Rob Mazurek

Dimensional Stardust (International Anthem / Nonesuch)

Contact Jacob Daneman about Rob Mazurek

Rob Mazurek is a multidisciplinary artist & abstractivist, with a focus on electro-acoustic composition, improvisation, performance, painting, sculpture, video, film, and installation, who spent much of his creative life in Chicago, and some years in Brazil. He currently lives and works in Marfa, Texas.


Emerging from the musical nexus of 1990’s Chicago, the Jersey City, New Jersey native has made an indelible impact on creative music over the past 30 years. He has written over 400 compositions, featured on 70+ recordings on various labels including Thrill Jockey, Astral Spirits, Corbett vs Dempsey, Cuneiform, CleanFeed, Delmark, Rogue Art, El Paraiso, Harmonipan, Mego, Northern Spy, Submarine, and International Anthem.


He’s lead or co-lead many ensembles of various sizes and shapes including Exploding Star Orchestra (his flagship large ensemble), Chicago Underground, Isotope 217, São Paulo Underground, Pharoah and the Underground (featuring Pharoah Sanders), a duo with Jeff Parker, Alternate Moon Cycles (with Matt Lux and Mikel Patrick Avery), Alien Flower Sutra (with Emmett Kelly), Star Splitter, and Immortal Birds Bright Wings – each of which possesses its own distinct musical personality. In addition to those listed above, he has collaborated with Bill Dixon, Roscoe Mitchell, Tortoise, Stereolab, Nicole Mitchell, Chad Taylor, Fred Hopkins, Naná Vasconcelos, and many more venerable artists.


Mazurek has also been awarded a number of commissions and awards. He received a grant from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in Fine Arts for the making of the film “The Farnsworth Scores,” a collaboration with filmmaker Lee Anne Schmitt shot at Mies van der Rohe’s iconic Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois. He was awarded grants from the Robert D. Bielecki Foundation, the Helen Coburn Meier & Tim Meier Foundation, and a Commissioning Music/USA grant from Meet the Composer. He has been featured on the cover of London-based modern music journal WIRE Magazine on two occasions.


Mazurek’s visual work has garnered much attention as well, with international solo and group exhibitions, installations, and artist residencies. He has shown his works at locations throughout the United States, South America, and Europe, including the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas, where his paintings hang on the office walls, Marfa Book Company (Marfa, Texas), Audible Gallery at Experimental Sound Studio (Chicago), URDLA Centre Estampe et Livre (Villeurbanne, France) where his solo show “Constellation Scores” was featured as part of the 2017 Lyon Bienalle focus series, Novas Frequencies (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), and Abbey Royal de Fontevraud (Fontevraud-l’Abbaye, Anjou, France). A book published by Harmonipan Editions, “Marfa Loops Shouts and Hollers,” was released in 2018, documenting his exhibition of the same name, with essays by John Corbett, Tiago Mesquita, and Tim Johnson.


On the continuity of Mazurek’s sonic and visual artistic expressions, Experimental Sound Studio founder Lou Mallozzi has said: “For those familiar with his music, the attitude, sensibility and craft in his visual work will come as no surprise, exuding the same combination of neo-expressive clarity and dense materiality, sometimes in corrosive collision, at other times in stark harmony. Gesture is paramount: Mazurek’s hand is always apparent, always engaged – like his cornet sound, in which one feels the body intimately shaping the melody, his visual works embody breath and hand shaping light, surface, color and line.”


While Mazurek’s solo work as a musician expands from piano, cornet, and piccolo trumpet studies to embody musique concrete and electronic experimentation, his composition for large ensemble reveals an intuitive sense of scale. Commissioned by the Chicago Cultural Center and the Jazz Institute of Chicago in 2005 to assemble a group representing the diversity of the city’s contemporary avant-garde, Mazurek amassed a 14-piece ensemble and began composing music for what became his Exploding Star Orchestra. Including musicians from the often-segregated communities of Chicago’s North, South, and West sides – from his long-time collaborators in Tortoise’s expansive orbit to Great Black Music luminaries from the hallowed AACM to free jazz revivalists from the Umbrella Music group – Exploding Star Orchestra debuted in the urban epicenter of Chicago’s Millennium Park and, shortly after, went into John McEntire’s Soma Studios to record We Are All From Somewhere Else (Thrill Jockey, 2007). By the time of Galactic Parables Vol. 1, ESO’s 2015 double LP release, Mazurek reflected to Pop Matters that Exploding Star Orchestra is the “conceptual, compositional and philosophical center of all my work … a life star of musical, visual and conceptual ideas.”


In 2018, JazzFest Berlin curator Nadin Deventer invited Mazurek to present a new iteration of Exploding Star Orchestra with musicians based in Berlin as well as Chicago. Meeting the commission with the boundless ambition characteristic of his artistic approach, he imagined a jubilee of fifteen musicians and improvisers, true to ESO’s ethos in their widely diverse backgrounds and voices, but more tightly arranged around his intricate compositions than ever before. Summoning an array of symphonic­ studies – from Béla Bartók to Gil Evans to Sun Ra to Clube da Esquina to The Art Ensemble of Chicago – in an ecstatic and wholly original program, Mazurek’s November 2018 debut at Berliner Festspiele marked a new pinnacle in his fluency and distinction as a composer and conductor of maximalist sound. “Mazurek’s arrangements burst in colors, making synesthetes of us all,” wrote Paul Acquaro in a review of the concert for Free Jazz Collective.


When Mazurek returned to Chicago in the Summer of 2019, International Anthem took the opportunity capture his new ESO compositions with a cast of collaborators from their collective constellation of artists. Over a handful studio dates between August 2019 and Spring 2020, Mazurek channeled his arrangements through 12 musicians – Damon Locks, Nicole Mitchell, Jeff Parker, Jaimie Branch, Joel Ross, Mikel Patrick Avery, Tomeka Reid, Chad Taylor, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Macie Stewart, Angelica Sanchez, and John Herndon – tracking all their performances in isolation, one-by-one, over his MIDI scores of the music. After rigorous post-production, editing and assembly work, Mazurek completed a culminating new collection of Exploding Star Orchestra recordings.