What is Memory? is the fifth collaboration between Disturbed Earth (Dean Richards) and Steve Brand, following a trilogy (Broken Gold, Busy With Dreams and The Rest of Time) and followup album (The First Day Unnamed) on AtmoWorks in 2008-09.
This release is a 69-minute longform piece in three parts: (i) All Is Found, (ii) As It Is and (iii) However.
For reviewing purposes, I listened closely, but I’m sure this will make an awesome background soundworld as well (though good luck keeping it in the background). It is a delightful, magical journey. An important aspect, well worth pointing out, is that the pacing is masterfully managed throughout. Our guide is thoroughly experienced, inspiring our full confidence, keeping our impatience in check.
Both artists have a knack for titles, and we begin here with a serious question, demanding a commitment to truth – both personal and historical. The section titles are only partial answers, as the details are within the listener.
We jump right into the stream (no fade-in) with processed and tape-delayed flutes; the feeling reminds me of vidnaObmana’s fujara on InnerZone. Here is everywhere, everywhere is here (consistent with the section’s title). There’s a definite sense of magic and of a door being opened.
Elements stream by: a fast, chime-like synth sequence over breathy swells; a rich, organic atmosphere sounding like running water and processed percussion; cool, hollowly-echoing tones through deep reverb; a pad fades in – we’re well through the door by now. Discoveries await us.
At about 12 minutes, a dramatic echoing theme emerges over a dryish drone; these develop and change tone. The shaman really has us now, we are exploring! The space ever expands, we’ve left our day-to-day life far behind.
Nothing of value is ever truly lost: Memory is deep within, and in the fabric of history. Here we learn not by doing, but by simply being present and open; the exhilaration of this presence is simply overpowering. Shards of memories continue to stream by.
We’re moving slowly as the second section begins, at the vortex of an increasingly-interesting display swirling around us – mangled sonic scraps which might be voices from the distant past, whether encouraging or warning.
Traces of flutes return, chirping and fluttering over the swelling drone, feeling like an out-of-body experience. Again, the title is apt: the present, as it is, contains everything that has led up to now, in a way rendering past and future meaningless – it’s all here and now. A flute sings quietly behind a soothing, grounding, tambura-like pad, before fading behind rising, metal-tinged strings which urge our deeper attention.
The flutes return to begin the third section, as the synths grow in power and take over. We’re swept along, accelerating… then steady. The bass tone at times reminds me of Tibetan overtone chanting. Where are we – are we flying somewhere, or spinning stationary in a maelstrom of memory?
In the last few minutes, we’re coming back to where we began, though irrevocably changed; how can things be the same now? The overtone-chanting patch is growling again in the bass register. The organic atmosphere returns; we are back at the starting point – but only nominally.
As is usual when trying to convey the magic of music by either of these artists, words are sadly inadequate. One can only encourage listeners, trusting that when they hear the music, all will be understood, words notwithstanding. I simply love this album, and if you’re even a casual listener of ambient music, I believe you will too.