Friday 9 December 2022

Dark Ambient Review: Traveller's Tales

Dark Ambient Review: Traveller's Tales

Review By Casey Douglass

Traveller's Tales Art

The interactions between our memories and what our senses actually experienced is something that seems core to so much of our human existence. Ucholak’s dark ambient album Traveller's Tales toys with this concept by mingling technology, biology and the human yearning for exploration.

Traveller's Tales’ description frames the album as being set in the distant future, a time when humanity has been exploring what the universe holds, far beyond our own home galaxy. One of the key ways that information was gathered during this period was the use of neurotechnology to record what the early explorers witnessed and experienced. Some of these recordings became corrupted by the retrieval process, or by other means, with the resulting glitches mingling what the astronauts’ senses revealed with the darker workings of their own minds. The incomplete reports were dubbed Traveller's Tales, hence the very cool concept behind this album.

Part I opens with a sustained drone and a slightly fuzzy melody that roams from ear to ear. Ominous slow swells rise beneath, impact-like sounds heard through the mixture. After this opening soundscape, things become quieter, descending into a kind of “sad jazzy” feeling space, with whistling tones and scratchy microphone texture pops. A little later, the sound of a distorted radio voice emerges, with beeps and echoes making the space feel lonely. There are strange metallic chiming notes, an ear pulsing beat amidst a muffled clattering cacophony, and nymph-like calls in the air. Near its end, I thought the elements of the track conspired to hint at a kind of mocking laughter. Maybe the hapless astronaut featured in this recording crash-landed onto a featureless moon and lost him or herself to their own inner-critic as the voices on the radio faded to silence.

As desolate as Part I felt, Part II felt like a trip to a lovely paradise planet. There is a warm drone, the sound of waves, and strange bird-like tones that chirrup amidst metallic chiming notes. An element of discord enters by way of a distant drone that buzzes past, a speaker blaring unintelligible but somehow soothing words as it floats over. The words pulse and echo away. The soundscape changes into a deepening, fuzzy, bass-filled place, maybe signifying the coming of night. What sounds like a spaceship drive spinning up and taking off looms into awareness, and after this, things turn a little more twisted. My own impressions were decidedly insectoid, with electronic warbles and sweeps meeting mandible-like clicks and scrapings. Egg shell crackles and strange voices on the wind hint at an unpleasant experience for the astronaut. For me, this track depicted what someone accidentally being left behind on a hostile planet might experience.

If Part II was paradisical, Part III felt like some kind of trippy descent into Hell. It opens with a scale-sliding wah-wah type tone, with knocks and impacts echoing away into a vast space. There are beeps and the hint of a radio voice, and then things deepen into a quieter, brooding, droning environment. This new location feels bestial and chiming, with a kind of bouncing, scuffling quality. At this point, what came to mind was a spaceship entering an evil kind of hyperspace, much like the warp in Warhammer 40K. It isn’t all heavy and dark however, there are gossamer tones and what at one point seemed to be the space equivalent of sirens luring sailors to their doom. Maybe the astronaut in this traveller's tale was asleep in a cryogenic chamber while their ship travelled through something that triggered nightmares. Or maybe they really were in a nightmare and the sounds in this track are their mind trying to piece their reality together again.

The final track, Part IV, is a more beepy, beaty affair, with the space between memories and reality seeming its thinnest in the whole album. After the beat-laden, ear roaming radio voice opening, a xylophone-like melody begins with the sound of a ticking clock behind it. When I heard this, I wondered if an astronaut was remembering something from childhood, maybe lulled by the mechanical rumbles of the spacecraft, or whatever was being experienced. The melody suggested childhood to me anyway, but it could equally have been from a sad fun faire. The soundscape turns more crumpy and guttural after this, with whistling cries and agitated impacts and electronic flares. It seems like a scratchy, flapping space, and I can only guess what the astronaut is experiencing to bring about the sounds of this recording.

Traveller's Tales is a dark ambient album built around a concept that I really love. I find the whole idea of corrupted neural implant recordings from far future astronauts, decoded by scientists in the even further future, a fun thing to ponder. The tracks of the album all suggest different events befalling the hapless space travellers, and each track serves up a diverse mixture of textures and impressions. If I had to choose my favourite track, it would be Part II, as the way a paradise seems to turn into a fearful place holds the biggest emotional sway for me. If you enjoy your dark ambient with a futuristic sci-fi flavour, I think you’d enjoy Traveller's Tales.

Visit the Traveller's Tales page on Bandcamp for more information.

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Traveller's Tales

Album Artist: Ucholak

Released: 16 May 2022