David Dove’s trombone brings music to first ever performance in the Dan Flavin light installation

Photo by Lynn Lane / Trombonist David Dove of Houston will be joined by eight other musicians on Saturday for the performance of Sounding untitled for the Self-guided Listener from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in all six buildings of the Dan Flavin installation.

MARFA — Thoughtful, careful and precise with his words, trombonist David Dove of Houston, composer of the musical performance on Saturday at Chinati Open House, arrived in Marfa Monday,

He was then joined by eight musicians from Texas, Philadelphia, Massachusetts and Mexico. Tuesday they met, some for the first time, and talked about Dove’s piece, although no music was played. Wednesday each musician had solo time in the Flavin installation spaces, experiencing their instruments in the particular quality of the space and began exploring what each of them will bring to the composition. 

Today, they begin together to follow the score for the first time, or not entirely; for improvisation, the score is map and guide, not solid instruction. Friday Dove will complete the score, giving credence to all his fellow musicians and how their discoveries inform the work, and Saturday, they will perform Sounding untitled for the Self-guided Listener from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. in the U-shaped buildings of Dan Flavin’s untitled (Marfa Project), 1966. This, the premiere musical performance in the spaces, allowed and sanctioned with special permission from the estate of Dan Flavin, certainly a cause for celebration.

As Dove points out, musicians create the piece together and the public creates the composition. Musicians provide content. The public provides the form. Since silence marks the beginning and end of a piece, the listener will create that for themselves as they enter and exit the spaces. The piece begins in the first building and attendees are instructed to proceed through the buildings in order, one through six, at their own pace, attending any part of the hours-long performance. Just as the light changes depending on where a person stands in the installation, so will the sound as the individual explores each space and experiences the different musicians. No one musician will play continuously for four hours; they will shift throughout. How that will be executed is part of the mystery of how this composition unfolds that Dove is not willing to yet share. Discover how they accomplish this feat in real time given the very real restraints of time and place by attending at least some part of the performance.

Dove first came to Marfa in 2005 for a performance Inlets, a John Cage composition at Ballroom Marfa, part of the show Treading Water. The ensemble needed someone who could play and hold a very long note on a conch shell using circular breathing. Dove was that person. Since that performance he has visited Marfa as a tourist over the years until the invitation by Chinati to compose this piece, spending time in the Flavin installation over several days this summer to begin to think about the conversation his composition would have with the space, light, people passing through, and a four-hour long continuous performance. He ponders out loud what will happen if the wind kicks up since the doors will be propped open during the performance and the interesting dimension that might bring, which strikes close to the heart of improvisation and the variables inherent in each performance.

As a traditional music student in high school band, jazz band and marching band, it wasn’t until Dove started playing bass in a punk band that he found the creative outlet and inspiration that improvisation allowed –– something that the music he was previously taught had lacked. Dove fell under the influence of his mentor Pauline Oliveros, composer and accordionist, who investigated new ways to focus attention on music, including her concept of “deep listening” and performances in resonant or reverberant spaces like caves and cathedrals. A fast connection was formed between the two musicians. One of Oliveros’ deeply held beliefs was to free music from elite players and provide access to all, regardless of experience or ability. That lesson landed squarely with Dove who founded “Nameless Sound,” a Houston nonprofit that brings new methods of music instruction to young musicians and students with no musical exposure.

The important and influential work Dove does with teenagers and concerts through his nonprofit brings that creativity he craved as a music student until he found punk music to teens with no experience as well as accomplished, trained students headed for a conservatory. For those with no musical experience or exposure, they discover something they can immediately call their own.

The far-reaching impact of his devoted work will be a part of this week’s performance as Juan Garcia, the double bass player from Mexico City and internationally known performer, was once a student of Dove’s. Other performers include two vocalists, oboe, soprano saxophone, two percussionists and Dove with his trombone. For all the seriousness and intense focus of his current music endeavors and composition, Dove has retained that signature of punk, an impressive mop of hair good for flinging to headbanging or improvisational music.