Interview with Progressive Rock Central

 

Jeffrey Allen at Gung-Ho Studio

Dawn Treader by Chronotope Project is one of the best electronic music releases of 2015. Progressive Rock Central talks to multi-instrumentalist and composer Jeffrey Ericson Allen, the artist behind the project.

Why did you name your current endeavor Chronotope Project?

The term “chronotope” was coined by the Russian philologist Mikhail Bakhtin, from the Greek words for time (chronos) and space (topos), and refers to their confluence in works of art and literature. It felt like an ideal descriptor for the music I compose, which has strong reference points to spiritual, literary and mythological/ archetypal memes. There is an additional sense of the transcendence of space and time, an endeavor to discover and express the universal which lies behind particulars.

Chronotope Project studio

What drew you to music?

I’ve been a musician all of my life, starting at the age of eight, when I began cello studies with my grandfather. When I was young, there was always music playing in my family home, mostly classical. I longed to know where it came from, what it was, how I could be a part of it. I cannot remember a time when my head was not filled with melodies, rhythms, and musical gestures. Although I am also dedicated to language, philosophy and literature, music begins where words fail, emotionally moving, intellectually stimulating, connecting directly with the body. Music is my lifetime lover, an unfailingly inspiring muse, the water in which I swim.

What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?

My style, while still falling roughly into the ambient or space music genre, might more accurately be described as “contemplative art music.” Form figures more prominently in my work than in the generally more diffuse, stream-of-consciousness pieces of my fellow ambient composers (not a criticism–I love much of this type of music as a listener). You can find many classical forms present in my work: theme and variation, passacaglia, rondo, sonata. Increasingly, I have been tightening up on form and relying less on pure texture or ambience.

In my current phase of creative work, I am making pieces with relatively complex, almost orchestral textures. As to elements, there is frequently an underlying sequenced ostinato figure, an element of “fire,” scintillation or almost molecular quickening. This lends some suggestion of the Berlin School style to the work.

The “earth” element (besides its selective appearance in acoustic and sampled percussion) is established with a foundation in the bass, presented either with a layered drone or a bass line suggesting the underlying harmonic progression. This may be felt as a slowly undulating shift or oscillation between stable and unstable tones of the tonic.

Harmonic sonorities floating over these bass tones, painted with various layered pads, are frequently colored with suspended fourth or unresolved seventh and ninth chords. These kinds of harmonies evoke mystery, and a feeling of searching or longing in the composition.

My melodic lines commonly develop in very long, slow phrases, with substantial “breathing” between them. A second or third line often plays in counterpoint, weaving common melodic motifs in dialogue with the central melodic voice. These constitute, together, what I think of as the “water” or emotional element to the piece.

The element of air or ether appears with the atmospheric textures that surround and permeate all of these other layers. These textures vary from natural soundscapes, such as wind and water, to more abstract synthetic ambient sounds that identify the work in the ambient electronic genre.

Jeffrey Allen

Who can you cite as your main musical influences?

Individual composers who have been deeply influential include Erik Satie, Klaus Schulze, Brian Eno, Robert Rich, Maurice Ravel, Arvo Pärt, Ralph Towner, and J.S. Bach. Various world music traditions have also informed much of my music making, including Indian raga, traditional Japanese music, West African rhythms, and Balinese gamelan, to name a few. Over the years, I have made a fairly considerable study of musical scales and modes as they appear both in Western and non-Western musics, and these inform a good deal of my compositions.

Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.

An early acoustic /electronic album was “Vanish into Blue” (1992). This eclectic album bridged new acoustic, world and space music styles, and featured acoustic cello, sax, tabla, and silver flute as well as an array of electronic instruments. It was featured several times on Hearts of Space and received very favorable reviews. I composed for, arranged and recorded two albums with the acoustic ensemble Confluence, “Sanctuary: Romances for Guitar and Cello,” and “Amber Moon.”

While these albums also involved a certain amount of synthesizer sweetening, they were primarily acoustic. I played cello, recorders and keyboards on these albums. I also gained some facility with production techniques and mixing, as I was the primary recording engineer on these projects.

An acoustic / electronic CD of music I composed for the mask drama The Descent of Inanna appeared in 1998. This was an exploration into mythological / archetypal imagery that has become a persistent theme throughout my later work.

As Chronotope Project, I released four albums prior to signing with Spotted Peccary Music: “Solar Winds,” “Chrysalis,” “Event Horizon” and “Dharma Rain.” All of these recordings are available through CD Baby and Bandcamp, and continue to receive periodic airplay.

These albums have traced a progression from more traditional space music to the more eclectic and classically inspired style of the present, involving increasingly subtle use of texture, more counterpoint and other classical forms and procedures, and a more unified personal style.

Do you ever take your music to the stage or is Chronotope Project a studio concept?

At this point in time, Chronotope Project is strictly a studio-oriented proposition. Given the number of simultaneous tracks involved, I would be hard-pressed to recreate any of my compositions on stage. I won’t discount the possibility of another incarnation of my work that more readily permits of live performance, but for the moment, no real-time presentations are being offered.

 

Chronotope Project - Dawn Treader (Spotted Peccary Music, 2015)

Chronotope Project – Dawn Treader (Spotted Peccary Music, 2015)

 

You play acoustic and electronic music instruments. What instruments do you play and which do you like best?

Cello is my primary instrument, and will always be my first love in music. Ironically, it has played–thus far–a fairly limited role in Chronotope Project. I have a beautiful 1917 Steinway grand piano, which I love to play, and study regularly with a teacher. I also have a nice collection of flutes, recorders and Irish whistles, which do figure prominently in recent recorded works, as well as a Japanese thirteen string koto, the long zither which appears on one track (“Basho’s Journey”) on “Dawn Treader.”

I play a variety of hand percussion instruments, including djembe, frame drum, dumbek and the very versatile hybrid acoustic / electronic Korg Wavedrum.

Bells,Tibetan bowls, zils and chimes are also an important part of my acoustic toolkit, as I prize their crystalline tone and quality. I have been making increased use of the 24-stringed harpejji, an instrument akin to the lap steel guitar, played primarily by tapping on its frets. That instrument figures prominently in several releases to come.

Continuum and harpejji

Continuum and harpejji

What type of keyboards did you use at the beginning of your career?

My first electronic keyboards, acquired in the early 80s, were a Sequential Circuits Six-Trak, an Arp 2600 analog synthesizer, and a little later, a Korg T1 workstation (the only one of these vintage instruments I retain). I learned something from each of them, including elementary sound design, and each afforded me many hours of exploration and discovery. The Arp, in particular, required me to learn the basics of analog synthesis, as sounds are built up by connecting various modules with patch cords and adjusting knobs and sliders.

When digital synthesizers supplanted analog synths, something was gained and something lost, and the current renaissance in modular analog synthesis reflects a recognition of the remarkable versatility of these instruments.

When I have more cash on hand, I plan to put together my own modular rig. It’s tremendous fun, and appeals to my nerdy side, but the primarily, it’s the rich palette of analog sound that appeals to me now.

What keyboards are you currently using? Do you still have some of your earlier keyboards?

My flagship synthesizer is the Haken Continuum Fingerboard, which features a soft neoprene continuous-pitch playing surface and lends the possibility of much expressiveness to synthesizer performances. It is prominently featured on all of my recordings as Chronotope Project. But these days, most of my “keyboards” are virtual instruments, of which I have a great many. I do keep the Korg T1 mostly for its lovely weighted action, as well as a Yamaha S90ES, which also has a good feel, and many useful sounds as well. A Roland JV-1010 sound module provides a large variety of sounds and samples, and until just recently, I used an Oberheim Matrix-1000 for analog fattening.

And what type of effects or other electronic devices do you use?

All of my effects, too numerous to mention, are virtual now–no outboard reverbs, delays or compressors are in my rig. I do enjoy using a Korg “Kaosilator Pro” as a midi controller for various purposes, and employ a number of iPad apps as well.

How do you see the progressive electronic music scene in the United States?

It’s a mixed bag–both in terms of quality of work and diversity of style–and with the wide availability of outstanding production platforms and instruments, the various genres involved (IDM, ambient, electronic art music, etc.) are likely to diverge to the point at which the only thing they share is some of the means of production. It’s very hard to get perspective on something that is changing so rapidly, but it is an exciting time to be involved in electronic music.

Commercial radio and the mainstream music press ignore most electronic music except for electronic pop. How do you seek exposure for your music?

There are a number of outstanding radio programs and podcasts (such as Hearts of Space, Echoes, Star’s End, StillStream, Ultima Thule, and Galactic Travels) that feature ambient and electronic art music, several of which are widely syndicated and have large numbers of dedicated listeners. Exposure on these programs has widened my audience considerably.

Spotted Peccary Music, to which I have signed for at least six records, has a dedicated promotional team that makes and maintains contacts with radio producers, distributors and media, and does an excellent job of launching new projects and placing CDs in distribution.

At my end, the promotional work is more focused on social media and keeping my listeners informed through newsletters, and in many cases, personal letters.

Promoting this kind of music is not always easy or straightforward, but the listeners of this genre are highly motivated and do much on their own accord to stay informed. I communicate directly and personally with many individual listeners, and while this is more time-consuming than a “mass-media” approach, I value this correspondence very highly, and consider many of my listeners to be friends, not just faceless “fans.”

I would rather that my music connect very deeply with a few listeners than to have a huge fan base of casual listeners. Fortunately, this type of music cultivates very intelligent, immersive listening, and I have been richly rewarded for the time I have taken to address single listeners.

If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with whom would that be?

Brian Eno to produce. Robert Rich as a collaborative composer. Steve Roach for sound design and analog sweetening. Ralph Towner to teach me his harmonic language. The ghost of Erik Satie for spiritual advisor and drinking buddy.

Do you have any upcoming projects to share with us?

My next album with Spotted Peccary Music is entitled “Passages.” This one is ready for mastering, and will be released sometime this year.

Other forthcoming titles with SPM are “Ovum,” “The Gateless Gate” and “The Cloud of Unknowning.” Substantial work has been done on all of these projects, to be released in roughly that order.

I am also planning a piano-based album, based on the musical language of Erik Satie, that will also feature cello and some electronic sweetening. This recording will be acoustic-oriented, and possibly appear on another label, depending on how well it may or may not fit into the Spotted Peccary array of genres.

http://progressiverockcentral.com/2016/01/19/interview-with-chronotope-project/

 

Artist Interview with Blake Gibson

 

Blake Gibson (Broken Harbor)

I'm quite new to your music and the name Chronotope Project. I was curious what "Chronotope" meant and googled it. I...didn't really understand, care to enlighten your listeners?


Jeffrey Ericson Allen (Chronotope Project)

Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me, Blake. "Chronotope" is a marvelous word that was coined in the 1930s by the Russian philologist M.M. Bakhtin to talk about time (Greek: chronos), and space (tropos) as a conjoined concept, so it literally means "time-space." The medieval Japanese Zen master Dogen called it "uji," which was his way to refer to certain aspects of the meditative experience. The relationship to my music is that I frequently find myself exploring the phenomenon of a sonic texture (taking the soundscape as a "place") that changes and is changed by the passage of time, understood either as rhythmic time--discrete durations punctuating silence, or structural time--the larger periods marking sections of a composition. I'm always asking myself as a composer how sound expresses a journey in time, or conversely, how the meaning of the passage of time makes itself known through a series of sound events. By switching these lenses back and forth, my musical work enacts this chronotope paradigm in ways that are often unexpected, even to myself, so it has been a rich metaphor for my work. Also, quite frankly, I just thought that "chronotope" sounded cool. I hope this makes some sense; I was a philosophy major as an undergraduate and have never quite gotten over it.

Blake

Deep stuff! Guessing from your bio, you aren't exactly new to music. How long have you been composing? What's your background in music? What influences you to create this style of music?

Jeffrey

How long have I been composing? Hmm--good question. I recently came across some piano pieces I wrote as an adolescent, so I'd have to say forty-some years, on and off. My musical background is fairly diverse, but my foundational training was classical. I began cello studies with my grandfather as a child, and that thread has run through my entire life. I've had a bit of University training, but mostly my study has been private or autodidactic. I have a few years of experience playing with orchestras, and that has done much to inform my sense of arrangement and texture. And for years I played with a semi-improvisational acoustic music ensemble, which taught me a lot about listening deeply and communicating musically in real time. My group, Confluence, concertized a bit and recorded two albums, and that also helped me hone my arranging and engineering chops, since we did most of the work in my studio. An early, acoustic-electronic solo recording, Vanish into Blue (1992) had several tracks played on the nationally-syndicated radio program "Music from the Hearts of Space," and did fairly well both critically and in terms of sales—that was the beginning of my work with electronic music.

I've also enjoyed working with theatre and dance, collaborating with several modern dance groups and an experimental theatre group, for which I produced a full-length original score to accompany the mask drama "The Descent of Inanna." Over the years, I 've continued to work with choreographers, since I find the meeting of physical movement and music to be stimulating and nourishing on lots of levels.

As an ambient composer, I 've had many influences, so my answer might vary according to when I wrote the music. Literature and mythology have always had a huge influence on me musically. A sense of story informs almost everything I do. As far as composers are concerned, some ambient music heroes who are always near the top of my list would be Erik Satie, Brian Eno, Jonn Serrie, Steve Roach, and Arvo Part. These days, there are a lot of wonderful folks working in the ambient music realm, and I try to make as much time as I can to listen broadly and deeply. More and more, it's not so much individuals who inspire me as the culture of music making that is evolving in this genre. Contemporary ambient music eschews musical "stars" almost as much as it rejects traditional forms. I love that it's wide open, and that my listeners include an incredibly diverse group who are more interested in music and sound than they are in a fixed type of music or in personalities.

These days, probably my biggest inspiration for ambient music is meditation practice and the great Buddhist traditions from which I have been learning over the years. From these, I've learned the value of spaciousness, and I find myself gradually letting go of musical complexity to embrace the richness of simplicity and the appreciation of the present moment. That's where the journey is leading me right now.

Blake

It makes sense that you've worked in theater; there's a real cinematic quality to your music, especially your new release, Chrysalis. Care to talk about the new album a little bit?

Jeffrey

Sure. Chrysalis is my first album to be released under the Relaxed Machinery label, and a recording that includes pure ambient, soft-techno /trance, minimalist and new age influences. A chrysalis is an incubating chamber in which a metamorphosis takes place, a good metaphor for the manner in which these various elements are combined and cooked, to emerge as organic forms in and of themselves. The title track was written while I was listening to a lot of deep dub/house and soft techno music, and I wanted the rhythmic ostinato that pervades the whole piece to be a kind of "carrier" wave" for various atmospheric gestures. It uses just a couple of melodic motifs that are transformed in various ways for inflection and sonic storytelling.

"L'Avenue du Ciel" ("Avenue of the Sky") combines atmosphere, rhythmic cycles and a long bansuri flute-like melody that is stated once at the beginning and again at the end with completely different accompaniments to highlight different aspects of its shape.

The longest piece is "Trance-Missions," which again incorporates atmospheric textures, minimalistic rhythmic elements and melody based on a limited amount of motivic material, all carried on a larger framework that is "yin-yang-yin;" that is, it emerges out of a cloud, coalesces into a section with some rhythmic drive, then evaporates back into something etheric again. That's a common structure in my music.

"Reflecting Pool" is the most purely ambient of the pieces on this album. It's more sound-painting than storytelling, an almost literal sound picture of a still pool with occasional ripples. I allowed myself the cliche of mixing some actual water sounds with the music. As one of Brian Eno's "Oblique Strategies" reads, "Don't be afraid of cliches." Sometimes they work.

"Eternity's Sunrise" is based on a poetic image of William Blake. The harmonies are straight out of Debussy--whole tone chords, over which a long guitar solo rhapsodizes modally. All of this serves as a long introduction to the rhythmic central section that evokes a slow psychedelic sunrise--so Debussy plus Moody Blues. The ending basks in a warm glow of arpeggiated electric piano and harp and atmospherics that eventually resolve to a sweet major sixth. I'm really fond of this piece--it might be my personal favorite on this album.

Blake

I love Debussy, I can definitely see some influence in that you paint in many colors. None of the music I've heard from 'Chrysalis' feels like it was recorded with just one or two sound sources. I hear many different ethnic instruments in addition to electronic ones. What sort of equipment and instruments do you use? How do you go about creating a song, or album?

Jeffrey

You're right, Blake, I do use quite a variety of sound sources: hardware and software synthesizers, samples and field recordings, and acoustic instruments. I tend to want to give the digital sounds something of an analog or acoustic edge, and to smooth the surfaces of analog sounds, so everything will blend nicely. Some sounds are so heavily processed that they bear little resemblance to the originals, such as the atmospheric sonority at the beginning of "L"Avenue du Ciel," which was originally a field recording from a busy mall, but run through granular synthesis and a variety of modulated filters. My favorite electronic instrument thus far is the Haken Continuum Fingerboard, which has a flat, continuous soft neoprene playing surface. It plays horizontally (pitch) and vertically (tone), and depth or pressure controls volume. Since there's no hard boundary between "keys," it can easily play slides and vibrato. It's enormously expressive, more similar to my cello than a traditional synthesizer. The Continuum is featured on almost every track of this album. I must credit Dr Lippold Haken for inventing this remarkable instrument.

As far as my process for creating a piece is concerned, it varies considerably depending on the nature of the work. I may have a definite conception at the beginning, or I may begin by simply playing with a sound, for example, working with a synthesizer and experimenting with different control parameters until I find something that intrigues me. I often lay down a drone, rhythmic ostinato or a harmonic progression I've been playing with as a foundation, extending it for far longer than I would anticipate the piece to run. Then I'll play off that, responding to the harmonies with a melodic instrument, or just listening closely to the soundscape to try to notice if there's something already embedded or implied in it that I want to bring out--there usually is. If there's a rhythmic section, I build that up separately, finding the right combinations of instruments and patterns. Layering tracks, adding counterpoint to melodies, responding to what is there already and beginning to build a structure for the piece comes somewhere in the middle. Transitions often require the greatest amount of time and attention. I sometimes build up too many tracks, so there's quite often a process of subtraction. And I usually mix as I go--in this style of music, I don't see that as a separate process from the composition. I give each sound its place in the stereo field, which is rarely static--and build the width and depth along with the "length" (placement in time). It's an organic and evolving process.

I try to take a break from the piece before mastering. It's always helpful to me to put the piece away and get some distance from it. I deeply respect good mastering engineers; it's very demanding on the ear. Mostly, if the mix is good, mastering touches are minimal. But this is an area in which I would love to develop my skills. Assembling an album is generally easy for me, since pieces tend to come in themed series, and I'm already exploring some similar territory. The pieces for Chrysalis were composed together, often in tandem. The pieces I'm making now have a different flavor, and I can already project the overall trajectory for the next album.

Blake

With your varied background in various musical styles and outlet's, what draws you to making ambient music in particular?

Jeffrey

This is an open-ended genre that really allows me to be myself, without any need to try to fit into a lot of preexisting assumptions about music. While I deeply appreciate the various musical traditions that have occupied me and incorporate elements of them into my own work, I notice that the works I most resonate with all point toward ambient music. In any genre of music, I tend to gravitate toward slow tempos, quiet dynamics, atmospheric textures and a sense of the transcendent. A couple of years ago, I played a concert of partly classical, partly new acoustic original chamber music comprised solely of slow movements (we called it "Adagio: Music for the Soul"). We put this concert together because we wanted to create and sustain an atmosphere of quiet, intimate listening that invited musicians and listeners to commune together with the music, rather the usual setup in which an audience "consumes" a program which is "performed" before them. We even asked the audience to withhold applause until the very end of the program, since the silences between pieces became part of the experience. The response was very warm and sweet--those who attended shared our longing for music as a deep and quiet experience, a way to be "alone, together."

As I get older, I have less and less interest in music as "entertainment." I want an experience as a listener that is more soulful, more intimate and more like meditation--so of course, that's also the kind of music I'm most interested in creating. I have also become more reclusive and monk-like, spending many happy hours alone, playing with sound and searching, like an alchemist, for the combinations of elements that produce a true and pure gold: self-understanding and self-transformation. Music has never be a livelihood for me, but it has always been a vibrant and meaningful life, and the life I'm most interested in exploring is the inner life. Ambient music is an ideal venue for this exploration.

Blake

Well said. You've already released two albums this year (correct me if I'm wrong), what's next?

Jeffrey

Yes, Solar Winds and Chrysalis have both come out in the past six months, and I'm working on material for next year's releases, which will include a somewhat darker and more purely ambient recording--it might be called "Premonition," or something like that, as well as a recording with inflections from Asia. I have a track for that one already called "Basho's Journey," which features the Japanese koto and a low Irish whistle that sounds a lot like shakuhachi, set in an electronic drone-bed. I like the piece a lot, and want to make more pieces around it.

I have just been offered a commission for a modern dance piece from choreographer Bonnie Simoa, who has studied Balinese dance very deeply. She's looking for music with sounds of the gamelan, flutes, and atmospheric drone. Right up my alley. In fact, I'm meeting with the choreographer later today for more details. I expect the coming year to be very full, and am looking forward to extending my craft and finding new listeners who are interested in what I'm doing.

Blake

Wow, it sounds like we're going to hear quite a bit more from you in the near future! Before we turn this into a sprawling multi-page interview… let’s wind this down with some non-music bits and pieces…Married? Kids? Pets? Favorite book? Favorite movie/tv show? When you were a kid you wanted to be a _______.

Jeffrey

I live with my partner, Larkin, in a place we call "Laughing Moon Hermitage." She's a dharma teacher in a Koren Zen Buddhist tradition, an author and painter, my best friend and muse. Also at the Hermitage we have Bodhi the dog and Monkey the cat, and an occasional grandchild to visit. We've created an beautiful Asian-inspired garden, and my studio looks right out on it, so I'm really grateful for that. We both love books and read pretty widely. My favorite book tends to be whatever I've read recently and loved, which at this time happens to be "Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists," by Kay Larson. It's a great book to read in tandem with some of Cage's own writings, such as "Silence," which offered me so much more than it did when I first read it twenty years ago.

We both really enjoy smart detective shows, like "The Mentalist," and "Poirot." And while Larkin is not really a sci-fi fan, I completely geek out on Star Trek reruns and high-concept movies like "Solaris" (The more recent one; I also really love the musical score for that film--wish I'd done it!)

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a mad scientist, to have a mop of crazy hair, a lab coat, and invent secret formulas that would do amazing things. After that, I really did want to be a composer, which is another kind of mad scientist, mixing up stuff and seeing what happens. In real life, in addition to keeping up an active musical life, I was a children's librarian and storyteller for many years, and have just recently retired to fulfill my dream of devoting myself to music full-time.

Blake

Thanks very much for your time, and the insight into your music. We're super happy to have you on board with Relaxed Machinery. Any last words?

 

Jeffrey

Thank you as well, Blake, I've enjoyed our conversation. One thing I have come to appreciate about the ambient music community is that there really is a community in this pursuit. My experience with fellow artists, such as yourself and others on the Relaxed Machinery label, and more generally in the online ambient music realm, is that there is a lot of mutual support and interest in the work of one another, and a willingness to freely share ideas as to how to forge ahead with this music. There are very few if any pre-established forms, so we're all having to make it up as we go. That can be exciting, and sometimes terrifying, since it's hard to know how one is doing with it, other than through one's gut feeling of what works, and the helpful feedback of others. It is such a diverse genre, and there is so much room for all kinds of voices, that I hardly ever get the smallest whiff of egotism or competitiveness in in. Part of it, I think, is that ambient music challenges us all to become true and honest listeners, to pay more attention to the world of sound in which we are constantly immersed, to appreciate its many textures, timbres and rhythms. And real listening, deep listening, seems to involve a kind of letting go of the self, a suspension of the mind's habitual habits of trying and doing. This kind of listening is where the composer and listener meet as equals, co-creators of the experience. I am profoundly grateful to be a part of it.

 

Interview with Thomas Mathie, Headphonaught's Nanolog

 

Thomas Mathie:  When I received the album Chrysalis by Chronotope Project aka Jeffrey Ericson Allen I was intrigued ... the music spoke of something more ... something deeper. So I reached out and asked him my wee blog interview. I was not disappointed with what he had to say:

1) Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Jeffrey Ericson Allen, though as an ambient music composer, I identify myself with the moniker Chronotope Project. "Chronotope" is a term I've borrowed from literary criticism to refer to the intersection or identity of space and time; it is an apt descriptor for my work in ambient music. My musical background is fairly diverse and includes extensive classical training (as a cellist and pianist), improvisation in small acoustic music ensembles, performance both in the classical and new acoustic jazz areas, and composition projects for theater and modern dance. I have also been a recording engineer since the mid 1980s, and developed considerable expertise in the use of audio recording technology. While I made my living as a librarian and professional storyteller for many years, I have now retired from these pursuits to devote myself exclusively to composing and recording ambient music.

2) What are you working on at the moment?

I have just completed a commission for a modern dance piece (to be performed at a local community college later this month) that is inspired by the sounds and atmosphere of the Balinese gamelan, though my texture is sparser and is set in an ambient atmosphere.I am also exploring the relationship of contemporary ambient music to certain features of late medieval European music, including the use of drones, modal melody and parallel harmonies. I typically work on three or four new pieces simultaneously, letting them cross-pollinate one another and rest. While I tend to have lyric and melodic elements in most of my pieces, a new composition I am mixing this week, which I have titled Deus Ex Machina, deals almost entirely with texture and atmosphere until the very conclusion of the piece, in which a bi-tonal harmonic chorale descends--as if from Heaven--to dispel the misty atmosphere that builds up for most of the piece. Actually, I think this is one of my best pieces of work to date--but these things are hard for an artist to gauge himself.

3) Who inspires you?

I am inspired by so many people, including, but not exclusively, other composers. Some particularly potent musical influences these days are Erik Satie, Brian Eno, Gustav Holst, Bruno Sanfilippo, Maurice Ravel, Alio Die, John Cage, Vir Unis and the twelfth century visionary Hildegard von Bingen. This is not to say that my music particularly sounds like any of them, but that when I hear their music, something resonates inside of me, and I feel moved to create my own work. There are many others, certainly, but these composers feel like special mentors at this point in time.Because my Buddhist faith and practice are not separate from my work as an artist, I am deeply inspired by my meditation practice and by the spiritual teachers who have so generously shared their teachings and experiences with me, which at the moment includes the British Vipassana meditation teacher, Heather Martin. I go on silent retreats she leads periodically at the Cloud Mountain Retreat Center in southwest Washington, and I find that as I learn to grow in my practice of mindfulness, I discover new dimensions in my music. I am also inspired and renewed by the deep silence of the forested retreats. All music needs the breath of silence as its lover and companion, and ambient music, which I love for its spaciousness, needs particularly to be grounded in silence.

 - Name an artist who has inspired you.

The painter Mark Rothko, for creating works that live and breathe and have a deep musical resonance.

- Name place that has inspired you.

The Oregon coast, where I find solace and renewal, where I can be held up by the ocean's ancient rhythms and drink in some of the most refreshing air on the planet. One day there is worth a long vacation for me.

- Name some "thing" that has inspired you.

My cello, an instrument that has been my companion and given me so much joy for forty-five years. My present cello was made by Gottfried Raabs, which is a lovely synchonicity, since my given name, "Jeffrey" is an English version of Gottfried. The cello feels like an extension of my body--it's grounded with the endpin, and rests at the center of the chest, so when I play, it's like getting a "heart chakra" massage.

4) What drives you to do what you do?

Gratitude, primarily,for the great beauty of this world, and for the selfless mentoring of all my teachers and benefactors, who have made my spiritual and musical life possible. Having reached an age at which every day is a gift or a bonus, my work as a composer is an expression of gratitude for life. I only hope I can give back some portion of the enormous generosity from which I have benefited so much. When I am making new music, I feel that I'm fulfilling something or in some essential way expressing my true essence. I am most myself when I'm making music.

5) What values do you wish your creativity to express?

Deep peace and contentment, first and foremost, and the appreciation and sensual enjoyment of ordinary experience. Mystery, not so much in the "transcendental" sense, but in a sense of curiosity and awe in the experience of the present moment, the miracle of awareness itself. For me, nonduality can be expressed in music much more successfully than in words which have an inherent quality of "this-and-not-that;" in music, you can have "this-and-that" simultaneously. A related quality is that of emptiness, by which I mean not a void or absence, but a great fullness and a deep knowing of the interconnection of all seemingly separate entities--in other words, dispelling the illusion of individual existence or separateness. Since music has been so helpful to me in discovering and experiencing all of these values, my deepest desire is to create music that might be helpful to others in discovering them in their own inner lives.

6) What role does community play in what you do?

Since the kind of music I am doing now is such a solitary pursuit, seeking out a community of fellow composers and listeners has become vital to completing the cycle of creation--communicating and sharing my work with others, and listening with respect and full attention to the work of my fellow composers. The internet has made it possible for me to connect with people from all over the globe who appreciate this artform. I have found other ambient music composers to be humble, sincere, and willing to share musical, technical and other knowledge. My fellow artists on the Relaxed Machinery label are extraordinary exemplars of a spirit of camaraderie and mutual supportiveness. I appreciate and respect them all very deeply. I have also discovered and appreciate reviewers and bloggers who have a passion for the music, and who give generously of their time and expressive skills to help discover and promote the music. Finally, I've been connecting with many individual listeners, who are so appreciative of what we do, and who affirm the value of our work. I have to say that in my years as a performer, I rarely had this degree of connection--even though audiences may have been physically closer. There is something very personal and intimate on both sides of ambient music--creating it, and hearing it. Now I feel that whenever I compose something, it is always done for "one person," even though that may be many listeners. It goes back to my understanding of emptiness--creator, creation and creature are one in the same, and so--in my world--are composer, music and listener. There is an implicit deep community in participating in this cycle on every level.

7) What is next for what you do?

I have another complete recording ready to go (working title: Moontide), for which I will be seeking commercial label support. (Like most musicians I know, I would of course to prefer to spend more of my time creating music than promoting or distributing it.) This year, I am also hoping to re-release Solar Winds on the Relaxed Machinery label. I'm always working on my musical and technical skills, so I'm looking forward to exploring sound design with a number of my electronic instruments and programs. One instrument that plays a significant role in the music of Chrysalis and Solar Winds is the Haken Continuum Fingerboard, an extremely expressive synthesizer with a soft, continuous playing surface. This subtle instrument requires its own kind of playing technique, and I'm working on deepening my skills with it. Finally, some new music is evolving that will include more extensive engagement with acoustic instruments, primarily the cello--which is, after all, my primary instrument. I'm looking forward to a very full period of music creation. All of that, and continued work on a book I have started writing on the craft of ambient music composition, a sort of work in progress that chronicles my own growing knowledge of this craft, and which I hope to expand with the experiences of some of my fellow ambient music composers.

Wow. Thank you Jeffrey. I loved Chrysalis when I heard it. 

 

 

John Cage on writing music

 

Music is neither a livelihood nor a hobby for me; it's an expression of what it means to live, to respond authentically to the great mystery that surrounds us. I resonate very deeply with this statement by John Cage in 1957 ("Experimental Music") on the vocation of the composer:

 
"And what is the purpose of writing music? One is, of course, not dealing with purposes but dealing with sounds. Or the answer must take the form of a paradox: a purposeful purposelessness or a purposeless play. This play, however, is an affirmation of life--not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply a way of waking up to the very life we're living, which is so excellent once one gets one's mind and one's desires out of its way and lets it act of its own accord."
 
Cage's exposure to Zen Buddhism is clearly revealed in this wonderful passage. He points toward a way of making music that is not driven by the concerns of the ego, not a "dressing up" of the self, but a letting go of it, a natural expression of the artist's momentary state, and an invitation to the listener to experience the present moment with the music serving as a mirror. A musical composition is a barometer for the clarity of mind with which it is created. Instead of being a self-serving commodity, it becomes something more like a part of nature, a place to be visited by others, but only a part of the vast landscape of what is.

 

 

On Sound

 

How can we let go of our labels and preconceptions when we listen and just hear sound as sound? As both a composer and listener, this question continues to be active and fruitful for me. As a Buddhist, it is also helpful to my practice. This is my current state of engagement with the question.