For the better part of 15 years, James Johnson has been exploring the sonic realms of ambient music. The atmospheres he creates surround and unfold in a sea of timeless tones and textures. His unique voicing can be heard on award-winning works such as Unity, Surrender, and Entering Twilight, alongside collaborative efforts and compilation tracks. At the heart of it all, is a drive to mold and create new organic textures and sounds through a fusion of current technologies and traditional instruments. Having worked early on with the avant-garde sound sculpting pioneers of Illusion of Safety, Johnson discovered the limitless world of sound manipulation. His earlier recorded works reflect this approach to sound and the beginnings of Johnson's minimal approach to composition began to take shape. In 1997, computers and software were introduced into the studio environment and new possibilities with sound emerged. Johnson began to blend computer-generated sounds with more traditional forms of synthesis. The resulting releases, Unity in 1998 and Surrender in 1999, received critical praise and were awarded top ambient honors.
In 2000, a string of solo projects, collaborations, and performances were released. Among these are two important landmark projects for Johnson. Entering Twilight is a 60-minute long-form piece that was created for continuous playback to enhance the listeners environment, with an amorphous, and at times almost transparent, background of sonic imagery. This release is the first long-form work to come out of Johnson's Zero Music studio and was awarded as a finalist at the 2001 Fourth Annual New Age Voice Awards. Linger, another project from 2000, chronicles Johnson's live sound during concert, live radio, and studio performances while in Toronto that same year. This release is also his first multi-mode CD released through MP3.com's Digital Automatic Music format. Linger pioneered new ground for ambient music released in this format by becoming the first-ever Mp3.com DAM CD to chart in New Age Voice Top 100 airplay charts at number 53, and was the first ever DAM CD to receive airplay on the nationally syndicated U.S. radio show Hearts of Space.
The year 2001 saw the release of another long-form work, Lost at Dunn's Lake, in collaboration with chill music specialist Stephen Philips, and more live concert appearances at the Gathering in Philadelphia, hosted by Chuck Van Zyl, and alongside Ma Ja Le at the Space For Music 2001 Festival. 2001 also yielded an excellent collaboration with Robert Scott Thompson for their Forgotten Places releases. The Butterfly Chamber, an experimental album for the musician that offered a pretty average acoustic rock band setup, was released in the summer of 2002.