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Wim Mertens (1953 - )


Belgian composer born in 1953. Mostly know for his opus Struggle for pleasure, which was later chosen as an anthem in advertisements for the Belgian GSM operator Proximus. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wim_Mertens [May 2005]


Wim Mertens is a Belgian composer of minimal music, a part of modern day classical music. His peers are Philip Glass, Michael Nyman, Steve Reich.

Wim Mertens has had a hit-record : his song "Close cover" of 1983 was used as the tune for the nightly program on the national radio station BRT. So it aired 3 to 4 times each night.

Soft Verdict is the name under which he started playing (at the age of 28). It is not so much a band, rather a collection of musicians under the direction of Mertens who performed with him, according to the necessities of the composition at hand.

He also was embraced by the public after his cooperation with film-director Peter Greenaway in "The Belly of an Architect" in 1987.

Mertens aims at a large audience with his music : in an interview with Het Nieuwsblad he said responding to the question "Your debut album was called "For amusement only". Do you find your works have an entertainment value ?" : "I hope so. Entertainment is a bit of a common term, but it's certainly my ambition to "maximize the audience". I want my music to be as popular as can be".

If so, he certainly has got to try and get a better marketeer : in 1991, he released 7 cd's at the same time. In 1994 he released 10 cd's at the same time. The man : "I don't think about myself as being particularly productive. Bach had to compose a new piece each week. At the time that was common practice. But today, the record industry want one record per year, not more, not less. If I release 7 cd's at the same time, I do that because I think it necessary. I don't want to follow the rules and schemes of the record industry. Too much self esteem ? I don't think so. There is a lot of music inside my head, all the time. If I were to take a paper and pencil, I could start writing music now, for an hour at least. No problem".

So what's his music like ? Here's a try, taken out of the dissertation on Mertens' work for the Jan Fabre theater play "de macht der teaterlijke dwaasheden" (the power of theatrical madness) of 1984 by Prof. Dr. J.M.Broekman : "Contemporary music seldom evokes philosophical reflections upon the Arts, yet the exquisiteness of the music of Wim Mertens demands It. Mertens' music has its roots in American Minimal Music, a tradition which holds that composition can be achieved through the use of the fewest possible musical devices. Despite belonging to this tradition, Mertens' music is distinguishable from that of Reich and Glass, who are comparatively much more concerned with conceptual, System and Process music. These forms of musical conception may truly be described as objectified musical forms. As such they form an autonomous normative system which governs not only each individual composition but also the developmental trend of the composer. So we find that unilinear musical composition was produced over the years. But this is not to say that the multiplicity of musical compositions was simply an indistinguishable whole. On the contrary, many a composition contained its own distinctive features and defined meaning peculiar to itself. Precisely because both compositional technique and musical form were subjected to a closed autonomous normative system, repetition effectively became the dominant technique. It was almost an art in itself. To the extent that the Minimalists virtually transformed repetition into an art they managed magnificently to retain and promote their activity. So it was with those who adopted the minimal principles but refused to be governed by its rigid normative system. It is particularly in apt to suggest without due regard for differentiation, as does John Gill, that Philip Glass is the undisputed godfather of all variations in minimal music. --Prof. Dr. Jan M. Broekman, 1984

Gill's suggestion verges on the mythical when he declares that "Glass' influence began to spread when he first toured Europe with his band after bumping into Bowie and Eno after a Royal Academy of Music gig in London in 1971, meeting Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk in Germany, planting a seed that would inform Giorgio Moroder's late 70's disco productions for Summer and others. These strands spread out, appearing in a rather thin disguise as the synthpop wave hunched by the Human League and crossing over into British and American disco production. Ironically, in the 1980's Glass has been hailed as the godfather of a new wave of system music composers - Michael Nyman, Lost Jockey, Regular Music, Soft Verdict and other little known names appearing on labels like Factory and Belgium's Disques du Crépuscule. You may not have heard them, but they're out there".

Yet at the very first performance the difference between the system music of Glass and that of the others was already apparent. The repetition which influences the music of Mertens and indeed functions as its dominant compositional principle consists of a special dimension. The repetition occurs for two reasons. Firstly, it is intended to carve out a space for listening in the flowing stream of music and emotion and secondly, It is designed to enlist the feeling of pleasure. The challenge with which Mertens confronts us is that the technique of repetition remains dominant in his music but acquires a different meaning.

One may even suggest that in this respect Mertens' music is conceived traditionally and composed accordingly, to such a degree that it is impossible to experience it without the Minimalist tradition looming large. Often the function of the top-line is to act as a signifier indicative of the meaning of the music. In ascertaining the meaning of the music the listener is not involved in the process of representation in the classical sense of the word. On the contrary, it is analysis through which meaning comes to fore. Unlike Fabre, Mertens does not presuppose a fixed experience on the part of either the listener in musical production or the spectator in theatrical performance. As is wellknown, such a presupposition was deemed to be necessary for purposes of cathartic effect." --Prof. Dr. Jan M. Broekman, 1984 via http://houbi.com/belpop/groups/mertens.htm [May 2005]

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