still strikes as an apt choice to conjure foreboding and muted dread.
As the story goes, Fog Tropes started out as a series of environmental recordings of foghorns and the ambience of San Francisco Bay within its mid-summer fog. With the theme effectively set, the largely field recording based piece then received a score for a brass section and eventually became a staple for live performance and experimentation between pre-recorded sounds and live accompaniment. Combining the non musical with the musical has resulted in more than a few duds of New Age indulgence over the years, but Fog Tropes strikes that finest of balances as the disparate elements of field recordings, conventional instrumentation and tape delays bleed into its seductive and haunting atmosphere. Maritime wisps of idyllic summer ambience this is not, there’s a sinister edge and enveloping tension that runs through its darkened strain of ethereality, that draws the listener further within as much as it unsettles.
True to the original edition, Fog Tropes is paired with Gradual Requiem, which gives a complimentary yet wholly different experience in its melancholic and starkly beautiful reflection on loss. A requiem for Marshall’s father, the elegy builds, as mandolin, gambuh, vocals, synthesizer and piano find harmony in Marshall’s semi-improvised composition and delay matrix. Marshall’s work with tape and digital delay is often overlooked and it’s delicately and skilfully employed here to slow down time and stretch the depths of the piece. Given the emotional weight of Gradual Requiem, it floats by on a relative breeze of gorgeous instrumentation, and lightens the tone after the pervasive tension of Fog Tropes.
Whilst Marshall’s name often slips through the cracks when reeling off lists of the superstars of American minimalism and modern composition, he’s an astute practitioner and key thinker in both regards and this reissue is a timely reminder. With chances to see his live performances being few and far between, these two studio renditions manage to capture the essence of much of his work and still sound as evocative 30 years down the line. Highly recommended.
For more info visit the Arc Light Editions website.