‘Dedication (for Gabi)’. Nick Marks’ emotional tribute to life and music

"I wanted to take the paradigm of chamber music and bring it into a 21st century context by adding futuristic sounding elements"
19 April 2024
Photo by Lauren Desberg

Nick Marks’ latest creation, Dedication (for Gabi) blends neo-classical scoring with electronica and ethereal vocals, inspired by artists like Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnaulds. The composition by the New York-based composer pays tribute to his late cousin Gabi, infusing it with grief, beauty, and courage.

Stumbling upon the chord progression while composing a film score, Marks transformed it into a heartfelt tribute. The blend of chamber music and futuristic elements, complemented by Arta Jēkabsone’s vocals and the Budapest Art Orchestra’s strings, enriches the emotional depth of the piece.

Marks’ innovative approach defies categorization, pushing artistic boundaries while remaining authentic. Rather than viewing Dedication (for Gabi) as an evolution, he sees it as a manifestation of life experiences rooted in classical influences.

Embracing spontaneity and intuition in the creative process, Marks draws inspiration from everyday experiences. He approaches challenges with resilience, emphasizing storytelling and emotional resonance as essential attributes of musical greatness.

Balancing film scoring with live performances, Nick Marks envisions a transformative landscape in the music industry, driven by technological advancements and artist empowerment.

Continuing to redefine musical expression, Dedication (for Gabi) invites listeners on immersive journeys of self-discovery.

The piece traverses a broad palette of emotions, which speaks to my feelings at that time: the grief and anguish of loss, and the beauty and courage of Gabi

Photo by Ogata

What inspired you to create Dedication (for Gabi) and how does it honor your late cousin?

    Before this piece began, I was in the process of composing a feature film score. As tends to happen while I’m writing for film, I get inspired by numerous sounds and other ideas that may not be so pertinent to the project. The piano sound that you hear on this track is what initially inspired it. Discovering the sound was a ‘happy accident’; I wasn’t really looking for it, I was looking for other sounds for the film, but I found it by chance. I felt a deep emotional resonance to the sound. Instantly, I improvised a chord progression, basically the entire progression you now hear in this piece. It was one take, I saved it, and knowing it wasn’t appropriate for the film, I knew I would come back to it later.

    Later in 2021, after writing a bunch of expansive cinematic jazztronica tracks, I had set up a recording session with the Budapest Art Orchestra. At this time, I revisited the piano improvisation and turned it into a string arrangement, as well as adding some percussion and electronica fx. This session came after Gabi’s passing, and I wanted to do something in her honour. Gabi was an incredibly courageous and graceful person. She was always a big supporter of my music. The piece traverses a broad palette of emotions, which speaks to my feelings at that time: the grief and anguish of loss, and the beauty and courage of Gabi. I did not want the piece to only reflect the emotions that I felt at that time, but also speak to the stature of her personality and continuing presence inside all of us who knew her.

    Photo by Ogata

    Can you walk us through the musical elements and influences present in Dedication (for Gabi)?

      I wanted to take the paradigm of chamber music and bring it into a 21st century context by adding futuristic sounding elements. The addition of Arta Jēkabsone on vocals certainly took it to new emotional depths. She came to my studio and improvised her part in one take. I think that the human voice is a common connector for all of us as listeners. Her part helps bring an angelic feel to the piece, one that is wholly appropriate in reflecting Gabi’s caring and nurturing spirit. The combination of sounds wasn’t necessarily a conscious choice. It was a series of micro-decisions made over a few writing sessions where I just followed my intuition and tested things out, based on music that I love and what inspires me. There’s a lot of influences from Nordic and Icelandic composers, as well as film composers including Olafur Arnaulds, Johan Johansson, Lisa Gerrard and Nils Frahm. The minimalist aesthetic also had a role to play; not that this piece is minimalist with a 21 piece string orchestra! But it seeks to take a limited amount of material and push it to the maximum.

      How does your innovative approach to music manifest in Dedication (for Gabi)?

        I don’t really think of my approach to writing as being innovative. It’s just a process that makes sense to me. There’s no conscious effort to ‘redefine rules’ or purposely take different genres and meld them together. I just hear music this way. My brain synthesizes the ingredients into new ideas. Sometimes I hear them in my mind’s ear; sometimes the ideas are spontaneously inspired at the piano, or through a new sound I create on my NORD or other synths. I think any artist who is true to themselves and their vision is in that sense innovative. In order to do this, you have to dare to be yourself. You have to have the courage to pursue your vision. Looking back at any musical pioneer, it may not have always been clear that what they were doing at the time was real ‘pioneering’. They were invariably met with pushback, rejection, poor reviews, disdain by those who were unfamiliar with what they were seeking to do. It is always easier to do what’s acceptable. I think we take for granted how icons from Beethoven to Brahms, Miles Davis to Radiohead had/have a single focus to create something that sounds wholly like themselves and no one else.

        What role do Arta Jēkabsone’s vocals and the Budapest Art Orchestra’s strings play in enhancing the emotional depth of the composition?

          Arta is a rising star on the jazz scene in New York. I had actually first asked her to come to my studio to sing on another track (Called: “Into The Void”, which will be released later in 2024). Having her on this track was a kind of last minute experiment. I had an idea in mind of what the vocal aesthetic ought to be, and she was the perfect fit. There was no written vocal part, so I asked her to improvise on this track. What you hear is her first take, and she perfectly captured a wide emotional palette that this tune speaks to. I think the human voice is a common connector for all of us as listeners.

          The Budapest Orchestra brought an emotional depth that could not be achieved with words. They saw the music, and knew what to do. I remember we were getting to the end of the session, we had one piece left. There were 10 minutes remaining, so barely any recording time, basically just enough to get two takes. I explained to the orchestra the background of the piece, but nothing specific about the music itself. They took one read of it, with the conductor, Peter Pejtsik, giving a few instructions. In one take, they nailed the whole piece. We did another for safety, but I didn’t need it. The first one had it all, and that’s what you’re listening to on the track.

          How do you feel Dedication (for Gabi) reflects your evolution as an artist, particularly in comparison to your previous work like Cinematic Chromatics Vol. I?

            I don’t really see the piece as an evolution of my artistry. I see it as a manifestation of things in life that I experience. Experiences that bring joy, optimism, melancholy or grief. I grew up listening to classical music, as my father was a former french horn player of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. So the evolution is really just the completing of this piece and releasing it. I wrote this piece at the same time as all the other pieces that are in Cinematic Chromatics Vol. I. It’s just that I decided to group the pieces in different ways, and so this piece was selected to be released among other tracks which are slated to come out later this year.

            What methods do you usually employ to access your creative flow?

              There are many! Just keep things moving, all the time. Doesn’t matter if an idea is final, or just a temporary placeholder. I listen to what’s in my minds ear, follow my intuition, see where it goes. This usually brings me to another idea, and so I follow that. I just keep focused on whatever it is I’m writing. I also do a lot of writing away from the studio, whether I’m making a cup of tea, walking in the park, or hanging with my daughter in the playground. I generate ideas wherever I am, make voice memos, and then test them out when I get home to the studio. Sometimes those ideas are clear, I know exactly what I’m wanting to do. Sometimes those ideas are ‘conversation starters’ to get me going in a direction, and eventually I land where it needs to go. I always let the music tell me what it needs, and I’m never afraid to edit or leave something out if its no longer needed, no matter how long I’ve spent on it.

              What significant challenges do you face while navigating your creative process, and how do you overcome them?

                I don’t really feel challenges in the creative process. I get into a flow state by writing, following the idea I have to its next logical step, and if I need to step back, I take a break, go for a walk, or leave it for that day. Usually in the time I’m away from the studio, my brain somehow figures out options for where to go next, and I follow this.

                From your perspective, what are the essential attributes that elevate a song or composition to greatness?

                  I’m not sure I can really speak to these attributes. I think music is a highly subjective medium. For me, one thing that makes a song or composition great is the story arc, and the ability to resonate on a deep emotional level in a way that words cannot. Writing in such a way that the elements always sound fresh, the ear candy is sweet, the production has a clear aesthetic and vision, the structure is solid; these are things that stand the test of time, and can be listened to and enjoyed over and over again.

                  Can you recount your latest performance experience? Which pieces did you play, and how did they personally resonate with you?

                    I’ve been playing a few local projects around New York City, the pieces tend to be vehicles for long form jazz and electronica inspired improvisations. I’m currently scoring a feature film called Westhampton, so this is taking most of my time, but once its finished, I’ll be focusing on bringing a live show with all the tunes from the Cinematic Chromatics series.

                    How do you foresee the music industry evolving in the next half-decade? What specific transformations or advancements do you aspire to see in the industry during this period?

                      This is a deep one! I don’t have a crystal ball, but I think we’re already entering what will be labelled as a new epoch as far as technology, AI and social communication advancements are concerned. I hope to see further enhancements in artist empowerment, particularly with building our own communities, engaging with fans, sharing both recorded and live music experiences, and facilitating new ways to deepen connections to the music.