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As co-founder of spatial audio platform Envelop, pioneering producer and electronic musician Christopher Willits navigates the new universe of three dimensional music composition. The technology positions sound around the listener—full spatial orientation—whether inside an Envelop space or at home with ordinary headphones. A logical step for an artist whose output, spanning over 25 releases, has inched increasingly towards rich, immersive audiovisual experiences. His new project, Horizon, culminates a career-long journey for space, physicality, and serenity in music. Fitting, a decade after Willits marked Ghostly International’s first ever exclusively digital full-length, that he brings the label its first spatial audio album.
Willits began to share his diverse vision of ambient music in the early 2000s, releasing a string of critically acclaimed albums on the 12k label. The minimal sound introduced on those recordings remains at the core of his work: warm guitar tones woven into smooth, harmonic surfaces. Willits would expand the spectrum of his catalog next through collaboration, working with Ryuichi Sakamoto, Zach Hill (Death Grips), Taylor Deupree, and, for 2014 LP Opening, the whole band of Tycho.
In the period since Opening, Willits and friends successfully crowdfunded Envelop, allowing further development of its open source software, which integrates with production tools like Ableton Live as well as virtual reality platforms, and its 3D sound space locations for performance, research, workshops, and other non-profit projects. He also lent a hand in producing Tycho’s Grammy nominated album Epoch, composed the original score for documentary The Art of Listening, and continues to lead music production and meditation classes in San Francisco.
Both Willits’ teachings and his mission with Envelop inform the deep ambient terrain of Horizon. Spanning one hour and thirty minutes, the album surrenders to the sentient fabric of time and space, and by design, aligns with sleep patterns, meditation, and other mindful practices. This is slow music, mapped to surround listeners whether in states heightened or muted. Space, literally and figuratively, to reflect in.
The innovative 3D mix is evident within the first sweeping, spherical pan of “Comet” (access to Envelop’s software or spaces not required). As one orbits, on occasion the panoramic view touches down to the surface by way of ambisonic field recordings, like the Peruvian Amazon at night on “Return” and the Hawaiian ocean waves of “Waipio.”
This weightless motion—shifting between gaseous and textural, macro and micro—offers a unique and transcendent proprioceptive experience. Listeners are ushered through atmospheres with indeterminate length, breadth and depth. It is as if we are at once above, below, within, and alongside the skylines of sound.
Grammy-nominated guitarist and producer Christopher Willits occupies a unique corner of the music universe—hovering above the intersection of electronic production’s nuts and bolts and a wide-open creative mind. His tireless activity has produced over 25 albums in the last 15 years—solo and in collaboration with artists including Ryuichi Sakamoto, Tycho, and Taylor Deupree—and an organic, minimal sound that expands like the vines of an electro-acoustic kudzu plant. Willits is the co-founder of spatial audio / 3D sound platform Envelop as well as the creative collective Overlap, a teacher of music and mediation in San Francisco, a tech geek, a visual/new media artist, and virtuosic musician in one. Throughout, he strives to create space in which to illuminate creativity and catalyze inner change.
In Willits’ music, all elements are interconnected; voice and guitar lines fold into bleary, unrecognizable shapes and polyrhythmic textures, often overlapping with his own cinematic film and video work. This widescreen approach grows more immersive and innovative with each release. A full list of his critically acclaimed catalog would take up considerable column space, but a beginner’s guide to Willits includes 2002’s Folding, and the Tea (his debut on 12k), 2006’s landmark Surf Boundaries (his first full-length on Ghostly International), 2008’s Ocean Fire (Willits’ collaboration with renowned pianist / composer Ryuichi Sakamoto), 2010’s Tiger Flower Circle Sun (a study on universal vibrations), 2012’s Ancient Future (his second album with Sakamoto), and the audiovisual LP Opening recorded with the whole band of Tycho in 2014.
The deep ambient terrain of his 2017 effort, Horizon, culminates Willits career-long journey for physicality and serenity in music, and marks Ghostly International’s first ever spatial audio release. Composed for three dimensional listening (whether inside an Envelop space or at home with ordinary headphones), the one hour and thirty minute album surrenders to the sentient fabric of time and space, and by design, aligns with sleep patterns, meditation, and other mindful practices. A logical step for an artist devoted to creating rich, immersive audiovisual experiences.
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