Artist: Sean Christopher
If ever an album title was perfectly descriptive of its contents, Transcendence, the new album by Sean Christopher certainly is. The word is defined as a state of being “beyond or above the range of normal or merely physical human experience, existing apart from and not subject to the limitations of the material universe.” Both musically and subject-wise, this recording definitely fits the definition. Epic in scope, the album is described as “a journey of the soul’s transition from Earth across the Universe to Paradise. From crossing over, leaving Earth and the Milky Way, soaring by the Andromeda Galaxy, Nebulas, Quasars, and finally to Paradise.” As a visionary composer and recording artist with an expansive imagination and the creative skills to manifest it in physical form, Sean Christopher is obviously someone who is not afraid to visualize on a grand scale.
Sean has been composing new age music with synthesizers since he was in his teens, back in the 1980’s. His music has been heard on television, radio, and satellite stations worldwide and his deep spiritual beliefs and outlook on existence drives the emotion that he strives to put into all his compositions. Transcendence is the follow up to his previous album Sojourns, which was released nearly five years ago. I would imagine that a project of this proportion must have taken years to conceptualize and produce. The music is spacious, yet very deep and multi-layered. Sean played all instruments – piano, synthesizers, and samplers, except for the violin tracks. These were beautifully performed by renowned concert violinist Andrew Sords and recorded in the magnificent Cathedral of the Rockies in Boise, Idaho. Samples of the Voices of Prague (adult choir) and the Pacific Boychoir (children’s choir) were arranged by Sean to create the heavenly ambience heard on many of the tracks. The liner notes tell the elaborate story of the journey that unfolds in the music, and there are also a number of videos that add visuals to some of the various tracks which can be seen on Sean’s website.
A sense of the Divine is evoked as the soul begins its sojourn to the sound of choirs chanting “Gloria,” and rich orchestration creating a celestial and cinematic atmosphere. Right from the start, I could tell that this is music best listened to on good speakers or quality headphones to savor the lush soundscapes it creates. On track 2, entitled “Kyrie Eleison,” accompanied by guardian angels, the traveler leaves the gravitational field of the earth and ascends towards the heavens. The first stop is interpreted musically on track 3, “Luna,” and reflects an interesting inspiration behind it. The piece is an arrangement based on the Piano Sonata No. 14, the first movement (Moonlight Sonata) by Ludwig van Beethoven. It is an absolutely gorgeous adaptation that is quite moving. At nearly 7 minutes in length, it is the longest track on the album. I have to say, that when I saw photos of Sean’s well-equipped studio, I wondered why he went to the trouble of taking recording equipment to a cathedral to record the violin parts. But after hearing the majestic soaring tones on the album, it all makes perfect sense.
Up until the middle of track 4, the music is all quite ambient and ethereal, but around this point a percolating sequencer adds a sense of forward momentum with a classic electronic groove reminiscent of “Berlin-school” artists like Tangerine Dream and Klaus Shulze – very cool. A similar dynamic is heard on a track called “For Andromeda,” in which string arpeggios, sustained violin passages, and dreamy synth textures are joined halfway through by a throbbing electronic pulse, adding a new element and direction to the piece. A dramatic shift in both the music and the story occur in track 8, “Into The Black Hole,” which is about passing through a musical dark night of the soul and emerging transformed on the other side. This piece features a lofty wordless vocal solo by a young singer named Collin McKinley, which adds to the otherworldly air. I also enjoyed the use of bells in the soundscape, which brought to mind Pink Floyd and Mike Oldfield. The drama of this part of the saga gives way to a lighter atmosphere on the next track, “Playing In The Nebula,” as the journey nears its destination in the angelic realms. Drawing to an appropriately expansive conclusion, Sean brings all the elements together – celestial choirs, violin, synths and electronics on the final track, “Heaven’s Twilight.” This was one of my favorite pieces on the album and is a wonderful ending to the sonic voyage the music has taken us on.
I’m impressed with Sean’s talents, not only as a composer, arranger, and instrumentalist, but also as a visionary and storyteller in sound. I’ve always appreciated “concept albums,” or music based around a theme, which is another thing I like about Transcendence. Musically, if I were to choose a reference point for comparison, I’d say that listener’s who enjoy artists like Vangelis, would find a lot to like in the sounds of Sean Christopher. I have to emphasize that that the choir tracks add another whole dimension, as does the exquisite violin artistry of Andrew Sords, which graces every track. All in all, Transcendence is an expansive and immersive musical experience that truly lives up to its name.