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Graham Reynolds on The Marfa Triptych

13 Nov 2013

The Marfa Triptych poster by Noel Waggener

Join Ballroom Marfa this Saturday evening for the premiere of the first installment of Graham Reynolds’ Marfa Triptych, an epic musical composition over three years in the making.

The Marfa Triptych Part One: Country and Western Big Band Suite is an instrumental suite for 14 players, described by Reynolds as “classic instrumental country meets Western soundtrack meets power jazz rhythm section.” The project was inspired by Reynolds’ trips from his base in Austin, Texas to the high desert grasslands of Far West Texas. His approach combines local musical traditions — from cowboy songs and Southern jazz to the norteño music of Northern Mexico — with a personal perspective that comes from years of scoring film, theater and modern dance performances. In addition to his music with Austin’s Golden Arm Trio, Reynolds is known for his award-winning soundtrack work with director Richard Linklater, including the films Before Midnight, Bernie and A Scanner Darkly.

Reynolds has spent the last three years working with Ballroom Marfa to coordinate research trips throughout the Big Bend in order to experience its culture and history firsthand. He’s been keeping an itinerary that includes visits with musicians, historians, storytellers, artists and local legends from Terlingua, Alpine, Presidio, Shafter, Fort Davis, Valentine, Marfa and other far-flung locales in the Far West Texas region.

Future installments in this ambitious project include a site-specific composition for layered piano and a bilingual chamber opera, scheduled to premiere at the Ballroom Marfa Drive-In at Vizcaino Park in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

We talked with Reynolds on the eve of the Marfa Triptych debut about his sneak preview performance at the Long Center in Austin, and he gave us more background on what we can expect from the main event here in Marfa on Saturday evening.

How was the Big Band Suite preview at the Long Center?

The band sounds great and I learned a lot about the piece. I’ve made some adjustments for the premiere.

How has The Marfa Triptych changed since your last visit to Far West Texas earlier this year?

The difference between each of the three parts is becoming more clear. And this first part has been composed. I was highly influenced by watching the Marfa sunset from a bench on the west edge of town.

What can you tell us about the players involved?

There is so much to tell! It’s a bit of an Austin all-star band. Redd Volkaert is one of the greatest living country guitarists. Ricky Davis is one of the leading experts on Sho-Bud pedal steel guitars, repairing instruments from the defunct but highly regarded brand. John Mills is a professor of saxophone at University of Texas at Austin and a fantastic live and studio player, having recorded with everyone from Aretha Franklin to Jonny Greenwood. Adam Sultan’s guitar work was recently featured in the film Before Midnight. Alexis Buffum was the lead violinist for the film Bernie. Ruby Jane is fiddler, singer, and songwriter, and one of the great young talents to hit the Austin scene in a long time. Utah Hamrick and Jeremy Bruch are the incredible players that form the foundation of my band and we play together all the time. On and on. It’s a great band that I feel lucky to play with.

Can you tell us more about your most recent trips to Marfa?

I’ve continued to do interviews, explore West Texas nature as well as its history, interview residents, and keep finding myself deeper in love with the region. We went to Big Bend Ranch State Park on the last trip and found some very out-of-the-way spots that I’d love to play music in some day.

What was your process for incorporating your field research into this chapter of the Triptych?

The process is hard to explain. Some is overt and some is very subtle. When composing I would think of different experiences I had and then try to translate them into music. I’m trying to create the soundtrack to the film of West Texas in my mind.

How has your impression of Far West Texas changed in the course of your research? What have you learned?

That it is the most beautiful area of Texas, that the history is deep and complicated. The border is blurry and it’s hard to explore Texas without also exploring Mexico and its history and culture.

The Marfa Triptych: The Country and Western Big Band Suite premieres at the Crowley Theater in Marfa, TX at 8pm on November 16, 2013. Tickets are available at the door and online at www.ballroommarfa.org. Half-price tickets are available in the gallery for all residents of Brewster, Jeff Davis and Presidio counties.