jim bengston

Soundtrack: Ingram Marshall

I discovered ‘The Bay’ too late. Of all the music I listened to while writing Half WorldIngram Marshall’s album Alcatraz (of which ‘Prelude-The Bay’ is the first part) would probably have been the most thematically and geographically relevant. But it wasn’t until I was in one of the final revisions of the novel that I first heard it––in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, which uses a couple of Marshall’s pieces in its soundtrack. 

The first part of Half World takes place on San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill, which has a direct sightline to the island prison. This section of the book is set during the mid-1950s, when there were still inmates in Alcatraz, and where (as the legend goes) on warm summer nights the sounds of revelers on the Embarcadero carried across the water and into the cells, reminding the prisoners of the world they’d left behind.

A piece for “synthesizers, buoys, birds, fog horns, singing, gambuh flute and cell doors in resonant spaces” (according to the catalog copy), the non-digital version of ‘Alcatraz’ is a collaboration between Marshall and the photographer Jim Bengston, whose images of the island are included with the hard copy of the recording.

Alcatraz doesn’t figure directly into Half World, but it’s always there with the characters on Telegraph Hill—a blunt black mass seen out of a window; a shadow appearing when a head is turned—and Marshall’s piece conjures it perfectly: the island sitting just apart from the city, in the darkness of the bay.