In Marfa, Rob Mazurek Draws Inspiration from Eels and Art


Rob Mazurek has three new releases on the Astral Spirits label.

(Photo: Ariele Monti)

In a climatic gun battle in John Sandford’s 2017 crime novel, Golden Prey, bullets tear through a room in Marfa, Texas, filled with 100 mirror-like aluminum boxes designed by acclaimed artist Donald Judd.

When trumpeter and visual artist Rob Mazurek, a Marfa resident since 2015, heard about the book’s scene, he laughed: “That’s a large part of why I’m here,” he said, speaking primarily about Judd’s sculptures, but also of the works’ spirit.

Mazurek, who previously lived in Chicago and São Paulo—and built networks of collaborators in both cities—said that Marfa, though isolated, is one of the most creatively inspiring places he’s ever been. “I have a music studio here; I have an unattached painting studio. It’s the perfect scenario for me to create,” he explained. He’s also launched an annual festival, Desert Encrypts, which includes concerts and gallery displays. Its second edition ran July 26–28.

Desert Encrypts Vol. 1, a live recording from 2018’s festival featuring pianist Kris Davis, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Chad Taylor, is one of three albums Mazurek recently released on the Astral Spirits label. He plays piccolo trumpet and electronics on the six tracks, resulting in some of the most conventional music the avant-gardist’s made in quite a while.

“I never compose or make music with the intention of making something in some kind of style,” he said. “For me, it just flows—I sit down at the piano or I go for a walk or something comes into my head and I write it down. All this music just started to flow out that way. And after it flows out, it’s just a matter of who you want to play the music.” In this case, Davis was the crucial element: “I just love the way she plays, her touch and her sensibility.”

The pianist seemingly was pleased to take part in it all.

“I play with Chad a lot and had never played with Rob and Ingebrigt, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to finally play with these masters,” Davis said in a separate interview. “I didn’t feel any expectations from Rob with regards to his music. We read down the material, and that’s how we sounded as a group playing it.”

Mazurek’s two other new albums from Astral Spirits are entirely electronic. Psychotropic Electric Eel Dreams IV is what its title suggests: It was built around recordings he made of electric eels in the waters of Brazil. Love Waves Ecstatic Charge incorporates images and sound from a broken digital camera as its source material. Mazurek held onto the camera since returning from a 2005 residency in France, an unusual move for him.

“I’m not a hoarder at all,” he said. “Actually, I’ve gotten rid of way too much stuff. When I moved to Brazil in 2000, I sold my whole record collection, which was, I think, my only regret in life thus far. My 30-year archive of stuff I’ve composed, made, written, whatever, is not as robust as it should be.”

The albums, visual works and books he’s producing now should help change that.

“I was totally impressed by what Rob is building [in Marfa], and I see enormous potential for a thriving music scene there,” Davis said. “Because of Donald Judd and The Chinati Foundation, there is a small community of artists who are very enthusiastic about music, and very supportive of Rob’s vision to grow the music scene there, right alongside the visual arts in Marfa.”

Mazurek said that living in Marfa, embracing the spirit there and putting on the Desert Encrypts festival has influenced his aesthetic: “I don’t put records out or show art just to put records out or show art. It’s taught me to be even more specific than I have been, but in another sense, trying to be more broad.” DB

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