'Celebrating rain' and 'Above and below ground level' by Will Menter
by Ian Simmons
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The more I listen to music, the more I find myself drawn to stuff that's less and less easily defined as music and is probably better described purely as "sound". Will Menter's work occupies precisely that borderland. Some of what he does is certainly music, but it is also sound sculpture and environmental recording. Menter's work has a superb sense of place - something he shares with Arve Henricksen and brings into play particularly well on both these CDs. 'Celebrating rain' is perhaps the more focussed of the two, operating in a sonic space delineated by the activity of dripping water, while 'Above and below ground level' is more diverse in its sources. 'Celebrating rain' is the more overtly musical, with Menter taking his soprano sax to a Welsh beach and an almost dry waterfall in Burgundy on two of the tracks, and he uses the sound of water dripping onto slate marimbas elsewhere. These are used to particularly good effect on "Beautiful Rain", where rain dripping through oak trees onto the marimbas accompanies the singing of Chartwell Dutiro and Sianed Jones. In the opener, "Poor Cow", you get a delightful sense of place from the music, something accentuated on "Ascending Air", with the sound of stones being thrown into an underground cistern in Somerset, producing deep, rich echoing tones. It is this particular piece which has the closest link to 'Above and below ground level', particularly the two tracks "Stone Reflecting" and "Ice Skid". "On stone reflecting" the slate marimbas are set up in another underground chamber, this time a vaulted cellar at Cluny Abbey, and played by tapping with the fingers. This combines with the warm sound of the cellar to produce a beautiful and peaceful sound. Thrown stones also play a part in "Ice Skid", where they are skimmed across a frozen field, producing a curiously satisfying sound, although not quite as startlingly unnatural as you get when skimming stones on a frozen pond. It generates a startling, almost electronic ping. All sorts of aspects of the earth are covered in 'Above and below ground, which, for a 39-minute CD, is astonishingly diverse. It opens with "Dots and Dashes", featuring a recording of a guide taking people on a tour of caves in the Pyrenees where early rock paintings are to be found. This is probably the least satisfying track for me, but the guide returns to much better effect in "The Guiding Song" later in the CD. Clay pots also play a role, with the sound of clapping in clay pots making up "Transhumance", and the same sounds, electronically manipulated, becoming part of "Subsistence". Both these CDs are gentle and unassuming but superbly focussed - no grandiose gestures, but a masterful exploration of natural environments and materials and the potential of small gestures, tapping, scraping, clapping dripping, for producing meaningful results. In this they remind me of Andy Goldsworthy's landscape art - minimal creative intervention to generate profound artistic effect in natural space. A lovely, superbly thought-out body of work, showing a graceful understanding of the environment in which we live and its potential for sonic pleasure.
Will Menter's CDs are only available from resOnance.