from the Wire

Wood Wind... and Rain Songs and Bees In The Bathroom by Will Menter

Reviewed by Peter Ridsdale in the Echo Park Review

The two CDs are companion pieces and offer further glimpses into Will
Menter's unique soundworld - a combination of natural sounds such as bees,
cicadas, rain or the reverberating walls of a quarry, together with sound
sculptures and instruments, most of which have been specially designed to
interact with the elements. Slate marimbas under dripping water and wood
clusters clattering in a storm are just two examples. Sometimes nature is
left unaided as with a recording of a swarm of bees in the walls of the
musician's home and it is as if we are invited to listen to the musical
qualities of the natural sounds, in this case it being possible to hear
strange sounds amidst the frantic buzzing and whirring, including some that
sound disconcertingly like lost kid goats. In other tracks Menter
unobtrusively adds to nature, for example by blowing air into bamboo tubes
standing in water, in the sculpture / piece known as Curved Ascending Air.
Other tracks use computers and samplers - which you would think at first to
be out of place - but yet which seem to work, primarily because the sounds
are all samples of instruments made of natural materials and also,
crucially, because of Menter's musicianly instincts. For it should be
remembered that he is first and foremost a musician - a sculptor, naturalist
and saxophonist perhaps, but most of all a composer of many years experience
and dedication. This is what sets these CDs apart.

Wood Wind... has the more overtly musical pieces. Sampled slate marimbas are
triggered by a sequencer in a style I would tentatively describe as
post-minimalist, which is not to suggest that it owes anything much to Steve
Reich. The four Slate Sections use motoric rhythms but do not share the
simple tonalities of much minimalist music. The ability of the sequencer to
produce 'impossible' music is fully exploited. On another track a freely
improvising soprano saxophone is accompanied by the deep booming of
subterranean cave walls being struck. The Bees... CD focuses more on ambient
sounds and one track has over half an hour of Rain Songs (rain drops on
tuned slate). This is the nearest that the project comes to New Age
sounds-of-surf relaxation / meditation CDs but there is a feeling that the
intention is of an entirely different order. 'Meditation' tapes provide an
aural wallpaper where nothing must surprise or stand out, whereas here the
juxtaposition of different soundscapes keeps bringing the attention back so
that the sounds are very much part of the foreground rather than the
background. The CDs seem to require a new way of listening - an almost
Zen-like shifting of one's perception. They are quite unlike any other aural
experience - in some ways uncompromising but they are fresh, original and as
beautiful as the natural world that both inspires and transfuses them.

'Wood wind & rain songs' and 'Bees in the bathroom' by Will Menter
by Ian Simmons

(from )

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.