In response to 2019’s “Lower River” — the solo debut of Balmorhea co-founder Michael A. Muller — Blue Canyon is a succinct, two song follow-up that speaks to the specific isolation of wilderness, the elements, and a willful stripping back of the unnecessary. Conceived just before the global pandemic of Covid-19 and released on the heels of the U.S. Presidential election, Blue Canyon comes as a respite and soft escape into natural beauty.
“Blue Canyon” was created during an artist residency at Laity Lodge in Real County, Texas, a rugged property down a near-mile drop in elevation in the cedar and caliche wilderness (the album cover features an image taken in the summer of 1957 shortly after the 1,900 acres were first acquired). For the residency, Muller was invited to stay alone at the property to immerse himself in the isolated beauty of the Frio River canyon. In response, he sought to create music that resounded in the specific confines of the physical and figurative space. Ironically, this period of self-entered isolation happened just a week before the enforced national quarantine in March 2020, resulting in an opting into solitude that now feels like a distant past.
“Blue Canyon” was captured on just two microphones and a Steinway & Sons grand piano. Every sound, tone, and note on the recording comes from the piano, from its soft plucks and subtle sweeps across the strings to raw concussions on the chassis to compliment the delicate melodies. The tracking session was mostly improvisational, occurring each day between solitary hikes through the canyon, and birdwatching at dusk with the soft sway of 100-foot cypress trees rustling in the distance. The final evening of the residency, a violent thunderstorm tore through, with high winds and whipping rain causing reverberating echoes along the canyon’s limestone cliffs. These organic influences are felt throughout the two pieces on Blue Canyon, which spans just five minutes in total length. Brief yet poignant, it’s a reminder amid uncertain times of the clarifying power behind longed-after repose.