Mem1 + Stephen Vitiello: Age of Insects

It’s always great to hear musicians expand on sounds and ideas that worked well in the past. And truly, I was blown away by Mem1’s 2010 album “Tetra,” a colossal and intricate drone album. If “Age of Insects” is any indication, the duo is showing no signs of slowing down. For this release, Mem1’s Mark (electronics) and Laura Cetilia (cello) team up with electronic musician Stephen Vitiello, who brings his own brand of technical sound magic to the proceedings. From what I can tell, Vitiello seems to add an array of electronic punctuation to the mix with beats, pulses, and sound effects. Mem1’s music seems to dwell in more deep and dense territories than Vitiello’s, so this is yet another layer to an already complex mix. This album is a collaboration in the truest sense, as everyone seems to have come together to create something truly special.

“Age of Insects” is something of a concept album as each of the seven pieces are named for ancient extinct insects and the music is meant to evoke “the imagined hum and flutter of their calls, flight and communication.” With this in mind, it’s not hard to envision a primordial landscape buzzing with any number of bizarre creatures when listening to this. There’s something almost menacing about the music, but at the same time, it’s also deeply beautiful and enveloping.

Some of the pieces seem to take the whole ancient bug idea very literally, such as the track “Monura.” Consisting of a series of slow cello tones among electronic hums and buzzes, it really gives the feeling of being set down in the middle of some ancient forest. Still, it’s the closing piece “Electrinocellia” that best creates this environment, probably because its seems the most minimal in its construction, with only a few light drones and a series of odd croaks and blips to set the mood. Still, even when things are at their most buggy, as it were, there is an overwhelming sense that you are listening to well-crafted music, which really makes this album succeed outside of its stated concept.

Other pieces are far more abstract. The opening track “Cascoplecia,” for example, is a swirling mix of pulsing electronics and drones along with ghostly breathy noises. Eventually, this all gives way to a nearly volcanic rumble punctuated by errant notes. It’s almost like an abstract, dark new age piece (this is a compliment, by the way), full of deep atmosphere and sinister beauty. “Paleophaedron” is another instance where the overall theme seems less overt, as staccato electronic pulses rise and fall over a background of subdued, oceanic drones.

All conceptualization and analysis aside, the music on “Age of Insects” is really powerful stuff. When something is this well-executed and beautifully complex, it’s hard to listen and not get fully enveloped in it. With its swirling darkness and mysterious sounds, this will be a great album for the coming winter months. Definitely pick this one up. -Matt Blackall

Foxy Digitalis (2011)