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Daniel Menche - Eye on the Steel

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Artist: Daniel Menche

Album: Eye on the Steel

Label: Substractif

Review date: Jun. 27, 2005

While many musicians chose to remain quiet, or at least rather vague and theoretical when it comes to the question of intent, Portland, Oregon’s Daniel Menche is a sound artist whose credo is straightforward and distinct. In his music, Menche aims to project pure emotion, making a direct link between spirit and sound. There’s no flaccid improvisational drivel here, or bland new age sounds feigning a deep pathos. Menche’s M.O., though indiscriminately accepting of any and all sounds as worthy source material, is one that’s far more structured than one might expect from an artist of his nature. Comparing his work to storytelling, Menche concentrates on purposeful sound arrangement, with beginnings, middles and ends, each contributing in a specific way to the mood of the piece. He eschews classification as a noise artist, and while many of his techniques suggest similarities to musicians who work within that realm, Menche works within specific structures, with a meticulous sense of the relationships between sounds and the overall development of a piece. Eye on the Steel is Menche’s 13th CD since his 1993 debut and contains far more power than Menche’s relative obscurity would suggest.

While Menche’s detailed compositional techniques aren’t readily apparent, the first of Eye on the Steel’s 11 untitled tracks rises to a roar and moves in a familiar arc before yielding to the second track’s hearty crunch. Transitions in mood and sound are persistent, and while Menche’s work is minimalist to a degree, he’s not content to ride out a single idea for the duration of a piece. A gifted ability to render shifts in timbre, rhythm and texture distinguishes Eye on the Steel, and the natural feel of the changes adds some credence to Menche’s statements about his music as an extension of his being.

Menche, who avoids the use of synthesizers and other advanced technologies, often relies on contact mics as his “instruments,” and his body is a frequent sounding board, literally, upon which the mics are raked and manipulated. Thereby, the human aspect of his music begins in its origins, and while there are no obvious bio-musical signposts to signal it, Menche’s music retains a sense of humanity. It’s something that’s more easily appreciated on a conceptual basis, perhaps, but that isn’t to say that, genesis aside, Menche’s creations are typically mundane. Eye on the Steel is an especially diverse creation, in comparison to some of Menche’s past work, with masses of gristly buzz in stark contrast to cleaner sustained electronic peals and heavy, glitched pulses. The diversity isn’t the result of unfinished explorations or tossed-off experiments, either; Menche’s work on the album is consistently engaging, allowing adequate time for ideas to percolate without letting monotony creep in.

Even without knowledge of Daniel Menche’s theories and techniques, Eye on the Steel is an impressive array of sound. More realistically, however, the intent is as important a part of the product as the performance, and there’s little worth in the separation of the two. If his music is, as Menche says, his blood, we must simply hope that the clotted, curdled masses that infect him don’t pose a threat to his health.

By Adam Strohm

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