Photo: Courtesy of Western Vinyl via Bandcamp

Elori Saxl Fuses Technology and Nature on ‘The Blue of Distance’

The latest work from multifaceted artist Elori Saxl is a deeply satisfying, occasionally jarring work that takes minimalism, sampling, and chamber orchestras to a whole new level.

The Blue of Distance
Elori Saxl
Western Vinyl
22 January 2021

The term “The Blue of Distance” comes from Rebecca Solnit’s acclaimed 2005 nonfiction book A Field Guide to Getting Lost. It refers to the phenomenon of faraway mountains appearing blue due to light particles getting lost in the distance. Filmmaker and composer Elori Saxl was born in 1990 and raised alongside the rise of the internet and technological breakthroughs such as Google Maps, YouTube, and smartphones. This technology allows for the access of people and places without actually being there, and the concept helped inspire her latest project. As she explains on her Bandcamp page: “I was interested in understanding how the personal experience of memory formation may parallel humanity’s changing relationship with land through new technology that allows us access to a place or person without being physically present.”

Saxl took recordings of wind and water to bring this concept to life, filtered and manipulated them through analog synthesizers, tweaked violins with digital pitch-shifting, and added MIDI woodwind samples. She also recruited a handful of musicians to accompany her on violin, viola, cello, clarinet, oboe, flute, and bassoon, creating a small chamber ensemble to add an organic element to the manufactured sound. As a result, The Blue of Distance conveys a variety of musical emotions, ranging from deep ambient to warm melodicism, Reich-leaning minimalism, and the occasional harsh noise. All the while, sounds of nature appear as a common thread. In that regard, the album is reminiscent of Music for a Living Water, GS Sultan’s 2020 release that also combined electronics with nature.

“Before Blue” opens the album as a sort of brief overture, as melodic lines drift lazily over an aquatic bed, recalling the film music with which Saxl is so familiar. But on subsequent tracks, like “Blue”, the nature sounds are more pronounced, giving the listener the impression of being underwater. This sensation is relatively brief as a more processed feel eventually takes over. The Blue of Distance never really comes off as aimless noodling – there seems to be a purpose and overall arc to the project. It’s certainly within the realm of experimentalism, but with a decidedly composed feel.

Saxl composed half the album in the Adirondack Mountains during the summer in the midst of nature, while the other half was composed on a frozen Lake Superior island in the middle of winter. Therefore, she was able to draw inspiration from two different extremes. This form of high-concept composition has produced an album of surprising depth. It’s striking to hear “Blue” transform from a claustrophobic confluence of water and noise to something resembling a dramatic film score. But that’s one of Saxl’s many compositional strengths – to take a unique concept and develop it into a truly stirring, groundbreaking work of art.

With “Wave I”, the idea of infusing an aquatic theme into instrumental music is taken to a logical step as the sounds evoke the classic, somewhat liquid feel of a wah-wah or Leslie speaker cabinet. The longing sounds of a clarinet bolster this kind of warmth. The effect is spectacular – both reminiscent of nature and deeply musical. Elsewhere, on “Wave II”, the water effects create a sort of deep, slow-motion dance beat. That is likely because Saxl listened to a great deal of electronic dance music prior to making the album and noticed that wind and water’s pulsing sounds could often bring to mind deliberate beats.

Sometimes the nature sounds are incredibly pronounced, and at other times they act merely as a subdued layer, as on the album’s longest track, “Memory of Blue”. Here, the organic instrumentation moves from sweeping, slow passages to more insistent minimalist repetition. Meanwhile, water flows gently underneath before becoming more prominent towards the end, as a gentle keyboard passage acts as a soft, gorgeous coda.

Saxl closes the album with the languid title track, where wide open, sustained keyboard figures stretch across the song’s seven-minute run time. It’s one of the album’s most minimalist moments, as gentle but uncomplicated strings move into the arrangement, combining with the synth chords and positively soaring across the track. Beneath it all, wind and water gently churn away. Elori Saxl’s concept behind The Blue of Distance is undoubtedly striking and ambitious. Still, she’s managed to take it a step further – creating a unique musical project that is both distinctive and highly enjoyable. Like nature she observes all around her, Elori Saxl’s music is a highly immersive experience.

RATING 8 / 10