Ingram Marshall, Fog Tropes / Gradual Requiem (2014 Edition)

John Schaefer

By John Schaefer

on 04.28.14 in Reviews

This 2014 reissue serves as a reminder of how much innovative and important work was done in the 1970s and ’80s by composers who began using tape (and later digital) technology not just as a special effect, but as a part of the structure of a piece. Perhaps no one did this more effectively than Ingram Marshall. In Marshall’s best works, including the two that make up this album, the sonic architecture comprises not only the usual melody, harmony and rhythm, but electroacoustic concerns as well. These include the number and duration of tape loops, the quality of signal processing, or the length of a delay effect.

Deeply ambient and evocative music

“Fog Tropes” may well be Ingram Marshall’s greatest hit. Written for a new music series in San Francisco curated by a then-unknown John Adams, and decades later incorporated by Martin Scorsese into his film Shutter Island, it is scored for a brass sextet with “foghorns and other ambient sounds” on tape. Dark and nocturnal, with the rhythm of lapping waves and the haunting sounds of San Francisco Bay, “Fog Tropes” will forever be associated with that specific locale — despite the composer’s own protests that the piece is not about the bay, but about fog, and the experience of being lost in fog.

“Gradual Requiem” is an even more ambitious piece. As its title suggests, it unfolds bit by bit as a series of acoustic sounds that loop around on themselves, and eventually fade away to be replaced by additional textures. Those sound sources range from the composer’s own keening falsetto vocals to a recording of a choir of Corsican men, singing in the striking throaty style native to that island. As with its companion piece, this is deeply ambient and evocative music.