Chihuahuan Desert Birdscapes
New Music & Performative Lecture
Ballroom is excited to present Chihuahuan Desert Birdscapes, a new collection of music, and “Hearing Hidden Melodies,” an accompanying performative lecture centered on the study and appreciation of avian sound by musician and birder Rob Frye.
Chihuahuan Desert Birdscapes is new music, commissioned by Ballroom, inspired by the diverse bird populations of the Big Bend. These original compositions include granular synthesized and processed birdsong, in addition to a rich texture of woodwinds and handmade flutes made from grasses collected on the banks of the Rio Grande. The new tracks feature samples of the Lesser Nighthawk, Baird’s Sparrow, and Blue-throated Mountaingem, and were recorded at Marfa Recording Company while Frye was in residence in Marfa in May 2020.
Positioned along migratory routes from South America to Canada, West Texas is home to one of the most diverse bird populations in the Northern Hemisphere. During Frye’s residency in May, he notably identified 74 unique species of birds in the Big Bend region. Unfortunately, global bird populations are declining just as humans are beginning to understand their evolutionary sounds and adaptations. This new collection of music and supplementary lecture highlight our unique location and synthesize Frye’s diverse experiences as both a musician and biologist at the Institute for Bird Populations in Marin County, California.
Chihuahuan Desert Birdscapes will be available for streaming and download on October 24th through Ballroom Marfa on Bandcamp. In addition, from October 23rd—November 1st, Frye will offer “Hearing Hidden Melodies” online to encourage people to listen to the world of birdsong with a musician’s ear. For updates on the release please join our mailing list.
Chihuahuan Desert Birdscapes is organized by Ballroom Marfa’s programs director, Sarah Melendez.
Hearing Hidden Melodies
October 24th—November 1st
“Hearing Hidden Melodies” is an informative performance that will take place online and in collaboration with the Chihuahuan Desert Research Center (CDRI). Participants in the lecture will receive half-off of the admission fee at CDRI and the opportunity to visit the bird blind and stroll through the gardens to listen for birdsongs after having listened to the program.
The lecture takes the audience through the musician’s process of slowing down, transcribing, and imitating birdsong; we learn about avian tone production, its connection to flute and myths, intonation, attenuation, what birds hear, and the neuroscience of learning. Frye prompts the audience to consider critically how we hear and listen more acutely to the world around us.
Rob Frye plays woodwinds, percussion, and synthesizers in Chicago-based bands Bitchin Bajas, Jackie Lynn, and CAVE (Drag City), tours internationally, and has recorded with Ben Lamar Gay (International Anthem), Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith (Western Vinyl), and Circuit des Yeux (Thrill Jockey) among others. Since 2010, his project Flux Bikes has held solar-powered workshops, annual bike tours, and performances. In the field of jazz and improvised music, he collaborates often in Chicago and participated in the second edition of The Bridge, a trans-Atlantic network of creative music linking France and Chicago in May 2019; and Close To There, an artistic exchange allying Salvador, Bahia and Chicago through Comfort Station and Projeto Ativa in February 2020.
After working as a field biologist for the Institute for Bird Populations in California between 2012 and 2016, Frye was inspired to transcribe avian sounds and interpret them on alto flute. In 2018, his Birdscapes album featured sounds of North and South American bird species as well as collaborative video and performance with Chilean artist Martin Kaulen in France and vocalist Satya Gummuluri in Germany. In 2019 he was invited by Yosemite National Park to deliver his lecture/performance connecting birdsong with flute called “Hearing Hidden Melodies” for the Parson’s Memorial Lodge Summer Speaker Series. Currently Frye is commissioned by Ballroom Marfa, situated in the unique Trans-Pecos ecoregion to create new works based on Chihuahuan desert birds, combining granular synthesis, field recordings, and flute making.
This program is made possible by the generous support of The Brown Foundation, Inc.; Lebermann Foundation; National Endowment for the Arts; Ballroom Marfa Board of Trustees; the Ballroom Marfa International Surf Club; and Ballroom Marfa members.
Special thanks to Borderlands Research Institute, Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute, Marfa Recording Company, Rio Grande Joint Venture, Aimee Roberson, and Mieke Titulaer.