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Balmorhea Creates Cinematic Texas Sounds

Bryan Schutmaat
Deutsche Grammophon
Balmorhea is Rob Lowe and Michael Muller.

Newly signed to the famous "Yellow Label," Deutsche Grammophon, the Texas-based duo Balmorhea celebrates the release of their album "The Wind." TPR's Barry Brake spoke to Michael A. Muller and Robert Lowe recently by phone for "Classical Connections" on KPAC 88.3 FM. An edited version of the chat follows.

Barry Brake: First of all, did I get that right, [pronounces] Balmorhea?

Robert Lowe: That's right. You got it right. Our band is named after the small town out in West Texas. Actually, there's a state park, Balmorhea State Park. It's kind of close to where I grew up. And that's why we named ourselves Balmorhea.

Barry: All right. Tell me about what we just heard [Ed. Listen using the embedded video above]. I loved it. It seemed like you were miking the piano hammers. Marvelous.

Robert: That's right. Yeah. So that track, “Evening,” was recorded in a studio in Berlin, Germany. Our friend… Nils Frahm, he has a couple of well, he has a lot of pianos actually in the studio, but that one in particular was recorded on a small upright pianet called the Zwicki. And yeah, we did a close mic on it. And so you can really hear kind of the inner workings of the instrument itself.

Barry: And so this is part of a brand new album called “The Wind” that is just now released. Tell us a little bit more about what that work is and how it came to be and all that.

Robert: We started in 2006. And until this new album, “The Wind,” all of our stuff has been released on the Austin label Western Vinyl. And we found ourselves kind of in a new place, in a new territory with all these musical ideas. And it just so happened that we ended up on the renowned classical label Deutsche Grammophon for this, and moving forward. So the album came out on April 9th, and we're very happy to be here with you today talking about it.

Barry: Well, it's beautiful music. And to me, it kind of sounds like the Texas Hill Country. And your story is that you met somewhere in the Texas Hill Country, is that right?

Robert: Yeah. Michael and I met back when we were just kids. We met at a summer camp outside of Leakey, Texas. So that's kind of where we got to know each other.

Barry: Which summer camp?

Robert: It's called Laity Lodge Youth Camp.

Barry: Oh, my gosh. I went there! Echo Valley. Was that Echo Valley? I got...

Robert: Oh my god, yes, that's right!

Barry: Well, I loved that place. And I'll tell you, it is just full of Texas beauty. The nature there really is just... Oh, gosh, it's just wonderful. So that's where you guys met?

Michael: We met there the summer of 2000 and then really connected and became close friends about 2005, I guess, in Austin.

Barry: So you've been making this kind of classical music that just has depth to it. And it’s a little bit movie soundtrack-y. And to me, it sounds very Texan.

Robert: That's great. Yeah. I mean, it's definitely reflects our roots as Texans. I've lived here my whole life and Michael's lived here most of his life, although he recently transplanted to L.A. So we'll have to forgive him for that. But yeah, I think you're kind of inextricably linked to where you're from. I've spent my life in Texas and I think that's definitely impacted the type of music that we create.

Barry: Well, tell us a little bit about this next piece we're about to hear. It's called "La Vagabonde."

Robert: It is a composition that's kind of in an arrangement that we had not done before. A little bit unusual for us. The piece is comprised of grand piano, which I'm playing. And then we worked with a French horn player who plays the melody. And then there is a trio of upright basses that come in towards the end of the song… and then there's a bass clarinet that is kind of layered and peppered throughout the song. So it's really kind of a song about a journey, I guess.

Barry: That beautiful music you just heard was "La Vagabonde" from a brand new album by the Texas duo Balmorhea. It's called "The Wind." It's just been released. And we've got them with us right here. Michael Allen Muller and Robert Griffin Lowe, beautiful, beautiful music there. Tell us how we can hear more about your music.

Michael: You can go to Balmorheamusic.com. We're on all streaming platforms and all social media platforms, so if you just type in our name, you'll find the city in West Texas and you'll find us.

Barry: Well, Michael, Robert, thank you so much for joining us today.

Michael: Thanks for having us. Our pleasure.

Barry Brake is a composer, jazz and classical pianist who has been a part of San Antonio's music scene for decades. You can find his musings and musical exploits online here: http://barrybrake.com/