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Ken Camden
Dream Memory Sonia de Jager , June 10th, 2015 11:26

On Dream Memory, guitar-explorer Ken Camden brings us a step closer to the future. Or at least to what seems to sound like the future as heard from right here and now. Stretching and distorting recognisable tones and melodies, Camden brings forth a unisonic synth-guitar-synth entity, displaying a colourful spectrum of meditative yet animating stimulants, which feel like what brainwaves might sound like. A new horizon in the sci-fi tradition.

Not much unlike earlier work, the sounds remain aloof and astronomic – though Dream Memory takes on an extra dimension by adding a new element to the continuum: human voices. According to Kranky, Camden made use of something called a Vocaltron, with which "vocal samples (contributed by Emily Elhaj and Angel Olsen) are chromatically organised in half steps from the lowest note to the highest possible. Each set is specific to the contributor's range and each note is unedited to keep all original characteristics of that particular individual's voice." My initial thought upon reading this was: "oh no". Very generally speaking, the sampling of 'beautiful' voices often renders unsurprising, dull results. Derogatively, but honestly speaking: New Age. In this case, however, the sounds come off as unexpectedly nonchalant, relaxed and subtle. They feel as though endlessly looped, but yet also contained within human limits. This element, in the songs in which it is present, indeed adds a carnal element to the electronic expanse: which makes the science-fiction feel of the album all the more envisionable.

The album's title recalls an earlier musical encounter with Camden, while the track titles reveal hints at a technoscience utopia of sorts. Far-fetched as a dream may be: all track-titles play with the notion of sleep as well, which pessimistically we might look at as something unreal and forever-unfulfilled. But on the other hand, the dormant can always be awakened, and we might all the same strive for the opposite: let or make the dream come true. The song structures reflect this at times; sonic clarity is enhanced and brought forth to the max, as well as dimmed and blurred into the background. Vibrantly awake and soporifically out, back and forth.

The album is entirely composed of spectral waves of extremely well-defined, slightly variating sounds, which as if reflecting circadian rhythms and other chronobiological phenomena, they flow in and out, with an odd freedom which seems directionless, but is otherwise sternly carried by the fluctuating basslines. Camden is quite remarkably able to make use of sounds which might come off as retro, or nostalgic, and place them into a very contemporary, fresh-sounding context. The spacey echoes and sci-fi ingredients do not distract from the seriousness and actuality of the present proposals. It is rational, clean and yet romantic. The speedy melodies at some points might even remind one of Bach playing a synth, and the general calmness of it all creates a feeling of suspension, of delirium, and perhaps also of highly concentrated self-awareness. As if looking at a bright, uniform screen in total close-up, without being able to focus one's sight.