On November 20, Rob Mazurek returns with Exploding Star Orchestra and a new album of sci-fi poetry and avant-jazz, Dimensional Stardust, via Nonesuch and International Anthem. Mazurek made his name playing experimental music in Chicago and currently resides under massive skies out in Marfa, Texas.
The new album finds him joined by Nicole Mitchell, Jeff Parker, Jaimie Branch, Joel Ross, Mikel Patrick Avery, Tomeka Reid, Chad Taylor, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Macie Stewart, Angelica Sanchez, John Herndon, and lyricist Damon Locks. It’s a record focused on imaginative expansion and non-linear narratives, full of interlocking rhythms and cyberpunk via Sun Ra-style jazz. Aquarium Drunkard’s Jason P. Woodbury reached Mazurek to correspond via email over the last few (eventful) weeks to discuss occult science fiction mysteries and the desert.
Aquarium Drunkard: While you do play piccolo trumpet on this record, you largely sat much of the actual instrumentation out in the studio. Was this a different approach for you?
Rob Mazurek: This is the tenth suite I have composed for the Orchestra. For the previous nine suites, we have explored various ways to improvise on the given material, around the given material, through the material, disregarding the material, etc. For Dimensional Stardust, I wanted to present tight knit through composed tapestries with very specific instrumentation and areas for concentrated improvised expression. Although my role is mostly as composer, arranger, and director, the piccolo trumpet parts that I do play are very specific to the needs of the composition. The approach is always to project light and positive energetic flow.
AD: You’re working with a lot of players—there are 11 great people on this one. You’re certainly known for improvising, but also records where people are playing very specific parts. Could you tell me a little bit about what sent you down the more notated direction for this record?
Rob Mazurek: I have been composing written scored arranged music since I was 16 when I composed my first piano piece. I have written/composed over 400 compositions…almost all of the previous suites have have full-on composed sections. I love composing. I love improvising. This music sounded excellent “as written” so in a way, the composition itself determined the path taken.
AD: When we spoke in 2017, you noted that “Exploding Star Orchestra, some of Chicago Underground, and the various other groups I’ve led, [they all] have kind of a science fiction aspect.” You wrote an opera, Alien Flower Sutra, about a “a cybernetic organism struggling to reconcile the human buried inside their computer-regulated psyche.” What kind of narrative concepts were you playing with this go around?
Rob Mazurek: The narrative is always a broken narrative…I love poetic titles. I came up with the titles as I was composing. The narrative is certainly about INCLUSION, Light, Inner and Outer Cathartic Acceptance of oneself and all others, Exploding Star Dimensional Understanding, Love, Waves, Ecstatic, Charge, Energy.
AD: Are there any specific writers blending science fiction and poetry you’re drawn to?
Rob Mazurek: Samuel R. Delany is certainly poetic. Sun Ra of course, Ursula K. Le Guin. Stanislav Lem, in a more humorous way.
AD: What kind of discussions did you have with Damon Locks about this record? What does it look like when you clue him in on your overall vision for the ideas of a project, or is it more where the words he comes up with push you in various directions?
Rob Mazurek: For this record I sent him the titles of the compositions and he came back with his excellent words and phrases from the titles. I trust Damon and everyone I work with implicitly.
AD: Your 2015 album with ESO was called Galactic Parables; this record employs “parables” as a sort of title device as well. How many “parables” do you have? Do you write them out in a manner similar to Sun Ra’s “disciplines?”
Rob Mazurek: The Galactic Parables are endless. No beginning and no end. They started with the texts of imaginary writer-astronomer-alchemist-painter-filmaker Helder Velasquez Smith and continue in non-linear form and un-form forever, past-present-future.
AD: Can you tell me more about Helder Velesquez Smith? When you describe them as imaginary, do you mean it’s a character you created?
Rob Mazurek: We made the Tigersmilk recording Android Love Cry which has the first remnants of HVS. Yes, a character I created to channel hidden energies, ideas, to learn from…
AD: You made this record in Chicago. Are you still living out in Marfa most of the time? If so, how has your perception of Chicago changed after spending so much time in the desert?
Rob Mazurek: We have lived in Marfa five years now. Chicago is always dynamic and changing. I do not miss the Chicago winters. In the desert, there is a kind of mystic quietude that I enjoy very much. I have the sound studio and art studio. I enjoy making things everyday all day. The distractions are less here. Marfa is a very special place.
AD: The desert out there, deserts all over if you can get away from people, definitely have “mystic quietude” in abundance. Has being in the desert changed the way you think about your art?
Rob Mazurek: Yes in certain ways. It is vast here. The sky…the climate. This is a designated dark skies area, so you can experience the cosmos on a more intimate level. Surrounded by the excellent inspiring work of Donald Judd is wonderful. This all comes into play when creating. A calm mind creates in a different way I would say. It is certainly calming here.
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