Ballroom Deputy Director Melissa McDonnell Luján featured on “The Last Word”

5 Feb 2014

Image of Melissa McDonnell Luján and the Collie-Johnson House. Photograph by Casey Dunn.

This week, Lucchese Bootmaker’s blog, The Last Word, released the first post in an ongoing series about the people of Marfa. In the article, entitled People’s Projects: Meet the Marfans, five residents were profiled, including our Deputy Director, Melissa McDonnell Luján. McDonnell Luján, who has a Masters from the Rice School of Architecture, discusses her restoration of one of the oldest structures in Marfa: the Collie-Johnson House.

An excerpt:

… the 1894 two-story adobe house on a prominent corner in town was near collapse when her team was called in to save it with their own blood, sweat and tears. The house had been passed through many owners, including Donald Judd, who were all advised to tear the structure down. However, Lujan (who has an M.Arch. degree from Rice) says she gained the courage needed to take on the daunting project from the spirit of the town. “Whenever I’m on site, people will stop by and tell stories. It has special meaning to people who grew up here,” she says. “I even had the chance to walk through the house with a man that grew up in the house during the Depression.”

So in the sweltering summer of 2009, she made 600 blocks of adobe by hand and created a design that honored the house’s original aesthetic while bringing it into modernity. In 2011, she moved to Marfa permanently, being “drawn to seemingly impossible architecture projects in the town.”

One of the most common questions Marfa residents are asked is “why are you here?”. And even though everyone’s answer is unique, this series sheds some light on why many have made this pilgrimage.

Mary Lattimore on her “underwater, spacey harp” Le Révélateur score with Jeff Zeigler

27 Dec 2013

Mary Lattimore. Photo by J.L. Kidd.

Le Révélateur
with live score by Mary Lattimore & Jeff Zeigler
December 30, 2013
Crowley Theater, Marfa, Texas
Doors at 7 pm ∙ Show at 7:30 pm

Listen to Marfa Public Radio’s Talk at Ten radio interview with Mary Lattimore & Jeff Zeigler, December 30, at 10 am on KRTS 93.5 FM or via their online stream.


Celebrate the coming new year with Ballroom Marfa! For our fifth annual New Year’s film program, we’ll host a film screening of Philippe Garrel’s 1968 film Le Révélateur, with a live score by Philadelphia harpist Mary Lattimore and synth player Jeff Zeigler.

Mary Lattimore is a classically trained harpist whose collaborations have seen her working with such esteemed luminaries as Kurt Vile, Meg Baird, Thurston Moore, Ed Askew, Fursaxa, Jarvis Cocker and the Valerie Project. On her debut record, The Withdrawing Room, she found a worthy sideman in Philadelphia’s Jeff Zeigler, whose contemplative Korg echoes and holds a mood for Mary’s runs.

Zeigler has amassed quite the resume in recent years, between his space-rock outfit Arc in Round and his production work for local luminaries Kurt Vile, Purling Hiss and The War on Drugs. Zeigler’s also been expanding into the solo / collaborative experimental zone, playing solo shows with Lattimore and opening for English ambient artist Benoît Pioulard.

We talked with Lattimore about her interest in avant-garde film, her approach to improvisation and her plans for New Year’s Eve in Marfa.

How would you describe your music to new listeners?

I would describe it as sort of underwater, spacey harp through effects and delay, loops of decaying noise, droney sometimes, ethereal crushed-up diamond sounds. Jeff plays a Korg Mono/Poly synth and does cool textural stuff, plays beautiful, haunting melodica that sounds like a sad, distant train, and plays guitar, too. It’s gonna be fun. Our sets are usually all improvised, but with this one we are establishing themes and trying to be thoughtful about the changing scenes.

Why did you choose Le Révélateur for this project?

I consulted a very film-knowledgable friend. He suggested a few silent films and I checked them out and this one seemed to have some really memorable images. It’s a very strange film, very stunning, filmed in 1968.

What else can you tell us about the score you and Jeff will be performing?

It’ll be thought-out improvisation, with harp through a Line 6 looper and melodica, guitar, and synth. It’s a little over an hour long and will probably be a combination of melodic, hypnotic strings and maybe some harsh-ish noise. We want to be conscious of space, too, and also to incorporate minimal moments because the images are so affecting on their own.

Do you have any other experience doing film scores? Or with filmmaking in general?

I have done a few film projects. I was a member of this 11-person ensemble that composed an alternate score for the Czech New Wave Film Valerie and Her Week of Wonders in 2007. We traveled around with the original print of the film and performed in theaters, recorded it and Drag City put out the record. I learned a lot from the way we composed the music together. Recently, I did a soundtrack for a film that’s set in Iceland. I played on the score for the documentary Marina Abramovic – The Artist Is Present. The interaction between music and story/visuals, how they can complement each other to create a singular, memorable experience is something I really love. Jeff recently did an original live score for 2001: A Space Odyssey with our friend Dave (Nightlands) as a cool, creative project. Hopefully, our ideas will be true to the vibe of this gorgeous, weird film.

How does your background in improvisation inform this work?

Whenever I improvise or whenever Jeff and I improvise together, we’re always trying to paint a picture or to inspire a mood and often there’s a narrative structure where things get stirred up in the middle and resolve themselves by the end. But I think this one should contain a lot of in-the-minute decisions and negative space that will make it hopefully a unique performance that we can only half-predict, so that’s exciting.

What other projects are you working on?

Jeff and I are working on a Lattimore/Zeigler Duo record that we’re recording at his studio, Uniform Recording in Philly. I just played on the new Sharon Van Etten record, which will be out next year. We are going to try to repeat our Le Révélateur performance in Philadelphia, too, so that’s in the works. Got some upcoming gigs with my mom, who is also a harpist, and we’ll be playing carols to spread some holiday happiness. Lots of fun stuff ahead!

Is this your first trip to Marfa? What do you know of our town?

Yes, it’s my first visit to Marfa! I don’t know much, but I have a bunch of friends who have visited and who’ve fallen in love with it, so I’m psyched. Have read about the Marfa lights and the great art. I love that I get to spend New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in this far-away place – great way to start 2014. Jeff has been before while on tour with his band. Really looking forward to it!

What are your plans for Marfa and Far West Texas beyond your performance?

Hmm, I’m not sure. I guess to just relax, hang out, walk around. We are staying for a few extra days. I have a close friend Rachel who moved there recently. My pal Matt, who owns the excellent Harvest Records, is coming from Asheville, NC.

LE RÉVÉLATEUR Poster by Ross Cashiola

17 Dec 2013

Poster by Ross Cashiola

Just got in the Le Révélateur posters, hand-drawn by the multi-talented Ross Cashiola. This is our fifth (!) annual New Year’s film program, and we’re screening Philippe Garrel’s Le Révélateur (1968) with a live score by harpist Mary Lattimore and synth player Jeff Zeigler. That’s December 30 at 7 pm — more details here.

Also for your calendars: we’ll have a New Year’s Eve Open House at the gallery on December 31 from 4-6pm. Stop by for refreshments and a two-for-one poster sale (may I recommend the Le Révélateur poster, with perhaps this, this, this, this, this, or this?)

¡Feliz navidad y próspero año nuevo!

A Trip Down Capri Sign Memory Lane

16 Dec 2013

Old Capri and Thunderbird

While rooting around in the archives, found this flyer from the Thunderbird Lounge, featuring photos of the old Thunderbird and Capri motels here in Marfa, Texas. Flyer circa 2004? 2005? Original photos circa the ’60s? ’70s? The motor inns have long since transformed into the Thunderbird Hotel and the Capri Lounge, used for weddings (our own Melissa McDonnell Luján had her reception there) and our concerts (Yo La Tengo, Sonic Youth, Tinariwen, At the Drive-In, among others).

Old times

Capri sign by Felix de Voss

Photo by Felix de Voss

Immaterial sign by Vero Snow

Photo by Vero Snow

Photo by whammygirl

Photo by whammygirl

Photo by Lesley Brown

Photo by Lesley Brown

Comic Future sign by Lesley Brown

Photo by Fredrik Nilsen

Green Mountain Energy Sun Club Visits Ballroom Marfa

9 Dec 2013

photo copy 2

In 2009, Green Mountain Energy Donated a Solar Array to Ballroom Marfa, making Ballroom the first place in West Texas to receive such an installation from the company. Since then, our solar panels have helped us reduce our Carbon footprint and promote cleaner energy, which is why we were so excited when the Green Mountain Sun Club stopped by the gallery back in November on their way to another Solar Array dedication ceremony at the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute in Fort Davis.

Here are some of the images from their travels around Marfa and the surrounding area:







To read more about the Sun Club’s adventures through Texas be sure to check out their blog.

All images courtesy of Caitlin Conran at Green Mountain Energy.

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 Half-price tickets are available in the gallery for all residents of Brewster, Jeff Davis and Presidio counties.

Noel Waggener’s Marfa Triptych Poster Unveiled

29 Oct 2013

Noel Waggener's poster for The Country and Big Band Suite

Just received Noel Waggener‘s commemorative poster for the first installment of Graham Reynolds’ Marfa Triptych, The Country and Western Big Band Suite, premiering at the Crowley Theater in Marfa on November 16.

Described by Reynolds as “classic instrumental country meets Western soundtrack meets power jazz rhythm section,” the program features 14 players, including Redd Volkaert, Ruby Jane and other legendary country music players. You can see photos from last week’s preview at the Long Center in Austin, Texas, and hear demo versions of two pieces in the show, “Nightime in Marfa” and “Marfa Stampede.”

Tickets available here. Half-price tickets available in the gallery for all residents of Brewster, Jeff Davis and Presidio counties.

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Autre Ne Veut + LRN GRN Live From Marfa, Texas

17 Oct 2013

Autre Ne Veut, October 9, 2013. Photo by Alex Marks.

Images of Autre Ne Veut and opener LRN GRN from their intimate performance at the Highland Annex here in Marfa on 9 October 2013. Above photo of Autre Ne Veut under the shade structure by Alex Marks. All other photos by Lesley Brown.

LRN GRN, October 9, 2013. Photo by Lesley Brown.



Autre Ne Veut, October 9, 2013. Photo by Lesley Brown.



Autre Ne Veut, October 9, 2013. Photo by Lesley Brown.

Autre Ne Veut, October 9, 2013. Photo by Lesley Brown.

Autre Ne Veut, October 9, 2013. Photo by Lesley Brown.

Autre Ne Veut, October 9, 2013. Photo by Lesley Brown.

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Graham Reynolds’ Marfa Triptych: First Listen!

18 Sep 2013

Preview the first installment in Graham Reynolds The Marfa Triptych with these preliminary sketches of Part One: The Country and Western Big Band Suite. Click here to see the first installment of Reynolds’ documentation of this extraordinary project.

Tickets for the world premiere on November 16th here in Marfa at the Crowley Theater are now available online. Click here to reserve your seat! Half-price tickets are available in the gallery for all residents of Brewster, Jeff Davis and Presidio counties.