Ambient composer James describes Memento as a departure from his usual way of working, to foreground field recordings rather than synthetic sounds. Sounds from the natural world, crashing waves, crackling flames, babbling streams position the listener in an aural landscape. The result is a music that is highly evocative and visual. It feels like each track is transporting you to a different location. Your imagination creates the surrounding imagery.
An album of field recordings does not in itself make for interesting music. Minimalist synth pads and spare percussion (bells and bowls) frame the musique concréte into a meditative drone. I listened to this album through a 5.1 receiver, upmixing the stereo channels to surround and the result was breathtakingly beautiful, like walking through a sound installation. Peter James describes his intentions for this album: “new memories are formed, some new places found, real or imagined, that will create a wider sense of travel, even when standing still”. He achieves this, if you’ll pardon the pun, with bells on. Rarely has music made me feel so removed from my immediate surroundings; I was transported to places I have been and also back in time to instances when I have felt awed by natural surroundings.
To make a comparison with another ambient work, I was reminded of Steve Hillage’s Rainbow Dome Musick. The sound of trickling water and Tibetan bells in the 21min “Moments Within Each Moment” is evocative of that seminal album. The closing 23min “Nothing Matters” consists almost entirely of the sound of crashing waves. There is little man-made musical material in this composition and for that reason it is the least satisfying piece on what is otherwise a highly recommended album.