Willie Reviews Anne Müller’s “Heliopause”

Willie Reviews Anne Müller’s “Heliopause”

After a great many collaborations, Anne Müller’s first solo album is radically solo. In writing, recording, and producing Heliopause, Müller and her cello take a trip beyond the solar system. RPM’s review:

After watching a recent big-budget disaster movie, I was left feeling a certain raw emptiness. There are endless places to assign blame there, but the problem was mostly to do with space. Depicted as just a short flight away, what little of its mystique that remained was crushed by heavy-handed storytelling. I don’t think I’m alone in being sensitive about the great beyond. What Earthlubbers crave is an abstract space where we might be totally absorbed in things beyond our comprehension. And way out there past the sun is the heliopause, which marks the boundary of our sun’s solar wind. Cellist Anne Müller relies on that relation to frame her first solo album. Heliopause insists that aloneness has a different sound than loneliness, and that what we don’t know is infinitely more interesting than our wildest grasps and leaps at knowledge. In both familiar contemporary classical idioms and a few beyond the familiar, she’s able to crystallize an image of the far-out traveler, one whose voyage remains nominally on course but who is hopelessly lost otherwise.

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The difference between being alone and being lonely is as simple as a state of mind, and Müller hones in on that in her compositions. The tone of these works paints a protagonist with no mental free space for anything beyond contemplation. As a result, we hear circular thought in the void, something between wonder and desperation. This central crisis gets a loose melody and harmony to give it shape. “Nummer 2” uses a repeating upward arpeggio, out of which long, sumptuous bowings emerge. Free of narrative-building or discernible movement, it styles itself as an extended meditation. In conversation with itself, the piece asks an open-ended question dozens and dozens of times without a satisfying reply. On “Aarhus / Reminiscences,” Müller’s palette expands to incorporate subtle variations in the piano. It follows a pulsating heartbeat, heard throughout in different guises. She brushes on instrumental changes so gradually that the two parts of the piece become difficult to distinguish. Like free thought, it often returns unexpectedly to the site of the provoking action.

The realest and most intriguing image-making happens in Müller’s textural experiments. Whereas the aforementioned pieces draw from minimalist favorites, the first and last track each reach out and find opposite extremes in texture. The opener, “Being Anne,” is woven from questions. Plucked strings and scratches rise up like a thin fog, then incorporate into a dissonant soundscape that, if the title is to be believed, approximates Müller’s interiority. Messy and dense, organized only by a blurry spine of a rhythm, this song celebrates its own unpredictability. By contrast, the title track that ends the album is all finality, with its every component crushed into an ambient close. “Heliopause” is cagey in the way it overlaps its unknown number of strings, using them to draw out the close in a consonance so doubly and triply promised that you begin to doubt it will ever actually come to an end. It’s lush and symmetrical from any point of the drone to another, and when the final fade does happen, it tapers almost imperceptibly.

Anne Müller, photo by Andrea Huyoff

Müller’s production broadens the scope of the record, filling every track to the brim. Her experiment doesn’t privilege the singularity of the artist or the idea that one voice is enough to represent big ideas. The individual is hard to sense, and what I get instead is a composite image, perhaps originating from one but diverted to many in order to execute the composition. “Drifting Circles,” a true explosion of sound, recalls interwoven consciousnesses. Easily the liveliest of the tracks, it adds layer upon layer throughout its seven minutes, including strings in and out of sequence and a chorus of voices. And there’s a rare agreement in all these voices as the piece barrels on. It strikes an unusually confident tone, placing the high strings in lock step with one another. This is the kind of moment that blows open a record built of endless questions.

In collaborating with herself, Müller shows her multiple sides interacting simultaneously. On “Solo? Repeat” and “Drifting Circles,” the applied reverb seems to nudge her rapid bow-crossings into a frantic rhythm, and she eventually finds steady ground through that process. The cause and effect is muddied in this relationship, but it’s clear that both ends of the partnership—performance and production—work closely with each other. Müller sends her ideas into the cosmos, but first makes the wise choice to run them by herself.

Score: The Sun as a wood-body resonator.