Inspired by Michael A. Muller’s travels throughout remote regions of the USA and Europe, as well as a personal meditation practice, Lower River is a zen state, a place where motion is easy and uninhibited, where positive energy and bright radiance meet. Like meditation, it’s always available and accessible; one can always return. It’s music of a gentle flow, born from the natural world and the inner space, where one will find only stillness and the breath. Notes stream forth, coming from this radiant river, which itself lays down roots in the mind and the imagination, but there’s a direct impact on the physical body, too, with the slowing of the pulse, the loosening heartrate, and the relaxing of stressed muscle.
Muller may well be better known for co-founding Austin-based outfit Balmorhea, a project some thirteen years old, having released six full-length albums as well as touring across the globe. As such, Lower River marks Muller’s debut solo release, which began life as a sound experiment spanning from the isolated Oregon coast to rural Southern Italy and then onto the remote fishing villages in the South of France. Muller took his tape recorder with him, aiming to ‘contemplate along the way what it means to deeply listen amid a modern narrative underwritten by distraction’. This is immersive music, not an idle background drone. Tracks unfurl and then reverse in on themselves, mirroring the automatic process of respiration, the opening of the ribcage and the eventual folding of the lungs. On ‘New Symmetry’, the notes loop over and over in a circular pattern, blooming and reverting like butterfly wings.
Back in Austin, the field recordings worked their way into Muller’s original compositions, but the global vibe continued: the album was mastered by Rafael Anton Irisarri at his Black Knoll Studio in New York, and the cover art was created by Dutch photographer Awoiska Van Der Molen. And rather than performing the work on stage, Muller has created video installations and interactive audio experiences, which is more in line with Lower River and its ethos. That touring exhibit will work its way through Autumn 2019, in sync with its October 25 release through Beacon Sound and 1631 Recordings.
Expansive and ever-bright, the smooth horns of ‘Elyria’ softly sink in, echoing as if from a fantastical world. The gaseous drone perfumes the sound, becoming lush and evergreen, and the underlying birdsong makes it even sweeter. The final track, ‘Recedes’, reinforces the record’s breathing method. The title alone gives it away, but inside the music, both piano and strings are falling away, closing up, becoming tighter and more constricted; drying up. The river ends here.