Many of us have a place, a memory, or an image we go back to for solace. Blue skies and blue waters may be the very thing to prevent us feeling blue. Whether a lake stretching endlessly or waves collapsing on the beach, there’s something calming and humbling about an aquatic expanse. On this engrossing new album, Elori Saxl captures the rippling waters and the wind through our hair. She also explores the processes of perception and memory that reshape nature as we recreate it in our minds.
Though inspired by happy times spent in the mountains, the album is not a jubilant outburst of joy. Saxl’s compositions are gradual accretions of ethereal beauty. Her tools are analogue synth electronics, processed field recordings, and a small chamber orchestra of woodwind and strings. Some composers flourish in the tension between electronic and instrumental. But Saxl’s skill is in crafting a succulent, organic whole. Synthetic and acoustic sound blend into one, like air and water in the distant horizon.
The album opens with a blissful aubade of an intro, where sunrise textures meet sleepy strings. The bubbling of aquatic sound leads into “Blue”, a ten-minute evaporation of rippling water under warming rays. Pulsing layers of sound plunge us into high-pressure depths. As our ears are submerged, rushing waters turn rhythmic. Understated melodies carry the life-affirming melancholy of nature perceived by humankind. In this first showpiece of the album, Saxl captures the iterative power of minimalism, before ushering in a symphonic climax.
In the second half of the album, “Memory of Blue” revisits the immediacy of summer days in hindsight. Traces of water remain, but are chilled by recollection into an ensemble piece that drips, runs, and gradually builds toward a torrent. Like many artists before her, Saxl’s forms establish a symbiosis with nature. The problem is when art fixes the spontaneity of nature into the terms of human experience. Across the album, Saxl acknowledges and dramatizes the process of transformation nature undergoes in the human mind.
The album begins by capturing a “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”, as William Wordsworth describes. It ends with “emotion recollected in tranquillity”, as vibrant memories of summer are smoothed into exquisitely airy, orchestral ambience. Between these two poles, three shorter tracks (entitled “Waves”) show Saxl’s ability to work at a smaller scale. The water rises to a perfect crest; it churns and swells against wind; it reflects crystalline shimmers of light.
“The Blue of Distance” describes the phenomenon by which mountains perceived from afar are tinted by a distortion of the light spectrum. Of course, the sky and sea appear blue for a similar reason. Our perception is coloured by many variables. From my own perspective, Saxl’s album is a welcome bolt from the blue. It may only have been released in January, but I will be surprised not to meet it again on some of end-of-year lists. (Samuel Rogers)