Sounds Heard: Ingram Marshall—September Canons
Ingram Marshall – September Canons (excerpt)
New World Records 80704
Todd Reynolds, violin, with electronic processing; Members of the Yale Philharmonia, Julian Pellicano, conductor; The Berkeley Gamelan, Daniel Schmidt, director; Ingram Marshall, gambuh (Balinese flute), Serge synthesizer, live electronic processing
When museums hold retrospectives for visual artists, it can be compelling to wander from room to room and watch the evolution of a creative mind right before your eyes. Approaches morph and methods crystallize, but more often than not, the core idea remains in focus throughout. Something similar is put on display with September Canons, a new disc of four pieces drawn from Ingram Marshall’s catalog. Spanning 1972-2002, each included work showcases facets of what has earned Marshall a reputation for creating impressionistic music that, whether capitalizing on modern technology or taking off from more traditional musical forms, is sonically unique in a way that nudges open rather than aggressively pokes at the ear. The pieces are also each remarkably expansive in their development, a welcoming gradual progression in that “take your time and start from the beginning” sort of way.
September Canons, Marshall’s searingly beautiful work for violin with electronic processing, opens this collection of pieces. Though it’s billed as a “lamentation on the events of September 11, 2001,” I almost don’t want you to know that until after you’ve heard the piece at least once. Even though there is something deeply moving in associating its sweeping lines with the memory of that strange, terrible, clear blue morning in New York, the music in no way needs that charged storyline in order to have a bracing impact on the listener.
Marshall acknowledges that he created the piece in close collaboration with its soloist, violinist Todd Reynolds, and the quality of its presentation here seems to reflect a remarkable shared passion and commitment to the work. The sensitive flutter in the grounding track Reynolds sets up, the snap in the pizzicato, the strained reach projected through his bow strokes all combine to conjure powerful emotion without straying into cloying or overblown sentimentality. Maybe this is just my own mind following an odd personal logic, but in many ways September Canons kept leading me back to Ralph Vaughan Williams’s violin work The Lark Ascending. Marshall has penned similarly soaring lines filled with a romantic melancholy, but in his hands the watercolor vision of light and innocence is washed over at turns with much darker and more troubled hues.
The second piece on the disc, Peaceable Kingdom, has an almost cinematic quality to it, not in the linear programmatic sense but in the depth and complexity of the sonic imagery it conjures. Opening with clips of real-world recordings—a funeral band caught mid procession, children’s cries orchestrated into eerie cycles—the concrete gives way to a lamenting string line which is then oppressed by piano, tolling bells, and the clang of percussion. That’s not to imply that the road this piece travels is always difficult going, but it does mirror a level of wonder and darkness familiar to fans of more macabre fairytales. Members of the Yale Philharmonia present this work with a restraint that allows the details to pop.
Marshall credits his study of Indonesian music with shifting his thinking and slowing him down. This applied to the electronic music he was writing, as well. Woodstone (1981), the only work Marshall created for gamelan, and The Fragility Cycles (1976) for Balinese flute, synthesizer, and electronic processing, the two pieces which conclude this disc, capture the overarching impact of that development on his work. No matter how old or new the underlying sound sources, both pieces languidly guide the listener through their exotic landscapes, places where long detours seem to be encouraged to the tourist’s benefit. Here, as throughout the disc, it’s as if Marshall has gone on a journey that would never adequately fit on a postcard. But if you’ll indulge him, he’ll tell you to the whole story—an absorbing and all-encompassing tale for which you’re advised to take a seat.