Thursday 7 April 2022

Dark Ambient Review: Memory Alpha

Dark Ambient Review: Memory Alpha

Review By Casey Douglass

Memory Alpha Cover Art

The simulation hypothesis, the notion that we are actually living in a Matrix-style simulation, is one of the most intriguing ideas in philosophy and science fiction. As our own ability to create intricate virtual worlds has increased massively since the days of Pong, who knows what we’ll be able to achieve in another fifty years? If we are indeed living in a simulation, maybe we can even find the CTRL-ALT-DELETE equivalent and somehow gain some admin privileges! ProtoU’s dark ambient album Memory Alpha, seems to be infused with the audio-exploration equivalent of prodding the nature of this reality, and maybe even revealing the world in which the simulation is running!

The album artwork seems to reveal an enigmatic glimpse of what might be happening. Some kind of spherical technological construction squats in a dark industrial room, power or data connections snaking away from its base into the shadows. What little light there is seeps in through a possibly window-shaped aperture, with the top of the sphere illuminated by some kind of spotlight. The sphere itself looks like a computer covered with boxy electronic components, but when you zoom in, it’s hard not to see the lines and patterns between them as pathways or roads. With this in mind, you might wonder if you are actually looking at buildings rather than components. The scene is set.

When it comes to the music (I got to the music eventually!), you’ll find harsher industrial sounds wrapped in a cosy floating warmth that anyone familiar with ProtoU’s music will be pleasingly at home with. Sasha creates some wonderfully balanced soundscapes in which darkness and light seem to be friends rather than adversaries. I might describe it as the audio equivalent of the darkness pushing you over, and the light moving a comfy mattress behind, for you to land on. Memory Alpha’s sounds include metallic clinkings, mechanical whirrings, beeps, and rumbling drones, with muffling warm-water distortions, uplifting harmonies and delicate chimes. I also felt that the more mechanical, darker tracks were set in the harsh world that is running the “simulation” mentioned above, but the lighter, airier ones were depicting the kinder conditions inside the simulation itself.

One of my favourite tracks is Capsule of Decaying Dreams. It begins with a metallic impact and the deep whirring of something spinning up. A high whine sits in the background, wet buzzes, plastic crackles and popping beeps hinting at technological activity. Things shift and throb, with distant echoes and energy pulses creating a gritty soundscape that seems to boil and then fall away into a ghostly whisper-infested space. If this track is set “in the real”, to borrow a Matrix term, the next, Memory Alpha, feels like it might be inside the simulation. It starts with a light swirl flecked with floating high tones. It feels crystalline, with a hint of wind and a feeling of “ahhh”. After the midpoint, the track deepens and string-like tones are joined by faint rustling or dripping sounds. This is a warm track, and seems to suggest how it might feel to rise from a deathly slumber, finding yourself beneath the dappled sunlight of a great tree, the sound of the natural world and the golden light all slowly bringing you up from the depths that you’ve left behind.

The last track that I wanted to talk about is Waves of Coma. This a track that opens with a muffled, watery feeling, in pressure rather than wetness. An unsteady hollow vibration begins, a trickling or rattling sound joining it. Distorted voices bleed through, small beeps and strange echoes making the soundscape feel juddery and tenuous. Around the midpoint, whispers lick your ear, joined by a distortion that makes them seem like they are being washed down the drain. Towards the end of the track, there are some sad buzzing tones, with things becoming fuzzier before they dial down. I particularly liked the buzzing tones as they seemed similar to those in the last track on one of ProtoU’s previous albums Echoes of the Future, the track in question called Vessels of God. Echoes of the Future was about humanity leaving the Earth. Maybe the simulation, if there is one, is actually running on a spaceship sat in the deepest part of space? It’s a fun thought, and a pleasing possible link between two great albums.

Memory Alpha is a dark ambient album that seems to take the listener on a gentle tour of a museum. Instead of stuffed dead creatures and crumbling parchments, this museum is one that is full of life, light and memory. The outside might seem cold, industrial and barren, but when you’re inside, that all falls away into perpetual summer afternoons and sunlight-spackled green spaces, populated by the people who were living much happier lives. You know it’s all fake, merely a simulation, but that doesn’t stop you wanting to escape there.

Visit the Memory Alpha page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also checkout the track Waves of Coma below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Memory Alpha

Album Artist: ProtoU

Label: Cryo Chamber

Released: 1 March 2022