Portland sound artist Daniel Menche’s vast catalog of soundscapes, droned-tinged field recordings and altered musical pieces may teeter on unmanageable for one collection, but knowing where to start with Menche is overrated. Simply start.
Recorded last winter and released in November of this year, Menche’s newest release, the gorgeously titled, Where Language Ends, echoes of the icy landscape that engulfed the Pacific Northwest late February. This two-song suite of cello and electronic manipulations (cassette/digital courtesy of Beacon Sound) yields continuously. Menche, who is known for his long form drones and extractions of slow accumulation, applies a masterful spell on both sides.
“Where Language Ends (Part 1)” opens in a tightly, closed space. Metallic vibrations scrape and blindly reflect. As the metal on metal sounds soften, Menche has already filled in the overlooked spaces with dark hums and muted, soaring leaps, which stack upon previous spun sounds. Although the piece leans toward a darker, self-renewing, Menche includes splatters of warmth as his cello is concealed in a bath of electronics. Some notes continue to scrape, while others obscure the looped pulse Menche takes time to display.
Upon additional listens, memory/assumptions about where the bowed sounds travel or bend alters. Menche’s piercing touches, electronic manipulations, and extended drones, layer without much weight. Like music encrusted on ice, these looped manifestations of cello and electronics form centimeter thick lines. Side A ends with just enough ice to walk out into the middle of a pond.
On Side B Menche expands and tints his previously grayed and black hues with streaks of silver and white. “Where Language Ends (Part 2)” carries a spherical sound. The metallic tones are fuller, but less dramatic. There’s a regenerating hum embedded under the streaks of recondite ambience. Again, Menche’s quality of sound airs deeper into the mystery, almost completely forgoing melody. His drones are glacial yet ever-changing, collecting in weight and in depth. The frozen pond is revealed to be an ice-covered lake where little can penetrate past Menche’s swirls and shimmery throbs of cello and looping. His uncanny knack in stretching and modifying sounds with a dash of feedback and textural ambience is something to reckon with.
The patterns and sounds on Where Language Ends become one with its environment. Reminiscent of Harry Bertoia’s metallic sound installations, Menche nods to the shadow. Where Language Ends is both a longing for and embrace of music’s role and conduit for our collective human experiences. Here, Menche seems capable and willing to provide as a guide into our next evolutionary phase.