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Wim MERTENS (b. 1953)
What are we, locks, to do?
Loosening the ropes [5:16]
In the knapsack [3:50]
And hit the bitter water [4:03]
Oxyrhynchus [5:59]
But the archer himself feeling the arrow’s point from another bow [2:34]
Burned on non-fruit-bearing wood [7:16]
Mixed with hellebore [5:17]
Many tens of thousands things [3:42]
Shining hands [3:38]
Wim Mertens (piano and voice)
No recording dates or locations given

What are we, locks, to do? is Wim Mertens’ 10th solo album for piano and voice. I’ve known his music more from instrumental compositions and film music, a collection of which is reviewed here. This release is from Warner Music in Spain, reflecting Mertens’ popularity in that part of Europe.

My copy of this release has no information about the songs, and there is no booklet with texts – in fact I’m fairly certain it has been sent out with the wrong insert as it says Piano and Voice 1986-2016 on the front. Hunting online we find that What are we, locks, to do? is the second part of a triptych: Cran aux Œufs (2015-2016), part one of which, Charaktersketch is recorded with piano and other instruments and has Europe and Brussels in 2015 as its central theme - referring to the altered position of Central Europe as a carrier of culture and economical power.

This second part looks at Egyptian Alexandria in the third century B.C. Without texts it is hard to tell which language we are dealing with – Mertens has been known to sing using a self-created language – but these songs are, among other things, apparently linked to the poet Callimachus, the royal family Ptolemy and the figure of Queen Berenice II. What are we, locks, to do? mixes myth and reality and investigates the political power and the cultural influence in the Egypt of the third century B.C.” Further reading throws up news of the final album in the triptych, Dust of Truth, which is based on the Battle of Actium in 31 BC which, “if it had gone the other way, Europe would have come under Egyptian influence.”

Aside from the song titles on the back of the case we are actually none the wiser. Wim Mertens has the type of high voice which has proven effective in these ancient worlds, thinking of the counter-tenor range of the main soloist in Philip Glass’s Akhnaten. The French/Belgian accent keeps us in Europe, but for the rest we are kept guessing.

The music is firmly in Merten’s tried and tested tonal and often quite rhythmically active idiom, and many of the songs have an almost operatic feel. Those willing to tell a story for instance is easily imagined as a key aria in some kind of stage drama, though others are more ‘musical’ than ‘opera’ if we are looking for connections. The piano used has a mildly ‘antique-upright’ sound to it, but this works well with the music to hand.

I have every respect for Wim Mertens’ craftsmanship in this substantial collection or cycle of songs, and as it stands this is a well-produced and even somewhat daring project. I can’t help being bothered about the lack of any information with the CD however. Communication is a big part of this kind of encounter with interesting and unfamiliar work, and while even the most tedious pop bands can manage to get their lyrics printed it seems odd to be sailing as good as blind through an entire album. I don’t think I have a demo version, but am willing to stand corrected and will revise this review if anyone can put me right. Even if the songs are set to abstract phonetic sounds I feel we should be told.

Dominy Clements



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