Locked down in Marfa, a Brooklyn musician makes ‘dreaming in the desert music’

MARFA — “What does it sound like when the wind in the desert hits your skin?” Roberto Carlos Lange asked Jeanann Dara, as she improvised on viola. Lange, often recognized by his stage name Helado Negro, released an EP, Kite Symphony, Four Variations, at the end of June that collages together his spacious instrumentation with familiar West Texas sounds, collected and arranged during Lange’s extended stay in Marfa.

Lange and his collaborator Kristi Sword initially arrived in Marfa for a brief trip in early spring to work on Kite Symphony, a project commissioned by Ballroom Marfa. But through the course of their visit, coronavirus struck home back in Brooklyn, Texas experienced a stay-at-home order and the artists stumbled into a forced months-long residency in West Texas.

As their itineraries changed, so too did the scope of their project, growing far beyond their concept of collecting the sounds of West Texas through their hand-built kites. It soon expanded into a broader, multi-dimensional work that includes kites, ephemeral sculptures, sound collecting, video and now, an album.

The four-track EP Kite Symphony, Four Variations offers minimalist, drone, ambient qualities “but also warped jazz and classical sensibilities,” Lange described. Sword provided dynamic, rhythmic drawings – visual representations of music through symbols outside the world of traditional music notation – that became rough scores for Lange to put together his synthesizer explorations and piano tracks.

From there, Lange layered in local violist Dara’s loosely-directed improvisations, mixed in the collected sounds of the day and rearranged it all from his home or at Marfa Recording Co., before finally inviting cornetist Rob Mazurek’s additions and rearranging it all again.

It was a constantly evolving sound, Lange said, “like clouds passing in front of the sun, creating shapes that shade the landscape for a brief period of time.”

The arrangements ultimately offer ambient meditations, with Lange’s synths and beats eventually giving way to field recordings by Lange and Sword that locals will recognize as the familiar bird calls and cricket chirps that have marked many evening walks and relaxations on the porch during this year’s quiet Marfa spring.

When Lange explained the “broad umbrella” of the project in May, he told The Big Bend Sentinel that each piece is “dealing with intricacies and nuances of what this landscape is about and dialing that in, in terms of, reactions and impressionistic versions of what we feel, see, and what it’s like to experience the feeling of being out here. It’s amazing, alien and wild.”

The sound pieces are an invitation to experience fleeting, familiar, West Texas moments. “It’s dreaming in the desert music,” said Lange.

This week the album garnered a coveted 8.0 review on Pitchfork and became one downloadable perk of joining Ballroom Marfa during their annual membership drive.

The songs are available exclusively on Ballroom Marfa’s Bandcamp (https://ballroommarfa.bandcamp.com/album/kite-symphony-four-variations) and are accompanied by a video for the album’s final track, “Suede House” created by Sword and Lange in Marfa during March 2020.

Twenty-five percent of proceeds from the Bandcamp purchases will benefit Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, a nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services to low-income residents. The broader project, Kite Symphony, organized by Ballroom Marfa Programs Director Sarah Melendez, will debut through Ballroom this fall.