SXSW 09 Picks 2 Click

A septet of local acts with (inter)national appeal

SXSW 09 Picks 2 Click
Photo by Sandy Carson


Neoclassical instrumentalists venture into the wild

William B. Dewees was one of Stephen F. Austin's Old Three Hundred, a colonist from Kentucky in search of a new beginning. His Letters From an Early Settler of Texas to a Friend, published in 1852, offers a glimpse of the frontier life, torn between his fascination with the idyllic nature of his surroundings and the innate danger it imposed. Surveying the banks of the Colorado River, he wrote to his correspondent:

"I have never witnessed a sight of the kind, which, in my opinion, was more beautiful than this. The color of it is far deeper and richer than any I have ever before seen. ... Yet we are in a country with which we are entirely unacquainted; no road, no compass, and at the point of starvation."

This excerpt, scrawled on the inside cover of Balmorhea's third LP, All Is Wild, All Is Silent, serves as a backdrop to the band's instrumental impressionism. Deeply cinematic in its scope, the local sextet bridges the neoclassical realm of Max Richter with the refined elegance of Sigur Rós, creating graceful portraits of piano, banjo, and acoustic guitar. Like its inspiration, All Is Wild, All Is Silent unravels a fictional narrative that explores the vastness of the high plains and West Texas skyline with a forlorn, romantic wonderment.

"There's not a lot of adventure left in the world, at least not in the old-fashioned sense," opines Rob Lowe, a classically trained pianist whose spatial phasing recalls that of Arvo Pärt. "We're left to define what it means to be an explorer in our own terms. Our music lends itself to that idea of finding and celebrating the grandeur in the ordinary or mundane."

The emotional malleability of Balmorhea's compositions takes root in the interplay between its co-founders, Lowe and multi-instrumentalist Michael Muller. The two first started playing together in late 2006, with the band's eponymous debut – a collection of sparse instrumentals and found sound – following soon after.

Last year's serene Rivers Arms found Balmorhea expanding its horizons to include upright bass, strings, and wordless vocals, a move that's mastered on All Is Wild, All Is Silent. A remix compilation of the album, featuring interpretations by contemporaries such as Bexar Bexar, Eluvium, and Peter Broderick, is set for release this fall. If that wasn't enough, Balmorhea's also wrapped up its fourth LP and has no intention of slowing down any time soon.

"It doesn't seem like we're moving at an exceptional pace," Lowe contends.

"It's a matter of the group really changing and coming into its own," says Muller. "It's all felt very natural and organic."

SXSW SHOWCASE Thursday, March 19, 11pm @ Club 115

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