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Artificial Memory Trace - Ultrealith [Gruenrekorder - 2012]

"Ultrealith" is a very lengthy album of field recordings, featuring pleasing color-coded artwork featuring an orange and black winged insect contrasting with a peculiar arrangement of sewing buttons in primary colors.  Artificial Memory Trace apparently have a vast back catalogue of releases, dating back to 1994, but I have never heard, nor heard of any of their recordings prior to now.  Over the years, their productivity has, if anything, increased: this album is one of at least 8 releases they have put out in 2012.

The first track "Meadow" is perhaps the most involving piece here, centering around a rhythmically rotating tone, glimmering and glinting in waves of magnetic interference, most likely sourced from sonar.  Behind this tone there are distant rumbles of water, and after a few minutes, birds, many birds, and with them they bring the energy of an unthreatening daytime environment, though the same eerie magnetic tone persists.

There are some gestural elements, in which a sudden click or similarly sharp and succint sound will herald the entrance of recordings of a new location, or briefly introduce a morphed and slurred voice for a half a second before disappearing once more.  This sort use of aggressive use of digital processing lends a menacing intentionality to the structure of the otherwise benign environments recorded.

The pacing of the album is very slow, with many minutes of virtually uneventful near-silence.  Removed from easy association with their original meanings in the world, the sounds in the recordings start to take on an otherworldly quality.  This sort of thing is not for the impatient, but there are certainly some interesting sounds that pop up here and there, such as the crisp, metallic buzz of live power lines, the somehow granulated lapping of water, and a myriad chittering of bugs in the second track "Expirations - Subaquantum Ultrealith".  This 10 minute track ends with the laughing, over-zealous asymmetrical rattles of unfamiliar tropical toads.

The third track "Insectin", another 10 minute opus, continues the theme of tropical, life rich sound environments.  Flute-like bird calls and a magickal blanket of frogs croaking are joined by some generative sample splicing, gradually shuffling rustling contact sounds into an assembled rhythm out of stuttering repetitious subdivisions. The howl of the wind becomes louder, and the digital glitch effects multiply in density, only to drop away into an eerie calm, which is occasionally interrupted by strange grunts of distortion and slimy, babbling liquid sounds which evoke the image of a slope eroding and beginning to avalanche.

"Macro & Micro Bats" is another amazing understated epic, which focuses around some bubbling and crumbling synthetic distortion which almost sounds animal at first, then skitters and jumps in clearly unnatural rhythm.  Some eerie muffled synth tones periodically and sluggishly blink soft colors.  Up until this point the album has been a remarkably immersive journey, without any wasted space and a deeply mysterious, subtlely sinister feeling about it.

The only misstep to me is the inclusion of the "Monochrome" tracks, which are largely comprised of speaking voices uttering various poetic phrases.  The layering is so dense that few words are discernable, and in the case of "Monochrome 1", the voices speak without affect, and the texture of the track is ultimately bland.  Luckily, this one is short.  The 2nd in the series is much longer, and attempts to incorporate a mournful improvisatory acoustic guitar and some lamenting, drunken singing, but the mix once again becomes so dense a din of voices as to let no structure or texture emerge.  At 7:48, this becomes very tedious, and makes the album much harder to listen to for me.  The field recording side of the band's music is much more interesting.

This album is very difficult to listen to all at once, yet simultaneously is full of profundity.  Though Artificial Memory Trace cares nothing for being concise and there a couple of dud tracks with "Monochrome" 1 + 2, it would be a shame for any fan of field recordings to miss out on the detailed insectoid worlds captured and meticulously arranged on "Ultrealith".

Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5

Josh Landry
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