The name Hugh Marsh might not be known by most people, but it is almost certain everyone has heard the great violinist at some point. Marsh is a prolific musician, who has collaborated in major soundtrack projects, of the Hans Zimmer-type, but he has also recorded with some legendary figures in the rock world, including Iggy and the Stooges as well as Peter Murphy of Bauhaus. Still, despite appearing in a plethora of records and works as a collaborate, Marsh is more than capable of venturing out on his own and releasing works ranging from jazz and fusion to progressive rock.
The new chapter to his discography is Violinvocations, a record that was produced and recorded during a six month period when Marsh was staying in Los Angeles with his friend and mentor, the great Jon Hassell. And as is expected from the violinist, this new work provides an impressive exploration of the violin, the various forms its sound can take and the textures that one can awaken from the instrument.
Every aspect of the violin is used on Violinvocations, with Marsh letting nothing go to waste. The start of the record sees samples of the violin, granular sounds captured during recordings being used to create these subtle noise artifacts. Put together, these sparse sounds create impressive sonic landscapes, showcasing an uncanny sound design aptitude. “Across the Aether” revisits this practice, arriving with an added aura of tension that disturbs the solitary, formless rhythmical aspects of the track. Stepping aside from the extreme sound design practice, Marsh morphs the sound of the violin into some other astonishing manifestations, as is the case with the start of “Miku Murmuration”. At that moment, the instrument appears as an alien vocalization, arriving through a strange time capsule. It feels like receiving an interstellar message from a long lost civilization. In an even more impressive manner, this vocalization takes on an almost operatic outcry in “Da Solo Non Solitario”, delivering a heartbreaking stab.
As much as experimentation defines Violinvocations, the record is established in equal part on melancholy. The opening track, which sees the violin take an almost theremin-like form, first introduce that aspect of Marsh’s vision, arriving with a certain sweetness. Similar is the case with the mesmerizing “The Rain Gambler”, with the textures of the track taking on a softer and less obtrusive form, moving further away from the granular background elements of “I Laid Down in the Snow”. But, this melancholy reaches its crescendo when the closing track arrives. In “She Will”, Marsh unleashes a powerful tour de force, taking on a more direct and straightforward form. In this emotive trip, the violin guides through cinematic landscapes, from the darkest corners of the earth to the highest mountain peaks.
Yet, while “She Will” had that distinct classical leaning, which is expected given Marsh’s background, the focus in Violinvocations is closer to an improvisational narrative than based around a classical structure. Even in the more subtle moments of this record Marsh still finds the space to experiment with the narrative, something that results in a stream of consciousness performance that arrives in a free-flowing manner. The rhythm and pacing of a track like “Thirtysix Hundred Grandview”, which arrives with a waltz-like progression is projected through such experimental means, while the inclusion of Middle-Eastern motifs adds an exotic touch to the mystical essence of the track. However, even more impressive is the case with “A Beautiful Mistake”, which sees Marsh applying distortion to the violin and leading a bizarre Hendrix-like solo, making it hard to believe that what you are listening to is not an electric guitar.
This is the winning quality of Violinvocations and what Marsh has been able to achieve with this work. While standing firm on his knowledge of the instrument and its traditional practices, he still is able to perform a full exploration of its core, unafraid of where this might take him.