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In MXTX: A Cross-Border Exchange, more than 40 musicians collaborate to show "the best of both sides"


On Sunday, Sept. 4, Ballroom Marfa will host a live performance of the project, which includes more than a dozen songs composed by Texan and Mexican artists using a collaborative audio sample library they've made freely available to the public.

By Annie Rosenthal

As part of the Marfa Lights Festival this weekend, Ballroom Marfa will host the West Texas premiere of a project called MXTX: A Cross-Border Exchange. It’s a live performance, album, and open-source audio library that involves the work of more than 40 producers and composers from both sides of the Rio Grande.

Marfa Public Radio recently spoke with the project's musical director, Mexico City-based composer and sound artist Felipe Pérez Santiago, about how the project came together and what it can tell us about the border.

Interview Highlights

On the process of creating an album with 40 collaborators in two countries

MXTX was the brainchild of Austin-based composer Graham Reynolds, who founded the Austin-based Golden Hornet, a non-profit for composers. Reynolds and the show's co-curators, Oríon García, Coka Treviño, and Felipe Pérez Santiago, asked 20 DJs, sound artists, producers, and musicians on each side of the border to contribute sounds to a shared sample library.

"It could be a beat, it could be a scream, could be hitting something, could be a harmony, whatever," Pérez Santiago says. Composers then used those samples to create thirteen different songs, which were recorded by the Golden Hornet ensemble in Austin and the Vórtice Ensemble in Mexico City. The album was mixed in Argentina and released publicly in April.

To listen to a bonus track called "More Joy," commissioned by Ballroom, and hear Pérez Santiago break down the process of creating it, you can click the audio at the top of the page.

On the MXTX open-source audio library

Last week, Golden Hornet released the MXTX sound library for public use. "The idea is that anyone, anyone in the world that is interested, can come into this sample library and can listen to the sounds and can download them copyright free and use it for their own compositions," Pérez Santiago said. "So at the end it's, you know, a gift that we are giving to all producers, composers, DJs, etc, to say, okay, here are hundreds of sounds that you can use at your will."

On what the collaboration says about life on the border

Pérez Santiago says MXTX is inspired by centuries of intermingling between communities on both sides of the border, and that it stands in opposition to attempts to artificially divide the two countries.

"You know, it's very common to have this mixture of cultures along Mexico in the United States," he says. "I don't want to get too political, but as you know, some politicians have wanted to actually divide our countries. And whatever they do, they would never succeed in separating that culture because we've been together for centuries."

He hopes that MXTX highlights similarities between the countries while also making their differences clear — "but in a positive way, in a friendly and human way that shows the best of both sides."

Ballroom Marfa's performance of MXTX: A Cross-Border Exchange is free and open to the public. The event will take at the USO Building at 7 p.m. on Sunday, September 4, 2022.

Annie Rosenthal is Marfa Public Radio's Border Reporter and a Report for America corps member.