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.
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:
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.