Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fog Tropes

I've embedded above two versions of Fog Tropes, the original for brass sextet and a second version for strings commissioned by the Kronos Quartet.  Ingram Marshall explained the origins of his best known work in an interview with Frank J. Oteri: 'A friend of mine was a performance artist in San Francisco, that's where I was living at the time, asked me to put together what she called a sound score. Not really a piece of music, so much as a bunch of environmental sounds and some electronic music that she could use for a performance piece she was putting together, which had to do with the weather in San Francisco ... So I recorded all of these fog horns and went back to my studio and started making tape loops and basically created a kind of collage of different pitches of fog horns. And some other sounds got in there, you know some buoy ringing, some birds. Lots of birds. Wind sounds.'  Marshall kept a ten minute section to play as a stand-alone tape piece, but the following year, 1981, John Adams suggested he 'juice it up with some trombones and tubas'.  The resulting composition has been performed many times since - 'somebody once did it on a barge floating down a canal in Germany. When the brass players were on the barge and I guess the audience was on the bank. I don't know where the speakers were for the tape part. It's had an interesting history.'

Fog Tropes featured in a recent survey by The Wire of great bass sounds, along with recordings by some of the other environmental sound artists I've mentioned here before: Alan Lamb, Chris Watson, Jana WinderenOne contributor actually chose a recording of foghorns, having searched the internet for examples of their lonely calls echoing across the water.  Fog Tropes was selected by Brian Morton, who writes that it reminds him of Ray Bradbury's story 'The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms' in which a dinosaur falls in love with a lighthouse. 'It's possible to hear the pneumatic voices of Fog Tropes as the minimalist love songs of a forgotten species, but the music is also admonitory and vaguely threatening, suggesting Alcatraz island in a sea mist, imminent shipwreck, phantom disappearance.'  Alcatraz itself was the subject of another Ingram Marshall project: a 1982 collaboration with the photographer Jim Bengston which evolved into a two hour performance piece.  In liner notes for the resulting record, Marshall says that he visited the island to record 'the sounds of buoys, birds and fog horns as well as singing and gambuh flute playing in some of the resonant spaces of the prison. I also captured the famous roar of the cell doors' mechanized closings - this chorus of metal echoing through the wildly reverberant spaces of Alcatraz is probably the perfect sound print of the desolation and utter finality of the place.'

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