Mem1's Tetra is a bona fide labour of love in more ways than one. It's the group's first release on its own newly formed experimental imprint Estuary Ltd., and even the artwork was produced by band member Mark Cetilia, who prepared 300 numbered editions that include clear vinyl discs and silkscreened artwork hand-printed with metallic inks. Having performed together under the Mem1 name since 2003, Mark (analogue modular and electronics) and Laura Cetilia (cello and electronics) have developed a symbiotic and highly personalized approach to experimental music-making that's commendably uncompromising, and ample evidence of their approach is captured on the duo's fourth full-length album, which was recorded during the spring months of 2010. Using custom hardware and software, the pair manipulates the cello's natural timbre using real-time modular synthesis patching, a process that results in a sound that's unique and immediately identifiable as Mem1.
During the twelve-minute opener “Trieste,” the sawing cello crawls like a primal entity gnashing its malformed teeth and scouring the ruined landscape as it drags itself across the incinerated terrain the duo conjures from electronics. Here and elsewhere, Laura's approach to the cello focuses less on its its conventional treatment as a melodic voice and more on the exploration of its textural and atmospheric possibilities. “Caldera” rises slowly from its own mist before mutating into a writhing behemoth whose violent wail grows into a humongous screech that's so lethal it feels like it could rip your head off. The second side's eighteen-minute “Hræsvelgr” opts for a more restrained excursion into spectral atmospherics with Laura and Mark allowing the collective sound to unfold patiently, almost as if in slow motion. In this case, the material moves like a marauding mass but does so less fiercely than the two pieces on side one. The future looks bright indeed for the Cetilias, given that 2011 will also see the fall release of Age of Insects, a full-length collaboration with Stephen Vitiello, on Dragon's Eye Recordings. Until then, Tetra will do just fine as a kind of representative portrait of Mem1 and its distinctive artistry.