‘Blue Canyon’, by Michael A. Muller (co-founder of Balmorhea), will be releasing a new EP on December 1. Concerned with the specific isolation of wilderness and arriving just in time to take in the snowy elements of the winter season, Blue Canyon offers a respite from the world, thanks to its still and subdued piano. Conceived just before the global pandemic and releasing in the wake of the US presidential election results, the music is a chance to exhale after months of turbulence and unrest.
Created during an artist residency at Laity Lodge, in Real County, Texas, which is described as ‘a rugged property down a near-mile drop in elevation in the cedar and caliche wilderness’, Blue Canyon was recorded in purposeful isolation. Although it was recorded in March – a week before the enforced nation-wide lockdown – it could have come from a different era, when the word ‘isolation’ didn’t have the capacity to provoke a panic attack. Muller stayed at the lodge, alone, creating music to fit into and coalesce with the confines of his environment, both spatially and figuratively, intentionally isolating himself within the beauty of the Frio River canyon.
He chose to immerse himself in a state of seclusion and isolation, rather than being forced into it by governments, laws, and stay-at-home orders. Nine months later, some people may turn their heads at the thought of having to be alone. But this was not a barricade, or a makeshift prison. It was a chance to be alone – physically, at least, being present among the beauty of nature while retreating from the wider world.
Using a Steinway & Sons grand piano and two microphones, Blue Canyon strips everything away – all but the essential. In this way, the music is like a hard reset, providing a sliver of kindness in sketchy times. Choosing facts over illusion and deep, meaningful notes over disinformation and needless clutter, the music is a relief among uncertainty. In fact, the metronomic rhythm, created entirely from the body of the piano, is an assurance, a continuing certainty that relieves pressure and worry and stress. Its incredibly brief nature (the two pieces add up to a total running time of five minutes, making it the shortest record we’ve reviewed) is a sign of the times, with its escapism running into real-world distress as the five-minute-mark comes to an end, but it’s able to feel like a short-but-effective meditation, and exactly what a breather should feel like. On reflection, it’s the perfect length. Any longer and the record would lose its purpose, as well as its strength. There’s a sense of desperate relief in the music – a feeling of breakthrough and the clarifying power of rest. Clarity is a key component of the music.
Muller’s largely improvised music was recorded in between solitary hikes through the canyon, and ‘birdwatching at dusk with the soft sway of 100-foot cypress trees rustling in the distance.’ On the final evening of his residency, a thunderstorm broke loose. Sheets of rain and a roaring wind threw echoes at the limestone cliffs. After a storm, though, the air feels cleansed. Blue Canyon feels cleansed, too. It’s the sound of sunshine breaking through and extinguishing a deluge of rain.