CULTURE

Minimalist Belgian composer back in Greece for a short music tour

I ‘ve met Wim Mertens in the past, when he spoke little because he was composing a lot. Things don’t seem to have changed much over the decade that has since elapsed. The Belgian minimalist is back in Greece for performances backed by a 25-year course and as many albums. He continues to be exceptionally productive, at the rate of an album a year, and remains a strange person to talk to. Mertens is soft-spoken, analytical, and laughs rarely. Following shows in Hania (Crete) and Athens, Mertens ends his Greek visit with a third performance tonight in Patras, at the provincial city’s Ancient Odeon. Rock stars tour the USA. Mertens prefers Greece. What wears you out, physically or psychologically, when you’re on tour? The truth is that I’m not that keen on traveling. My tour began in Germany and Portugal with «Un respiro,» my latest album. We travel in a very disciplined fashion, in a very specific way. We want to create ideal conditions without taking the audience’s nature for granted. In the beginning, all you have are a few notes in front of you, then you’ve got to create an audience, and when you find it, you’ve got to offer it a gift. You talk about ideal conditions. How about an ideal audience? It’s a risk. The purpose of my trip is to offer a gift. If I don’t manage that, then I’ll feel disappointed. You can’t take anything for granted. The audience must receive the gift. Don’t forget that I’m carrying about 25 years of experience on my back. I am able to feel little things and know how the night will go, but, for me, every concert remains an adventure. What could emerge as an obstacle for this adventure? Specific things – rain, technical problems. The only thing you can’t program is the singer – in other words, me. The singer is not a machine. He or she could be experiencing difficult circumstances, and faced with the challenge of changing the situation without making this obvious. A singer cannot last long on stage if the conditions aren’t ideal. You need things that inspire you. If something goes awry, then you must adapt your interpretation to the problem rather than base it on improvisation, as jazz musicians do. In Greece, as is the case with all other concerts, there are a thousand factors that can make a difference. You have 25 albums, 25 years loaded with memories, 25 years of suspense. Which do you consider to be the best and worst moments of your creative life? You make choices during every moment of your life. And every one of those choices prompts questions about the things you didn’t do… That’s why I’ve stopped searching for the ideal audience. What you definitely need is luck. You must hope that this musical language you are carrying is your most complete form of expression, while keeping in mind that every era must be given life by each piece of work. Think that, at one time, there was a Bach and a Mozart, and you can’t help but hope for a renaissance, a second beginning. Our generation is obliged to find new voices; you are summoned to find your own voice… You use just a piano and vocals – that simple. Don’t you also want to stage a grand production, like the rest? When I’ve spent plenty of time working with orchestras and ensembles I start feeling impatient to be alone again. I’ve acquired a more sober way when I work. But I also enjoy doing more intricate things. For the next year, I’ve made plans to do symphonic productions. It’s been said that you’re difficult to work with. Do you prefer to work with yourself? I’d say that I can get unbearable. I like being alone. If I envy anybody, it’s the artists, because I think they’ve opted for the loneliest art form. When you perform live, you are taking a risk, in a good sense. I often talk with artists that are friends of mine and think that music needs people. The good thing is that I collaborate with young musicians, between 20 and 27, who tune into the meaning immediately, look at the score and automatically read between the lines. That shows that something is happening, that music is still alive. Is your relationship with film one of love and hate? I’ve written music for about 12-15 films. I’ve just completed the soundtrack for a film shot in Brazil. I no longer need film to develop my language. In film, you’ve got to confront various rules, deal with different types of people, and make compromises with extremely tough deadlines. Despite all that, I’d like to continue writing for film. Why do you disregard television? I’d say it disregards me. Music of mine has often been used for commercials. I think we also granted permission for a Greek advertisement. I don’t care who uses my music, as long as I know about it, have given permission, and know that it will help my music reach a wider audience. The poetic quality of the melodies on the piece «Skopos» from «Un respiro» evokes a utopian world. What are the things you would never do in the future to increase your following? I like to play this game and occasionally think about the reasons why I chose something and left something else out. [For the Greek shows] I’m going to play 10 songs from «Un respiro.» It’s important to wonder why I rejected the other 25 tracks. Every single time, you begin from scratch. You make a note of what you’re not going to do. What’s left on paper is that which will develop into the narration of a story, for which you don’t rely on words. I try to base myself purely on musical ideas. My interest is the musical language. I can’t become more commercial or sell out, but I definitely do aim for a bigger following. The entire process, my life’s course, has been extremely slow. I’ve taken slow but steady steps. You’ve got to be patient – as patient and persistent as an insect. For information on tonight’s concert, call tel 2610.222157/620236.