Nathan Felix Looks to the Texas Skies

New recording of his 2018 composition recalls a childhood of wonder

Texas Skies (Art by Michael Carnes)
Growing up in Austin, and exploring Texas, has made a lasting impression on pianist and composer Nathan Felix.

It’s where his family raised him, it’s where he played band in high school, and it’s where he went to college, where he found early success as Nathan "Noise" Felix of the Noise Revival Orchestra, before shifting into symphonic composition. Now it's the subject of his new record, Texas Skies.

For Felix, one of the most impactful experiences he was when his family would take small vacations to a different spot in Texas once a year: Port Aransas, Dallas, Six Flags, East Texas, the Panhandle. Growing up in a lower-middle-class family, these small road trips were his family’s only vacations. He recalls being so transformed every time his family would leave his hometown of Austin, just for a few days, and expose him to the vastness of Texas.

In 2018, Felix found himself still impacted by those memorable road trips while he was at a festival in Denmark. Eager to display his Texas roots in Scandinavia, he composed Texas Skies, a classical composition for two pianos, intended to convey how his young and curious eyes saw those landscapes, scenery, and imagery of Texas of which he grew so fond. He said. “As a nine or ten-year-old, everything was so new and fresh to me, and I wanted to put that in the music."

That emotional connection to his Texas travels is something that carried into his travels through the boundless state as an adult, from the sense of shock he felt staring at the border wall in McAllen to the sense of awe as he stared at the endless skies during his yearly drives to West Texas. He recalled finding so much beauty in how small he felt from the sky during his West Texas drives, admiring the frightening yet distant thunderstorms he knew would never come his way.

A couple of years after writing the composition, like many artists at the time, Felix’s career was disrupted by the pandemic. With canceled concerts and newfound time on his hands, the composer first experimented with videos evoking John Cale's 4' 33" and Andy Warhol's screen test shorts; then, he decided to revisit Texas Skies. With the idea of recording the composition, he reached out to New York-based pianist Timo Andres, who performs the composition in the recorded version.

Attempting to recreate so many of the feelings that his time in Texas had given him, his goal was to create an album that was inspired by the idea of leaving your community for Felix explained that Texas Skies uses piano playing to recreate the feelings he was exposed to in Texas through his childhood and adult life: the minimalistic use of the piano creates conveys the spatial quality of driving out West; its occasional dissonance brings listeners inside of his mother’s Subaru during a childhood trip through the panhandle, where Felix would felt so small and disconnected; and the pulsing sense of urgency recreates the shock he felt at the wall in McAllen. “Not everything that you hear in the music is beautiful, and that’s trying to represent feeling so small in the world”.

Texas Skies is available on digital platforms on November 19, and will featuring remixes from sound artist Justin Boyd and Dead Leaf Echo.

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