'Wood wind & rain songs' and 'Bees in the bathroom' by Will Menter
by Ian Simmons
[ cdreviews ]
Will Menter's recordings blur the boundaries between music and found sounds, instruments and sculpture. He is a British sound sculptor, now based in deepest France and his CDs feature recordings of his sculptures in action in the natural environment under the influence of prevailing weather and accidental intrusions from the world around, or musical uses of landscape features. He makes marimbas out of slate and records the rain playing them, then performs a duet for saxophone and quarry wall ('Paroi abdominale' on Wood wind and rain songs).
His two latest CDs differ in their approach to the treatment of sound. Bees takes a highly naturalistic tack, opening with the sound of a swarm of bees just outside Menter's bathroom, locational accuracy being sacrificed for a snappy title, and closes with massed cicadas in a sunny Pyrenees summer meadow. In between, he faithfully records winter winds thrashing his appropriately named 'Winter wind' sculpture to death, bringing down one of the trees it hangs from. Elsewhere, 'Partners in balance' explores his slate and bamboo sculpture 'The Ladder', accompanied by a girl called Valentine, who was fortuitously practicing the recorder outdoors up the road while the recording was being made; it is an indicator of Menter's appreciation of found sound and happenstance that he didn't tell her to shut up because he was recording.
Everything on Bees is recorded live with no overdubs, but Wood Wind and Rain Songs takes a different tack. Still based around Menter's sculptures, several of the main pieces, 'Out of phase' and 'Slate sections 1-4' involve him playing his slate marimbas, sampling the results and reprocessing the sounds through keyboard and sequencer to allow him to create fast, flurried tunes which the real instruments are too fragile to support. Other tracks explore four of his sculptures in their underground home in caves near Tours, where the surroundings cloak the sound in a velvety ambient echo. These I find more satisfying than the processed material, the spontaneity of the live sculptures and the interplay between found sounds and musician intervention produces a far richer result than when Menter has complete control over the structuring of the sound. When sampled and reprocessed, much of the organic looseness of his best pieces is lost and the marimbas feel straitjacketed by the technology, not quite able to live and breathe as they do in some of his other work. None the less, this quibble aside, both albums are creditable additions to the Menter canon and very rewarding listens. I should also draw attention to the marvellous photos of the sculptures that package the CDs; they convey the beauty and ingenuity of the constructions very well and give a glimpse of the kind of environments in which Menter works. Their inclusion, along with the friendly commentaries Menter provides to go with the recordings, are indicative of the love and care that goes into these releases.