Switched On – Ultramarine: Meditations (Real Soon)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Exactly as it appears. Meditations is a companion piece to last year’s long player Signals Into Space, which Arcana particularly enjoyed. Lasting not long over half an hour, it is what Ultramarine main man Paul Hammond describes as ‘two long-form episodic ambient pieces performed with a reduced palette of kalimba, treated guitar, wavetable & analogue synths and hardware effects; recorded in London with Andy Ramsay (of Stereolab).

Meditations includes field recordings made in Brazil, engineered and mastered as part of the main recording process.

What’s the music like?

Very easy on the ear, as you can imagine – and very like the cover in terms of musical colour.

Both Meditations are best experienced on headphones or on a widescreen system in a quiet environment. Speaking from experience, they have only limited success on public transport, as the large amount of background noise means the sounds occasionally drop out of earshot unless turned up loud. Of course this music would never really be intended for such listening.

Instead, find the right environment to tune in and you will be quickly transported into Ultramarine’s world. It is a warm, watery place, out of doors and with soft, consoling noises both close up and far away, depending on where you want to focus your listening.

Meditation I settles on a dreamy sequence of two chords that follow each other without having any obvious rules, before moving to a section where the kalimba can cast its watery magic. Gradually this builds its energy, the sounds rippling outwards very pleasantly over a long pedal note.

Meditation II feels slightly closer to people, with distant snatches of dialogue audible from the field recordings. There are more obviously electronic interpolations here too, with ambient noises and subtle oscillations to guitar and keyboard. Again there are no drum beats, and virtually no bass – and the calm sonic environment casts a lasting spell, ending on a consonant, rippling chord.

Does it all work?

Yes. Ultramarine have plenty of experience in the ambient music area, and are masters at slowing down the mind while still giving it enough beneficial stimulation. You will emerge from an encounter with these two pieces with a calmer outlook for sure.

Is it recommended?

Yes. The listening environment is crucial to the success of any encounter with Meditations, just as it would be for proper meditation – so bear that in mind. As far as cancelling out the fast pace of modern life goes, or enhancing an already relaxing day, you really can’t go wrong with this one.

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