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Ingram Marshall, Minimalist Composer of Mystical Sounds, Dies at 80


Ingram Marshall, a minimalist composer known for the mystery and melancholy of his works, which featured sounds as disparate as San Francisco fog horns and Balinese bamboo flutes, died on May 31 in Latest Haven, Conn. He was 80.

His wife, Veronica Tomasic, said the cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease.

Mr. Marshall was an influential figure in American experimental music, a part of a bunch of composers who, starting within the Sixties, stripped music right down to basic elements of rhythm and tempo and incorporated digital sounds. A self-described “expressivist,” he was known for haunting, mystical works that fused various traditions, amongst them European Romanticism, Indonesian gamelan and electronics.

“A musical experience needs to be enveloping,” Mr. Marshall said in a 1996 interview for Yale University’s Oral History of American Music. “Almost in a narcotic way. To not be zoned out or in a trance exactly, but to be really wrought up in it. In case you can try this, I feel you’ve done something.”

He produced a varied body of labor, including chamber pieces for renowned ensembles just like the Kronos Quartet, brass sextets, choral works and solo guitar pieces. Much of his music blended conventional instruments with prerecorded, computer-manipulated sounds.

“His music was very emotional, but not in a saccharine, neo-Romantic way,” the composer John Adams, a longtime friend, said in an interview. “It was his own very unique, very sentimental style, but sentimental within the best possible sense of the word.”

An admirer of Romantic-era composers like Sibelius and Bruckner, Mr. Marshall had a deep knowledge of the Western classical canon that informed his style, at the same time as he veered in recent directions.

“He was not afraid of being very direct and expressive,” said Libby Van Cleve, an oboist who directs the Yale oral history project and for whom Mr. Marshall wrote three pieces. “His biggest impact was just having the courage to write down such deeply heartfelt and expressive music within the electronic realm.”

Ingram Douglass Marshall was born on May 10, 1942, in Mount Vernon, N.Y., in Westchester County, to Harry Reinhard Marshall Sr., a banker, and Bernice (Douglass) Marshall, an amateur pianist.

On the encouragement of his mother, he began singing at a young age and joined a church choir. His interest in music deepened, and in 1964 he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music from Lake Forest College in Illinois. He later attended Columbia University after which the California Institute of the Arts, where he received a Master of Superb Arts degree in 1971 and taught classes in electronic music.

While on the California Institute, he met several Indonesian performers and have become entranced by their music. Intent on immersing himself in Indonesia’s sounds, he secured a Fulbright grant and traveled to the country for 4 months in 1971.

The visit was a turning point. He soon began incorporating into his music elements of Indonesian culture, including the gambuh, a standard Balinese flute. He adopted a more unhurried style, a development he attributed to his immersion in Indonesian music.

“I spotted that the ‘zip-and-zap, bleep-and-blap’ type of formally organized electronic music I had been attempting to do simply wasn’t my way,” Mr. Marshall said within the Yale interview, speaking about his experience in Indonesia. “I needed to seek out a slower, deeper way of approaching electronic music.”

In 1981, he produced one among his best-known works, “Fog Tropes,” a somber meditation that paired field recordings of foghorns within the San Francisco Bay Area with brass instruments.

“Quite a lot of persons are reminded of San Francisco after they hear this piece, but not I,” Mr. Marshall once said. “To me it’s nearly fog, and being lost within the fog. The brass players should sound as in the event that they were off in a raft floating in the midst of a mist-enshrouded bay.”

Mr. Marshall’s admirers lauded the spiritual quality of his works. Some drew comparisons to the so-called holy minimalists of Eastern Europe, including the outstanding Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.

“True, he doesn’t write explicitly liturgical music, nor does he cultivate any priestly airs,” Adam Shatz wrote in a 2001 article about on Mr. Marshall in The Latest York Times. “But his music is a number of the most stirring spiritual art to be present in America today.”

The composer Steve Reich, one other friend, said the mystery in Mr. Marshall’s work made it distinct. He described the music as a mixture of American spirituality, “impenetrable, mysterious Northern fog and mist,” and gamelan.

“Ingram can’t be pinned down so easily,” Mr. Reich said in an interview. “It’s not only minimalism, or whatever other moniker you desire to put onto it, however it’s radiantly intelligent and delightful.”

After greater than 15 years in California, Mr. Marshall returned to the East Coast in 1990, settling in Hamden, Conn., outside Latest Haven. He continued to compose and teach, serving as a part-time lecturer on the Yale School of Music from 2004 to 2014.

Along together with his wife, Mr. Marshall is survived by a son, Clement; a daughter from a previous relationship, Juliet Simon; and 4 grandchildren.

While he was not religious, Mr. Marshall sometimes spoke in regards to the spiritual power of music. He said he hoped that after disasters, artists could help bring understanding to the world.

“Composers, poets and artists at all times feel useless within the wake of calamity,” he told The Times in 2001. “We aren’t firemen; we aren’t philanthropists or inspirational speakers. But I feel it’s the tragic and calamitous in life that we attempt to make sense of, and that is the stuff of our lives as artists.”

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