Ingram Marshall: Today’s Music Tomorrow
FRANK J. OTERI: More than most composers I can think of, your music raises some interesting issues about archiving and preservation since a great deal of the music you have done involves electronic manipulations even though these works are not necessarily fixed pieces of tape music in the classical sense. For example, the first piece of yours I ever heard, Gradual Requiem, is not a reproducible piece in the traditional sense. And I wonder what that means in terms of legacy and how this music will be acknowledged hundreds of years into the future.
INGRAM MARSHALL: Well, let’s just worry about 10 years or 20, but obviously when I created Gradual Requiem and an earlier piece called The Fragility Cycles, which are both kind of hybrid works that have what you might call live electronic, actual performed stuff that is being processed electronically, so it combines that sort of thing with some stuff that is on tape. Either a tape piece or a piece that’s on tape that I do something on top of. So those kind of hybrid pieces; almost, I would say are almost impossible for someone else to perform ‘cuz I never bothered with any real notation. The only notation I have are strictly notes to myself; in case I forget what the chord progression was that I played; you know that kind of thing… I never thought of them as being reproducible for other people to play, any more than I suppose a jazz musician in the ’30s or ’40s doing stuff would’ve thought about someone who maybe one day might listen to it and transcribe it all. You know? Maybe they did; I don’t know but I was thinking of myself as a creative musician who performs… who brings his work into life through performance and that’s their character… And then of course I moved on to other things where I do try to reproduce a score of some sort. Even if I do have some live electronics, itís intended for other people to realize them.
FRANK J. OTERI: So the document, say of a work like Gradual Requiem, the text, if you would, really is the recording.
INGRAM MARSHALL: Mm-hmm.
FRANK J. OTERI: That is the text. And that is how the work will be known. Just like now we look back at Louis Armstrong‘s West End Blues, and, you know, someone can transcribe it, but the document, the piece of history, is the original recording he made.
INGRAM MARSHALL: Yeah, but I have a myriad of recordings of Gradual Requiem, for example, ‘cuz every time I performed it, it would get recorded because my technique in those days was to have a live tape delay thing going on, and with a live tape delay it was also, it would record everything too. So the second tape recorder, which is picking up what’s been recorded and played back on the first, it also kind of collects all the sound you hear. So, yeah, my archives are open to anyone who wants to go through them and listen to different versions of Gradual Requiem or the Fragility Cycles and they can see how it was performed differently at different times.
FRANK J. OTERI: So, if someone really wants to know Gradual Requiem, just hearing the recording that got released commercially really isn’t enough.
INGRAM MARSHALL: Well, I was pretty happy with the recording. And it was actually a studio recording. It wasn’t a conflation of live performances. The recording of The Fragility Cycles, on the other hand, was a conflation of three or four live performances. So, I don’t know. I feel that Gradual Requiem as it exists on that recording is pretty much what the piece is. Although it’s certainly interesting to listen to other versions of it …
FRANK J. OTERI: How different are they?
INGRAM MARSHALL: Well, you know, those pieces never went off perfectly. There’s always some glitch somewhere and there are always some sounds that would get in the tape delay. So, it’s often just a question of finding a performance that was relatively unblemished. But I have some favorites. I remember I did a version of The Fragility Cycles in Oslo, in the Sonia Henie Museum around 1979, and I’ve often thought that that was the perfect performance. But that’s not what’s on the record. The recording of The Fragility Cycles was created from two live performances. They were both in Charlemagne Palestine‘s loft on North Moore Street in New York in ’78, I believe. I don’t know if you know that piece?
FRANK J. OTERI: I have that LP. And a lot of the material resurfaces on the CD on New World…
INGRAM MARSHALL: That’s right. I kind of harvested some material from it.
FRANK J. OTERI: But into separate movements. Since we’re talking about that period, which is the earliest period of your work that’s documented commercially, works like Weather Report or Sibelius in His Radio Corner. How much notation exists for those, if any?
INGRAM MARSHALL: Hmm. Very little. In fact, for Sibelius in His Radio Corner there’s nothing at all really written down. It was just an idea; it was a concept. I may have some sketches from when I made the tape part, ‘cuz I made it from loops from this old recording of the Sibelius Sixth Symphony. Schneevoigt, I think, was the conductor; made in the ’20s. But I may have some notes about how I created the tape part that in real time it actually feeds from the tape delay system. I think it’s the second movement. It’s a very kind of static thing. But, no, I don’t think it’s a real readable notation for that.
FRANK J. OTERI: Well, it’s interesting to go back and read what people like Edgard Varèse were saying about electronic music in the early days before it got launched, wanting to create music that avoided the pitfalls of bad performance so that you could have something that really was the composer’s vision; and the early pieces of musique concrète or pure electronic music that were preserved on reel-to-reel tapes were in fact the final compositions and there were no possibilities for future performances of them; there didn’t need to be. Your earliest music is like that, but the more recent work incorporates more and more live performance. What brought you to create music like that initially?
INGRAM MARSHALL: Well, take a tape piece such as Cortez, which I wrote in 1972. It’s a tape piece, it’s meant to be heard as a tape piece; it’s not a live performed piece and that’s the final definitive performance of it. And I didn’t create works like that because of the philosophy that, as you mentioned, “Oh, musicians couldn’t possibly realize my work, so therefore, I am going to go into the studio.” You know, that was more of a Milton Babbitt line.
FRANK J. OTERI: Right.
INGRAM MARSHALL: You know, he was talking about that in the ’60s. I suppose Varèse might have said something about it, too, but… No, it’s not so much because I didn’t feel that I could write pieces that musicians could realize. I actually developed as a composer in the milieu of electronics, when that was first possible in the mid to late ’60s. Where my first real mature pieces were electronic music pieces. I wrote things before that. There are some old string quartets and stuff and piano music, but it’s juvenilia; and you know, it doesn’t count. So I really began my compositional career doing electronic music. It seems very natural. But I didn’t have that Varèse/Babbitt philosophy.
FRANK J. OTERI: It’s interesting to me that you said “I wrote Cortez in 1972.” We still think of music as the work that’s written down, a visual thing, even when it only exists as pure sound.
INGRAM MARSHALL: Well, songwriters who don’t even know how to write music will use the same expression. “I wrote that song.” Which means they sat with a guitar and figured out the chords and the words and the tune; that’s writing a song. But you know, when it comes to creating a tape piece, the process of composing is not so different from writing a work for string quartet. It’s just that you’re not writing traditional music notation. You might be. Cortez, for example, does have a real plan. I’ve got it tucked away somewhere, you know. If someone wanted to see it, they could see how the work is, kind of, layered with different loops and different speeds and durations. So there’s a kind of a score for it, actually.
FRANK J. OTERI: Well, I think part of the problem is with a lot of these kinds of sounds that became possible with the advent of manipulating tape recorders and synthesizers is they’re impossible to notate with the currently accepted symbols. How do you even create a language? There certainly is no agreement on this stuff. I’ve tried to write music out for synthesizer and I gave up. I’ve talked about this with a lot of composers and they say, you know, there really is no good way to notate for this and if you notate for an instrument and you’re expecting a performance in the future, the technology keeps changing. So you’re almost at cross-purposes if you try to have a visual notation for this stuff.
INGRAM MARSHALL: Well, there were a lot of pieces, actually, in the ’60s that were done, that were strictly tape pieces that composers arduously, meticulously notated. One of my teachers at Columbia, Bulent Arel, he was into that. He spent hours writing his scores out showing every blip and bloop and bleep in his piece in real time. And he would tell us that the only reason he did it was so he could copyright it.
FRANK J. OTERI: The Copyright Office originally didn’t accept recordings.
INGRAM MARSHALL: I think there was more to it. And there’s, some of the Polish composers were into that, too. You can find scores of tape pieces.
INGRAM MARSHALL: Yeah.
INGRAM MARSHALL: I used to enjoy looking at Xenakis scores because they were so graphic, you know. But I never got into doing anything like that…
FRANK J. OTERI: So, how is this period going to be remembered and studied? I mean, right now, even these early pieces are history to some extent, but what about a hundred years from now? What about two hundred years from now when none of us are around and the only artifacts that survive are the recordings and hopefully all of your notes about them somewhere and if someone were to experience your music then, how should they proceed?
INGRAM MARSHALL: I think they just take it for what it is, for face value and it’ll be like any other recording. By then recorded music will be what music is. They won’t talk about performance and recordings. I think it’ll all be the same. I’m not saying live performance is gonna disappear, but I think there’ll be so much recorded music, that listening to a Beethoven symphony on a recording to an average listener wouldn’t be any different from listening to a tape piece of mine on a recording; that they both somehow are stored electronically. Traditional music, classical music, Beethoven, Liszt, Wagner, what have you, will always be studied in its notational form, obviously. And the kind of electronic music that people like me have done would probably not be studied in notational form, it’ll be studied the way people study jazz. They listen to recordings and they talk about it…
FRANK J. OTERI: Although there’s a whole movement to transcribe all of these old big band and swing recordings and play them back and come up with charts and…
INGRAM MARSHALL: Well, fine. I don’t see that happening though with electronic music. I don’t see people trying to recreate it. Why would someone try to recreate a Jackson Pollock painting? You know like, someone’s going to say “You know, I could figure out how to do that painting if I like really analyzed it.” Knowing his style and technique I could probably, you know, eventually someone could get it. It’s a kind of transcription. I think tape music is very much like visual art in a way. It’s a one-of-a-kind thing.
FRANK J. OTERI: Well, something that I thought was really fascinating; I don’t know if you went to any of the concerts or heard the recording that the Bang On A Can composers did of Brian Eno‘s Music For Airports.
INGRAM MARSHALL: I heard part of the recording.
FRANK J. OTERI: What did you think?
INGRAM MARSHALL: It was nice. I preferred the original. [laughs]
FRANK J. OTERI: I didn’t really see the need for the recording but I loved it live. Performing it live gives it a new context, whereas making another recording of it, well fine, it’s a recording just like the other. The original was a recording. You know, why have the second recording except to hear slightly different timbres here and there? But live it was really exciting. Now for your work, a work like Gradual Requiem to get back or The Fragility Cycles, I mean, these were works that you yourself did live. So the live life of these pieces ends with you.
INGRAM MARSHALL: Yeah. Pretty much. I mean, who would, there’s my gambuh up there. I’ve got three of them, you know, Balinese flutes. You know, who’s going to figure out exactly what I did with those. Or even get a hold of one. It’s not like a shakuhachi, or a well-known Asian instrument; it’s a real folk instrument. And very few people play it and the way I use it is very eccentric, really. It was very. It was Ingram Marshall’s special way of playing it.
FRANK J. OTERI: Was it largely improvised, the things you were doing on it?
INGRAM MARSHALL: No, no, no, no! I knew pretty much what I was trying to do. It would often come out different. It’s a very hard instrument to actually articulate and get specific notes on sometimes, but I knew my way around it. So that’s another thing that would be hard for someone to figure out.