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14 May 1953 |
Life and work
Mertens was born in Neerpelt, Belgium. He studied social and political science at the University of Leuven (graduating in 1975) and musicology at Ghent University; he also studied music theory and piano at the Ghent Conservatory and the Royal Conservatory of Brussels.
In 1978, he became a producer at the then BRT (Belgian Radio and Television, now called Vlaamse Radio- en Televisieomroep). For Radio 2 (Radio Brabant) he produced concerts by Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Meredith Monk, Urban Sax and others, and hosted a program called Funky Town together with Gust De Meyer (with whom he recorded the experimental album For Amusement Only).
Known primarily as a composer since the early 1980s, Mertens is best known for his opus "Struggle for Pleasure". He is also well known for his piece "Maximizing the Audience", which was composed for Jan Fabre's play The Power of Theatrical Madness, which premiered in 1984 in Venice, Italy.
Mertens' style has continually evolved during the course of his prolific career, starting from downright experimental and avant-garde, always gravitating around minimalism, usually, however, preserving a melodic foundation to the forays that he makes into the worlds that he is exploring. His compositional quality has often overweighted the "labelling issue" and reached wider audiences although stemming from a far-from-mainstream musical context (see section In popular culture). One can follow three separate threads of musical styles throughout his work: a) Compositions for ensemble, perhaps his most accessible and "commercial" material; b) Solo piano and voice compositions, which features haunting keyboard melodies accompanied by Mertens' unique high-pitched tenor voice singing in an invented, personal language; and c) Experimental minimalist "cycles" for single, dual, and sometimes more instruments.
Mertens has released more than 50 albums to date, the majority of which were issued by Les Disques du Crépuscule from 1980 until 2004. Mertens also produced a number of Crépuscule releases and consulted with the label on its choice of works by contemporary composers such as Michael Nyman, Gavin Bryars, and Glenn Branca. Mertens also curated a series of releases for a Crépuscle imprint, Lome Armé, that featured works from the classical era as well as contemporary jazz.
Mertens' music was used in the 1987 Peter Greenaway film The Belly of an Architect, along with that of Glenn Branca also in the Dutch-British film Shadow Man (1988), directed by Piotr Andrejew, as well as in the Brazilian documentary Nós que Aqui Estamos por Vós Esperamos (Here We Are Waiting for You), directed by Marcelo Masagão.
In March 1998 Mertens became the Cultural Ambassador of Flanders.
In August 2007 Mertens signed a contract with EMI Classics for his entire catalog. The label re-released his entire back-catalog beginning in January 2008. EMI Music Belgium has also released Mertens' new work, beginning with the 9-track album Receptacle on 24 September 2007. For this album Mertens decided to work with an orchestra consisting of only women, 17 in total. It is not the first time that Mertens has worked together with EMI. Already in 1999 Mertens released the soundtrack to the Paul Cox film Molokai: The Story of Father Damien via EMI Classics.
New work released in 2008 includes the CD L'heure du loup which, similar to some of his experimental works, contains a series of tracks based on variations around one composition, the previously released Hors nature. Mertens also released a box set of six volumes from his live Years Without History series, the sixth volume of which (The Promise Kept in Advance) is only available with the box set. A seventh volume, Nosotros, was also released in 2008. It contains a recording from July 2002 at the Kasteeldomein van Gaasbeek in Belgium, the live premiere of material that would later be released on the Skopos CD. Other live albums and a DVD concert performance have been released as well.
In April 2010 Mertens released his first new compositions in several years on the CD Zee Versus Zed.
- 1980 – For Amusement Only – The Sound of Pinball Machines
- 1982 – At Home – Not At Home
- 1982 – Vergessen
- 1983 – Close Cover
- 1983 – Struggle for Pleasure
- 1984 – The Power of Theatrical Madness (Limited Edition Single)
- 1984 – A Visiting Card
- 1985 – Usura (under the band name Soft Verdict)
- 1985 – Maximizing the Audience
- 1986 – Close Cover (2)
- 1986 – A Man of No Fortune, And with a Name to Come
- 1986 – Hirose
- 1986 – Instrumental Songs
- 1987 – Educes Me
- 1987 – The Belly of an Architect
- 1988 – Whisper Me
- 1988 – After Virtue
- 1989 – Motives for Writing
- 1990 – No Testament
- 1990 – Play for Me
- 1991 – Alle Dinghe Part III: Alle Dinghe
- 1991 – Alle Dinghe Part II: Vita Brevis
- 1991 – Alle Dinghe Part I: Sources of Sleeplessness
- 1991 – Stratégie De La Rupture
- 1991 – Hufhuf (Single taken from Stratégie De La Rupture, including previously unreleased material)
- 1992 – Houfnice
- 1992 – Retrospectives Volume 1
- 1992 – Shot and Echo
- 1993 – A Sense of Place
- 1994 – Epic That Never Was
- 1994 – Gave Van Niets [Promo] [1994-11]
- 1994 – Gave Van Niets Part IV: Reculer Pour Mieux Sauter [1994-11]
- 1994 – Gave Van Niets Part III: Gave Van Niets [1994-11]
- 1994 – Gave Van Niets Part II: Divided Loyalties [1994-11]
- 1994 – Gave Van Niets Part I: You'll Never Be Me [1994-11]
- 1995 – Jeremiades [1995-04]
- 1996 – Entre Dos Mares 
- 1996 – Lisa [1996-04]
- 1996 – Jardin Clos [1996-10]
- 1996 – As Hay in the Sun [1996-10]
- 1996 – Piano & Voice [1996-12]
- 1997 – Sin Embargo [1997-10]
- 1997 – Best Of [1997–11]
- 1998 – In 3 or 4 Days (Single taken from Integer Valor, including previously unreleased material)
- 1998 – Integer Valor
- 1998 – And Bring You Back
- 1999 – Father Damien
- 1999 – Integer Valor – Intégrale
- 1999 – Kere Weerom Part III: Decorum
- 1999 – Kere Weerom Part II: Kere Weerom
- 1999 – Kere Weerom Part I: Poema
- 2000 – If I Can
- 2000 – Rest Meines Ichs (Single accompanying Der Heisse Brei, not sold separately)
- 2000 – Der Heisse Brei
- 2001 – At Home – Not At Home
- 2001 – Aren Lezen [Promo]
- 2001 – Aren Lezen Part I: If Five Is Part Of Ten
- 2001 – Aren Lezen Part II: Aren Lezen
- 2001 – Aren Lezen Part III: Kaosmos
- 2001 – Aren Lezen Part IV: aRe
- 2002 – Years Without History Volume 1 – Moins De Mètre, Assez De Rythme
- 2002 – Years Without History Volume 2 – In The Absence Of Hindrance
- 2002 – Years Without History Volume 3 – Cave Musicam
- 2002 – Wim Mertens Moment Box set featuring Vergessen, Ver-Veranderingen (Previously recorded 1981 but unreleased), The Belly of an Architect, Struggle for Pleasure, Motives for Writing, Maximizing the Audience, Instrumental Songs, If I Can, For Amusement Only, Educes Me, At Home – Not At Home, After Virtue, A Man of No Fortune, And with a Name to Come
- 2003 – Years Without History Volume 4 – No Yet, No Longer
- 2003 – Skopos
- 2004 – Years Without History Volume 5 – With No Need For Seeds
- 2004 – Shot and Echo/A Sense of Place (including previously unreleased material)
- 2005 – Un respiro
- 2006 – Partes Extra Partes
- 2007 – Receptacle
- 2008 – Platinum Collection
- 2008 – L'heure du loup
- 2008 – Years Without History vol. 1–6 boxset (vol. 6 available only in this boxset)
- 2008 – Years Without History Volume 7: Nosotros
- 2009 – Music and Film (3-CD boxset with over 20 unreleased tracks)
- 2009 – The World Tout Court
- 2009 – QUA (37-CD reissue of the complete cycle previously known as Alle Dinghe)
- 2010 – Zee Versus Zed
- 2011 – Series of Ands/Immediate Givens (2-CDs, two separate albums released together)
- 2011 – Open Continiuum / Tenerife Symphony Orchestra(OST) (2-CDs and one DVD)
- 2012 – Struggle for Pleasure / Double Entendre (2-CDs: one reissue, one of unreleased material from that period)
- 2012 – A Starry Wisdom
- 2012 – When Tool Met Wood
In popular culture
- With that same title, the collection of electronic music Café del Mar features in its 5th volume "Close Cover", one of the most melodic and, in a way, classical pieces of the author.
- "Struggle for Pleasure" was directly covered by Belgian dance music project Minimalistix in 2000 and reached the Top 40 in the charts in many European countries including the United Kingdom, Belgium and the Netherlands. The group also did a successful cover of, again, "Close Cover".
- A cover appeared in 2001 on Gatecrasher Digital. Elastica presents Jesus Elices 'Maximizing the Audience'.
- The James Bond novel High Time to Kill (Raymond Benson, 1999) contains a passing reference to the music of Wim Mertens, in which characters in the novel comment on the music playing in a cafe. Benson, the fourth official James Bond novelist, is a fan of Mertens' music. The reference is somewhat ironic given the interest in James Bond culture shown by Michel Duval, the founder of Les Disques du Crépuscule.
- "Struggle for Pleasure" also inspired one of the most influential Electronic dance music tracks – Energy 52's trance music project called "Café Del Mar", firstly released on Eye Q Records in 1993. It became a successful hit in 1997 with Three 'n One remix, and Nalin & Kane remixes in 1998. In April 2011, the song was voted number one in Pete Tong's Top 20 Dance Tracks of the last 20 years.
- "Struggle for Pleasure" is well known for being the flag piece of Belgian telecommunications giant Proximus and featuring prominently in many of its advertisements.
- Mertens, Wim (1983). American Minimal Music. Translated by J. Hautekiet. Preface by Michael Nyman. London: Kahn & Averill; White Plains, New York: Pro/Am Music Resources Inc. First published in Belgium in 1980. ISBN 1-871082-00-5; ISBN 0-912483-15-6.
- Wim Mertens signs with EMI and set to release entire back-catalogue
- Wim Mertens at WimMertens.be (official website)
- Wim Mertens at AllMusic
- Wim Mertens discography at Discogs