I have been researching the sounds of different natural materials for a long time now to enrich my compositions and improvisational activity. This journey, always fascinating, has brought me to a place that exists beyond the known disciplines of contemporary music and visual arts, and invites the public to merge its appreciation of nature with that of culture. 

Will Menter, Short statement, 2017

Inhabitation is conceived as an orchestra of four large pendulums composed of natural materials, which the artist plays during a durational performance.

This work by Will Menter, whose many constituent elements have germinated in his earlier creations, has its source in the meticulous, even obsessive, exploration that the artist has made of the nature of sounds and materials for many years .

Menter coaxes matter into expressing itself. All his work can be termed as "material orchestras". Since the 1980s, he has been using plastic tubes (Overflow, 1984), or the metal tongues of Zimbabwean mbiras (Strong Winds, 1994). But increasingly, materials taken direct from nature take a prominent place in his works: slate (Slate Voices, 1990), other stones (Tectonic, 2006), wood (Wood Rings, 2006), ceramics (Earth Chords, 2005), drops of water (Rain Songs, 2000), wind (Aeolian flutes, 2010).

Crashing, knocking, rubbing, tapping or caressing, the contact between materials produces vibrations that challenge our listening. While certain works are meticulously tuned, or their intervals are precisely regulated, the artist now often prioritises chance processes and looks for his works to take a form of independence from their creator. He then seeks to "watch how we look, listen to how we hear, perceive the richness of the world. "

The rich mix of sounds complicates the rhythms, plays with different pitch ranges making a composition from sounds. Here, in Menter’s new project, it is no less than four sculptures whose sounds are combined by the gestures of the artist. "It's the idea of an orchestra. The richness of sounds made possible by four different materials and four different actions is really necessary in this context of very long-duration performance, “ says Will Menter.

The theme of the pendulum, which, like a metronome, marks the passage of time by associating visual movement with its rhythm, is already present in many of his earlier installations. In 2008, in Canada, it is driftwood, sculpted by the Gaspésie beavers, which inhabits it. Five years later, in a former steel mill in the north of England, Menter uses steel cylinders cut from gas bottles which are struck by the pendulums. The metal alloy then also becomes part of his sculptural vocabulary, in several other creations, leading to Inhabitation.

The pendulum embodies, for Menter, "The balance between the regular, the planned and the random, aleatoric - something I've been searching for in my constructions for a very long time. The pendulum weight in motion reveals the inescapable force of gravity. "

Pulled clear of its position of equilibrium, then released, the weight moves and comes into contact, and therefore in resonance, with the material placed on the ground. Wishing to encourage chance, Menter has developed a system with a large weight to which a smaller weight is attached. Thus, he explains, "Every time the small weight hits an object, it induces a very erratic movement. You never know if it will hit another object or pass by. This emphasises the same inescapable force in a much more complex way, impossible to predict or calculate. In this sense, my pendulums are distinctly different from Foucault's, whose movement presents a great regularity, designed to demonstrate a scientific principle. "

With a generous gesture the artist gives the pendulum its first impulse. The movement that follows, lasting a few minutes, acquires a life of its own. "It's very different from a traditional musical instrument where each sound is produced by a particular and refined gesture. After launching the big weight, I move away from the object and I observe the effects, almost like a spectator. “ Menter can launch successively several pendulums, improvising on the rhythms and the sounds defined by the materials of each, in infinite variations.

The performative dimension of Menter’s work has been present from the beginning, the instruments of the jazz musician, with which he started his musical life always requiring human activation. This has never disappeared. Some works are activated by the artist - sometimes in solo performances around a selection of sound sculptures, called Life Forms - or by the viewer. Others come alive with mechanical (motor) or natural (wind) elements. The performance then intervenes as an additional element and enriches the take of the public. The artist, or his partners - dancers, musicians, visual artists that he invites - give the work a new dimension. Developing slowly over time, the place of sculptural objects in these projects became preponderant, "They have now created their own universe". For Inhabitation, Menter wants to return to a more pared-down form: "Me, the matter and the public. Pared-down, but not ascetic," he assures us, smiling “because it remains rich sensorially.”

The experiment unfolds over time. Will Menter remains, for several days, in the installation he has designed. "I have always wanted to go beyond the traditional formats of concerts and exhibitions and create the context that best corresponds to my sound research. I want to discover what happens if I actually live in this universe that I have created. In my mind, I have already merged with the installation but the physical reality could be a surprise. How will this change my listening? How will my movements evolve? Will my relationship with the public intensify? How will I share the journey with the public? This dimension is really new for me, it goes beyond my other projects and will be unknown to me until I experience it,” he enthuses.

Inhabitation is at the heart of the artist’s ongoing research. But never have these themes been pushed so far. With Menter, no pendulum has ever reached these dimensions. Never has a performance unfolded over such a long time. This evolution is not only formal. It impacts on the very nature of the work. From sculpture, the object becomes an inhabitable structure. And the performance makes its home in this space. Inhabitation.

Therefore, the public is no longer invited to look at an object or to attend a performance or a concert as a spectacle. Rather, he or she acquires the status of witness of visual, sound, and human material that has its own life. No more beginning or end. No preconceived scenario. One action causes an other, the next sound… or silence. The movement ceases and resumes, intensifies and then calms down, from repetition to ruptures. The artist lives and creates, and the public accesses the work being done. The essential material of this work - life, its movements, its rhythms, and its sounds - is not perennial. When the artist leaves the room, only the structure remains. And the recollection inscribed in the memory of the spectator. Free to stay a few moments or to cohabit with the artist much longer, each has attended a unique event that cannot be repeated in the same form.

Exploration, usually done in the privacy of the workshop, is an essential step in the creative process. The public usually only sees the result. This time, it is the very process that Menter wishes to share, in order to "let the public see my relation with matter.” Rather than projecting his oeuvre towards the public the artist invites them to share the creative moment with him. For this intense and persistent exploration of the elemental matter of the world allows the artist's internal universe to filter through. The latter, illuminated by the particularity of each person’s gaze, will make the singularity and richness of their experience. Because the eyes and ears of the public are intrinsically part of the created work. "They will bring to the work their own personal resonances, of which I know nothing, and will transform it by the different ways in which they perceive it." Thus, far from the figure of the demiurge - the creative and proud artist of Plato - it is a complicity with the public that Menter seeks to spark off.

Will Menter, explorer of sounds and forms, creates the conditions for an authentic shared experience, where his research is limited only by the limits of time, space and materials which have been established in arriving at this point. No one knows where it will take him. The spectator participates in the journey, observes the artist's explorations and thus enters into the intimacy of creation that unfolds without the least compromise.

Anne Yanover is an art historian and the director of the Musée d'art et d'histoire Paul Eluard in Saint-Denis, Paris.

Inhabitation : four movements (film)

home page