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May 19, 2022

Border-busting MXTX project builds musical bridges between U.S. and Mexico

Spearheaded by Austin's Golden Hornet collective, the open-ended collaboration involves more than 40 composers and DJ-producers and from both sides of the Rio Grande. An April 16 free concert celebrates the album release

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It’s hard to pin down one genre or style featured on the album ‘MXTX: A Cross-Cultural Exchange.’

Tracks like Bragglights’ “Transformer’s Lounge,” a percussive dance song, flow right into tracks like Susie Ibarra’s “Melancolía en Primavera,” an abstract collage of striking electric guitar pulsations and accordion melodies.

But that dramatic variation is the point. The newly-released album, by Golden Hornet on Six Degrees Records, showcases new works by 12 composers from Mexico and Texas that explore everything from techno-inspired electronics to lush string arrangements to calypso, celebrating the wide array of artists working in both places today.

This genre-blending album is just one facet of MXTX, an initiative of nonprofit Golden Hornet. The project encompasses three different initiatives: The album of new works, a live album performance and a library of samples created by 40 composers from Mexico and Texas that is free and open to the public. Each prong builds on one of the others. To create the album, composers drew from the sample library, and the live concert, set for April 16, will feature each track of the album.



MXTX was launched this spring after a two-year pandemic delay. Austin’s Graham Reynolds, a composer-bandleader-improviser and founder of Golden Hornet, originally came up with the idea for MXTX when the Trump administration was pushing to build a border wall between Mexico and the United States.

“We wanted to make an overt bridge and border wall statement, and just do it with art instead of words,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds brought on three other musical leaders — Mexico City-based composer Felipe Pérez Santiago, Austin-based cultural organizer Coka Treviño and Mexico City multidisciplinary artist Oríon García — to curate a selection of composers and electronic artists from Texas and Mexico who would write music for both the sample library and album.

Cultural exchange has always been important to Reynolds, especially exchange between the United States and Latin America. As a teen, Mexico was the first country he visited outside of the United States and he remembers being struck by the country’s art, particularly their community-focused murals. He’d later go on to study Latin American history in college and mount a bilingual opera, ‘Pancho Villa from a Safe Distance,’ which explored Mexican and Mexican-American influences in West Texas.

Related: ‘Graham Reynolds’ musical pastiche probes the myths of Pancho Villa’

Like Reynolds, Santiago has long been interested in international collaboration. He and Reynolds also have a long history of working together: Santiago was involved with Reynolds’ opera and the 2018 concert and album, ‘The Sound of Science.’ Santiago was particularly drawn to MXTX because of its emphasis on access and international exchange.

“I remember a very beautiful phrase. [Reynolds] said, ‘well, while some people want to build walls, why don’t we build bridges?’ And I felt so close to that ideology,” Santiago said. “I believe that music is the best way to connect people and cultures and ideologies and races and gender.”

The MXTX curators wanted to find electronic producers and composers who were exploring new musical avenues with a mind towards creating a gender balance in the library and on the album. Santiago remembers putting out an open call on social media for anyone to send him music and received hundreds of responses. Part of the great joy of the project was culling through every response and discovering new sounds in the process.

“We don’t mind if you play the drums in a death metal band, or we don’t mind if you play the trumpet in a jazz band, or we don’t mind if you are not even a trained musician,” Santiago said. “Do you have something interesting to say? You’re welcome. Everybody’s welcome in this project.”

Treviño recalls a similar feeling while she was finding artists for MXTX. “We were looking for creativity and music,” she said. It wasn’t just about picking a song—it was about picking artists with innovative ideas. She was also driven by the project’s commitment to access: “You think of producers and composers, and they have such a specific route and in their careers. This one was an opportunity to create music that will be shared for free to everyone,” she said.

Treviño felt a special connection to this project because it focused on access, community and giving visibility to underrepresented groups. These are all core passions for Treviño, who works as curator and Director of Programming at Austin visual arts organization Big Medium. While working on the project, she discovered many artists, like Mexican composer Alina Hernández Maldonado, whose experimental violin playing “[blew] her mind.”

The sample library, which will be released in mid-May, features artists at all stages of their careers. There are established musicians, like electronic artist Murcof and improviser-cellist Mabe Fratti, alongside emerging names. Anyone who visits the library can collaborate with whomever they choose, giving artists opportunities to access superstar musicians that they may not be connected to otherwise. Or artists can find hidden talent.

After choosing the artists who would contribute to the sample library, the curatorial team chose a group of composers to use the sample library to write new music for the MXTX album. Like the library, the album includes big names, such as Mexican composer Gabriella Smith, who recently had a work premiered at the New York Philharmonic, and emerging talent. The album’s tracks were orchestrated so they could be performed live, with parts being recorded and passed between Texas and Mexico.

On April 16, the MXTX album will be performed live for the first time as part of Austin’s Fusebox Festival. The ensemble will be led by Santiago and feature a variety of Austin musicians performing with a couple artists from Mexico. Then, it’ll travel to Marfa and Mexico City in September, each time with a new group of musicians.

With MXTX’s open-source sample library, there are seemingly infinite possibilities for music that can be made under the project’s umbrella. And the curators hope to see it continue past 2022, with new artists continually exploring the sample library.

As Treviño said: “It’s just a never-ending collaboration.”

The concert ‘MXTX: A Cross-Border Exchange’ is at 7 p.m. at the Moody Amphitheater at Waterloo Park. Admission is free, but reservations are encouraged. Make reservations at fuseboxfestival.com/project/mxtx-a-cross-border-exchange/

 


Vanessa Ague
Vanessa Aguehttps://theroadtosound.com/
Vanessa Ague is a violinist and writer studying Arts & Culture Journalism at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. She runs the experimental music blog, The Road to Sound, and her writing has appeared in Bandcamp Daily, The Wire, Pitchfork, Quietus and The Brooklyn Rail, among others.

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