Mem1: Tetra

Tetra, the fourth full length album by Los Angeles-based duo Mem1 (Laura and Mark Cetilia) is a very puzzling sonic proposition. Abrasive and abstract on the surface, this mixture of analogue modular and processed cello improvisations seems quite opaque and aimlessly noisy at first. But upon immersion in sound, whilst turning off the outside world, Tetra's drones and electronics slowly emerge from an ocean of haze to reveal their surreal and majestic beauty. Made of three long forms, Tetra is neither ambient nor noise-music but aims to conjure up extreme and foreboding environments.

Opener Trieste starts with chthonic undercurrent of bass drones augmented with high-pitched hiss and echoes of cello, slowly disintegrating as they come to the fore. The multilayering created here give the awkward impression of swimming into sound, completely enveloping the listener with vivid harmonics. Very subtle melodic movements within the piece are just enough to add some subdued emotional layers and gently prepare the listener for the volcanic eruption to follow.

Caldera is indeed a slow and masterfully controlled crescendo of raw sonic lava. Starting with what sounds like an far-away aeroplane's engine resonating in the dark, the piece proceeds at the steady pace towards its final explosion, releasing analog flares from the speakers cones. Laura Cetilia's cello can be heard in the background, adding sombre yet tactile overtones to this doom-laden piece of very strong physical impact.

The album ends on a much quieter note with Hræsvelgr, named after a giant who takes eagle form, according to Norse Mythology. This 18-minute piece is probably the most delicate of the album and tells a aching story of sorrow and surrender to nature. The drones, carved out of Mark Cetilia's deep bass machines, are transformed and modulated so they echo the breathing of a wounded creature, trapped and unable to escape its fate – Hræsvelgr is a beautiful existential exploration that slowly return the music to silence, with abandon and grace.

The sound world created by Laura and Mark Cetilia is dark and otherwordly but very human nonetheless. Far from exploring desolated isolationist realms, Tetra displays an astonishing primal energy that transcend the duo's intentions, and turns this album into something rather unique and beautiful.

Tetra is available through Estuary ltd, in a numbered edition of 300 carefully crafted releases, on 150 gram clear vinyl with silkscreened artwork, designed and hand-printed by Mark Cetilia using metallic inks. -Pascal Savy

Static Sound (2011)