Ballroom Marfa broadcasts ‘Birdscapes Radio’ project

MARFA – Ballroom Marfa and Astral Spirits announced the release of Chihuahuan Desert | Birdscapes on cassette from musician and birder Rob Frye (Bitchin Bajas, Exoplanet, Flux Bikes). The cassette features Frye’s original “Birdscapes” from 2018 in addition to “Chihuahuan Desert Birdscapes,” commissioned by Ballroom Marfa in 2020.

Additionally, in anticipation of International Dawn Chorus Day, the worldwide celebration of nature’s greatest avian symphony, Ballroom Marfa is presenting Birdscapes Radio from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 1, on Ballroom Marfa’s website. 

This freeform program will center on Frye’s ever-evolving collaborative, sonic exploration into the world of birds. Listeners can expect to hear down-tempo dawn chorus, historical recordings, rare sounds and seabird colonies hosted by Rob Frye and Sarah Melendez, with guests Edbrass Brasil, Cristian Pinto, Martin Frye, Satya Gummuluri and more. The show will also include excerpts from “Experience the Birds,” the first episode of Maui Nui Seabirds: Mauka to Makai, and Rob’s performative lecture, “Hearing Hidden Melodies.” 

Birdscapes was originally realized as a video collaboration between Chilean artist Martin Kaulen and Frye, who met while touring with their respective bands Watch Out! and Bitchin Bajas in 2014. Years later, Kaulen coined the term “birdscape” while describing a video he made in which bird’s flight paths are traced, yielding an inexhaustible source of tracks and lines. Frye provided the musical accompaniment, “In the Air Like Clouds,’’ for the video, and while visiting Kaulen in Paris in 2018, the two hosted a “Birdscapes Sound Happening” at Chez Adel. They mixed Frye’s process of slowing down bird song and flute with Kaulen’s technique of using piezo transducers to amplify these sounds through resonant physical objects, such as the tables, chairs, windows and a piano. 

Self-released on Bandcamp in 2018, Frye’s sounds from Birdscapes (side B on the cassette) featured processed sounds of South American species, including song wren, common potoo (both recorded by Peter Boesman) and musician wren (recorded by Richard Ranft), with Frye on flute and granular synthesis with voice contributed by Satya Gummuluri. Satya and Rob had performed together in Ritwik Banerji’s Quintet in Chicago around 2009, and reunited in Ulm, Germany in 2018 for a duo performance at the opening of a group show at Kunstverein Ulm, “WIRKSAM VEREINEN – Kulturelles Erbe und zukünftige Wirksamkeit.” 

“Chihuahuan Desert Birdscapes” (side A on the cassette) was created while Frye was in residence at Ballroom Sessions – The Farther Place. The album is inspired by the avian populations of West Texas and features the sounds of handmade reed flutes intertwined with field recordings and birdsong selected from xeno-canto. With “Chihuahuan Desert Birdscapes,” Frye tunes-in to the subtle consciousness of the natural world and dives deep into the sonic landscape of the Big Bend. 

Positioned along migratory routes from South America to Canada, the Chihuahuan Desert region of West Texas is home to one of the most diverse bird populations in the Northern Hemisphere. “Chihuahuan Desert Birdscapes” highlights common and threatened bird species of the region, using granular synthesis to produce a series of vignettes supplemented by the rich texture of flutes handmade by Frye from invasive grasses collected on the banks of the Rio Grande. Processed samples of lesser nighthawk, Baird’s sparrow, blue-throated mountaingem, and eastern meadowlark permeate the music that is an organic West Texas sound bath, where hypnotic woodwinds and synthesizers familiar from the artist’s work with Bitchin Bajas intermingle with manipulated trills, warbles and whistles. 

Chihuahuan Desert | Birdscapes will be available on cassette on April 30, 2021, through Astral Spirits on Bandcamp and Ballroom Marfa’s website. In addition, Birdscapes Radio will be streamed on Ballroom Marfa’s website on May 1 to encourage people to listen to the world of birdsong with a musician’s ear. This project was organized by Ballroom Marfa Programs Director Sarah Melendez.