Ambient Exotica Review – Event Horizon by Chronotope Project

6th November 2013

Event Horizon is the latest work of the Oregonian Chronotope Project aka cellist, field recordist and synth aficionado Jeffrey Ericson Allen, released on John Koch-Northrup’s Relaxed Machinery label and available to purchase and stream at Bandcamp. Mastered by fellow label mate Peter James, the nine tracks of Event Horizon are the direct follow-up to Chronotope Project’s Chrysalis (2012) which is also released on Relaxed Machinery. A so-called event horizon is the point of no return, the incident when gravity overcomes all obstacles and absorbs every particle and object, no matter how huge, and transports it into the abyss: a black hole. Jeffrey Ericson Allen, a veteran in the fields of Ambient music, with his reels, tapes and loops reaching as far back as the 80’s, does not target a particularly new topic; Italian clarinetist Tony Scott has envisioned said incident in his double album Voyage Into A Black Hole (1988). Compared to Scott’s or György Ligeti’s histrionic visions, Event Horizon is much more melodious and inviting, and nothing shows this better than its title track, but more about this at a later stage. The album merges New Age with Space Ambient. Allen does this by means of two ingredients which he interweaves throughout the album: nature-driven warmth and stratospheric iciness. Sound, sustain and silence are important ingredients as well. There is always that kind of plasticity in here that allows each texture to shine, whether it is in reclusion or in unison. You got the chronos? I got the space! Here’s an in-depth review of Chronotope Project’s Event Horizon, focusing on the aesthetics of gravity-bound sounds… in a virtual reality’s cyberspace.

The gateway to Event Horizon consists of Unwinding The Dream, and it functions in two ways: not only is it the opener and serves as the time-related epithelium that allows the sound waves to establish its very existence, it is also keen on unchaining a mild turmoil that will not be covered or addressed again by Chronotope Project, at least not during the runtime of the album. An arpeggiated eight-note acid line gyrates around a field recording of a floating rivulet; the undulation of a haunting synth – or a processed horn scheme thereof – underlines both majesty and solemnity of the arrangement. Hectic, slightly portentous and fearing the phase of awakening, Unwinding The Dream sounds like a thread and a threat at the same time. However, it naturally leads to eight additional formations that are as liquefying and refreshing as lozenges. Take the following Akashic Love Songs. Whispering souls, wind chimes and Buddhist bells of the frosty kind make room for a wondrous glissando of electric piano scintillae which already inherit – and emanate – the two primary ingredients Jeffrey Ericson Allen interweaves throughout the album: said nature-driven warmth and its antagonist, the stratospheric iciness. It depends on the listener whether to perceive the harp-oid faux-strings of the pizzicato kind as fragile or powerful. There is no doubt about the Balearic guitar though. Normally, I would elbow it out of my way by naming it cheesy, but it works fantastically well in front of the pitch-black backdrop that gathers plinking prongs and superbly Rave-evoking half-brazen pads of wonkiness. Akashic Love Song drifts further into New Age climes in its last third, sporting goblet drums and even more enigmatic tone sequences.

The follow-up Arecibo (named after the Arecibo Observatory, ain’t I clever?) sounds mechanic and quirkily robotic right from the get-go via its polyphonic thermal stokehold capsules, neon-lit gusts from cyberspace and a magnanimous ragbag of crystalline jackhammers. One possibly has the impression of being on a plant site, and even though this is a downtempo composition, it evokes bustling sceneries and that certain kind of frenzy which is aquiver with pleasant anticipation. The textural pool remains the same throughout the arrangement, the mood is balanced and positively streamlined. During No Birth, No Death, nature and technology strike back full force in a proper Pop Ambient track that unites ethereal ecclesiasticism on a vitreous organ with eminently benign flumes of thickly wadded euphoria. Allen’s cello is the actual star in here, meandering and traversing through the atmosphere while being girdled by a polyhedric helix of superimposed amicabilty. Blurred sparks twirl in adjacency to the polyphonious synth pads, everything is at peace. The track almost crosses the path to proto-New Age, but the vesiculating blebs and specks are more akin to the cyberworld-oriented viewpoint on New Age rather than the pristine purity of the 70’s.

The following stop is called The Temple Bell Fades. Granted, naming a track The Temple Bell Fades is a self-imposed task, for now the artist must deliver the very artifact in the title, and since a temple bell is not an abstract concept but a graspable thing of the real world, it better be crisp. And indeed, Chronotope Project enmeshes glass-like bells whose long afterglow becomes itself entangled with gorgeously aqueous piano strata. The piano is the king of all instruments, the starting point of virtually every composer, and this time, Jeffrey Ericson Allen succumbs to the point of origin and weaves it into the scenery. A magnificent Ambient track, its interstices occasionally may be dun-colored, but otherwise marvelously moist and damp. Automatic Writing then turns out to be a very hazy diorama with a clear cut aorta of similarly blurred pulses serving as the rhythmic flow of an angelic Ambient track. It is as if all high frequencies are whitewashed, or better still, washed away completely. Listening to this evokes the feeling of being in a pressure box – furnished with fluffy cushions. Next on the agenda: Geosynchronous. It is a coruscating affair with many a glockenspiel- or polar light-resembling glitter illumining the synth choir-interspersed dark matter spectrum. In addition to featuring a rather cold complexion, it is possibly the prime example of a tune shrouded in mystery, although not frightening or dubious at all. The spheroidal qualities increase during its runtime, as multiple fibers full of sparks create an embroidery of parallax structures. I for one can literally see the areas floating by, with each shape comprising a different surface or pattern. Vaulted yet situated in the open air, Geosynchronous is a blue-tinged shuttle of shelter.

After Geosynchronous, something important follows. It may not be a curious decision to include an album’s title track on the eighth position, but in case of the eponymous Event Horizon, it is a questionable – though not wrong – endeavor, for an event horizon marks the point of no return, with the gravitational fluxion and pull making any escape impossible. The Temple Bell Fades gave the listener temple bells, so it should be a given that Event Horizon gives the listener an aural interpretation of this cataclysm no human ever experienced in person. Except that it doesn’t. Chronotope Project decides to create a laid-back, though strikingly forsaken aura of contemplation. This is Space Ambient par excellence: overlaid legatofied square lead pads, clinging blisters and sprinkles, a cautiously wave-like movement of the susurrations, everything is peaceful to the maximum. It comes down to this: Event Horizon (the track) is a non-event! A super-mellow, harmonious non-event, I might add. Nature is coming back one last time in the closer The Path Of Least Resistance, at least the kind of nature a listener of the 21st century is aware of. Needless to say, nature is transmuted here qua a multitude of synths, but it is still a track that is either a tad more earthbound, or one leading back to Earth. Glitzy cyber birds chirp in a glowing crystal coppice, arpeggiated ice shards and adjacent glints of ardor dance saltatorily like fireflies before an increasingly luminescent background. Beat structures and rhythmic patterns not only hint at floatation, but the passing of time itself… and the temporal boundaries of the album.

Chronotope Project luckily avoids all genre-related traps in Event Horizon, and it is all the more surprising that the multi-instrumentalist does it with ease. Sure, he is a veteran and knows what he is doing, but I often encounter a certain adherence or permanent application of a working formula by Ambient masters. I would not even dare to blame these instances on the gentlemen’s blindness or the inability to move on and leave antediluvian structures behind, but rather suggest to circumscribe this phenomenon as “targeting a certain niche.” Jeffrey Ericson Allen, however, can undoubtedly shrug his shoulders, for he actually moves back, forward, on… and beyond. The principal base frame of this work shuttles (!) between Space Ambient and New Age, no surprise. But the interwoven ornaments, bits and flecks make this a work that is keen on refining these very genres. In general, Space Ambient and New Age spawn cavalcades of legato synth washes, with the respective artist grafting star dust and other glitzy asteroids onto the constructed panoramas. So do many artists. And so does Chronotope Project.

But there is more to these textures. Firstly, the runner-up Akashic Love Songs already includes Rave patterns which, you know, inherit that semi-embarrassing off-key physiognomy which was so enchanting back in the day. Naturally, Italo pianos are nowhere to be found, but the tonal patterns are still perceptible through different textures. Secondly, the cello ennobles many tracks on Event Horizon, and magnificently so, although your humble reviewer can only definitely spot it on No Birth, No Death where it appears in unprocessed form. Who knows where else it comes up? Thirdly and probably most importantly, the Oregonian musician oscillates between the moods. The sometimes crestfallen mystique of New Age as well as the paradoxically weighty loftiness of Space Ambient releases are still all over this album… but neither exclusively, nor as antagonistic forces. There is a leniency and indulgence, i.e. a humaneness, woven into Event Horizon that is often amiss in cosmic works. Jeffrey Ericson Allen showcases that he is able to be a master of his art while still absorbing and reconstructing remnants and vestiges of other genres: Drone, Rave, field recordings, you name it, accidentally or not. The title track might be the curious anticlimax that subverts a layman’s cinematic expectation of this event in terms of its structure, but otherwise, Event Horizon as a whole shows stringency and cohesion, even though it draws from more fields of knowledge and music than many other works of the genres it predominantly resides in.

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