In the dream of another: An interview with Benjamin Marks
Benjamin Marks took some time out from composing, performing and teaching this week to speak to Kupka's Piano percussionist Angus Wilson. Angus performed his new work 'The Circular Ruins' with guest saxophonist Sami Mason last Friday night at Absent, Almost Absent. Angus Wilson: You are a regular audience member and follower of Kupkas Piano, what excited you the most about writing for Kupkas Piano on this occasion?
Benjamin Marks: Writing music to be included in a Kupka programme is a big challenge. The music programmed (Lim, Ablinger etc.) is exceptional so I feel pretty daunted. Coupled with that I feel like I can write with a great deal of freedom, knowing that so much repertoire has been digested by the ensemble over the last few years. I feel like this is an ensemble which can locate the aesthetic or musical concerns a new piece has and articulate that understanding with intelligent and sensitive performances.
AW: Sami and I are very excited to play your new work.... Can you tell us a little bit about the project? Where did it draw it's inspiration from? Does it have a life beyond it's current format?
BM: Best to quote my programme note here:
Two (The Circular Ruins)
This piece takes as its raw material the sound of water running under a bridge. The sound was recorded and slowed down sixty times to reveal intense rhythmic and pitch activity. This was transcribed and became one of the primary means of organizing the piece.
Two explores the problems of creating an evolving musical landscape from a static sound source. Different notions of flow are explored within static constructs, and different notions of stasis are explored in more flexible, expressive constructs. The expressive capacity of the music lies in the movement between these various states.
In the context of the larger scale outdoor piece, The Circular Ruins, this duo constitutes part two. The piece, when removed from the outdoor context, is accompanied by a tape part that draws directly from sounds found in Southbank, Brisbane, the intended location of the four part work The Circular Ruins.
Jorge Louis Borges' story The Circular Ruins tells of a dreamer who dreams another man into existence only to find himself the dream of another. In the outdoor work for Southbank my goal is to bring to life often ignored environmental sounds, or, more generally, to bring about active engagement with our sounding environment. The composed pieces, including Two, engage with specific environmental sounds and acoustics creating an intense listening experience which is gradually expanded to include the limits of the acoustic horizon.
AW: You have an interesting little setup of percussion in the piece, ceramic bowls, temple blocks, woodblocks and a bass drum. Can you tell us what you were envisaging when you selected these instruments?
BM: I was thinking of sounds that most resembled my idea of water noise slowed down, other than the usual wash of white noise. This is purely imaginary, and these sounds also link into quite a ritualistic sound space. There is a naturalness to these sounds (wood, ceramic and skin) that I feel drawn to and a quiet complexity of timbre. The bass drum has a slightly different function to the other instruments in that it articulates a large scale pulse, which runs through all four pieces that makes up The Circular Ruins. Only a fragment of the pulse exists in Two.
AW: I first met you as a trombonist, playing Pines of Rome in a brass band. Can you tell us a little bit about your activities other than composing? How do you find living and working in Brisbane?
BM: I moved to Brisbane (from Melbourne) in 1998 to do my masters in performance at the QLD Conservatorium. My undergraduate was in composition from the University of Melbourne. I've always moved between composition and performance in some way or other, although my professional life has been mostly as a performer with ELISION. When I moved to Brisbane ELISION was also based here so it helped kick off a wonderful time of learning and recording new repertoire and broadening my improvisational experience which has carried through to the present day. I studied with Simone de Haan at the time and this experience changed me in many fundamental ways and brought me, through various activities, into contact with the Brisbane cultural scene. Since that initial period of study I've developed a strong low brass teaching base (which I love) and I continue to strive to play a creative role in the cultural life of my home city.
AW: Finally, what other interesting projects do you have coming up, where can our audience hear you play, or hear other compositions by you?
BM: I'm currently working my way into a Doctorate of Musical Arts in which I'm exploring multilayered spatial composition and performance in an outdoor context. By developing musical strategies that engage with environmental sound (some of which you'll hear in Two) I hope to create, for a listener, a shifting network of perceptual frames. My research should result in various performances, the first being early next year in Southbank. This is the project alluded to above The Circular Ruins. I'll be giving a trombone recital on February 25th next year, at 6:30pm, at the QLD Conservatorium, partnering with my wife Ysolt Clark on French Horn. We haven't quite settled on repertoire yet although Scelsi and Richard Barrett are likely starting points.