Artificial

metafly

MetaFly – a biomimetic flying robot

artificial
/ɑːtɪˈfɪʃ(ə)l/
adjective
  1. made or produced by human beings rather than occurring naturally, especially as a copy of something natural. 

    “her skin glowed in the artificial light” 

  2. (of a person or their behaviour) insincere or affected. 

    “she gave an artificial smile”

It always puzzles me why ‘artificial’ has negative connotations. I suppose it’s because mankind’s efforts always seem to create things that are inferior to the ones that Mother Nature invented and perfected eons before. But, in most cases, that’s not really true. Man doesn’t usually compete directly with Nature; rather, He designs and builds products for purposes that Nature has never needed to address. Besides, Man is himself a product of Nature so, surely, everything that Man creates is also a product of Nature.

One of the most perplexing issues of the modern world concerns artificial intelligence and that is one of the themes of Unitopia‘s third album, Artificial. The problem, here, is not that Nature does a better job – quite the opposite; it is, instead, that artificial intelligences may one day become so superior that they decide to do away with their feeble-brained creators. Here’s how the album introduces these ideas with the first two tracks on that album:

Unitopia is another band that escaped the attention of the Crotchety cataloguers until very recently. And, like Pavlov’s Dog, there’s relatively little information about them on the Web.

The band grew out of a song writing partnership between Aussie musicians Mark Trueack and Sean Timms. They met in late 1996 but it wasn’t until 2005 that they made their first album, More Than a Dream, and released it themselves without the backing of a record label. Live performances in their home town of Adelaide and other Australian venues led to the album’s re-release on the Canadian label, Unicorn Digital a little later (2005 according to Discogs, 2006 according to Wikipedia).

Trueack and Timms then recruited another four musicians to create a full band for gigging and recording. Wikipedia suggests this was intended to be a stable lineup but there were several changes of personnel between 2006 and 2014, a productive period in which Unitopia released another three studio albums: The Garden (2008), Artificial (2010) and Covered Mirror Vol. 1: Smooth as Silk (2012).

The band’s music has consistently fallen into the progressive rock category but it explores the full range of that genre. There are elements of classical piano, hard rock guitar and jazzy saxophone. There are orchestral passages, too. There’s even some didgeridoo. To the Crotchety ear the sound is a patchwork of styles rather than a coherent whole, but the patches are pretty and the stitching is of exceptionally high quality.

At heart the tracks on Artificial are songs to be sung. Nothing Lasts For Ever, for example, sounds like something from the BeatlesMagical Mystery Tour EP; it even references The Fool On A Hill in the lyrics. The overall message, though, is an expression of doubt and apprehension. “Is there a dark side to the technology we have today?”, it seems to ask.

Avatars won’t heal the scars deep inside.

In amongst those songs there is a 13 minute tribute to Nikola Tesla, the originator of alternating electric current and a prolific inventor. It features Spanish rhythms and jazzy sax lines, illustrating the full breadth of Unitopia‘s styles in a single track and ticking the box on the prog rock checklist marked ‘extended tracks’.

Artificial doesn’t match either of Unitopia‘s first two albums in popularity but it’s a solid album from a band that has developed in confidence and maturity over the years. The 2010 re-release for vinyl, CD and digital platforms adds three excellent bonus tracks, including the unusually optimistic This Time, I Think We Got It Right; it’s worth hunting down that one if you can.

unitopia

Unitopia followed Artificial with an album of covers of well-known prog rock songs called Covered Mirror Vol. 1: Smooth as Silk. This one remains unexplored at Crotchety Mansions so it’s hard for me to know whether that was an adventurous, forward-looking side project or an intentional swan song. Either way, Trueack and Timms dissolved their partnership in 2014 and they both moved on to other projects, bringing an end to Unitopia.

A new, limited edition vinyl release of Artificial is due out in April; you can order it now from Burning Shed. But Crotchety Man doesn’t like Artificial sweeteners.

 

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