Wim Mertens – Maximizing The Audience

Wim Mertens - Maximizing the Audience

Wim Mertens’ incredible album has been lodged in my brain for a few weeks now, settling into those neuronal corners usually reserved for longtime favorites. It would feel like cheating if Maximizing The Audience weren’t such a perfectly realized slice of modern classical music.

When I hit play here, I’m pulled back to my oldest memories of hearing Philip Glass as a child, realizing that this genre felt like a core component of my musical identity. Listening to this feels like brave new territory overlaid on some nostalgic memory of home.

Wim Mertens is a Belgian new music composer who is profoundly underappreciated in the US. I’d heard him mentioned before, but I was really turned on to his sound this week, thanks to a friend sharing this album on Facebook.

The lengthy compositions are fleshed out with cascading piano, dappled with saxophone and clarinet, repeating and folding minimalist passages, building complexity in a process familiar to any fans of Steve Reich or Philip Glass. Unlike either of these modern music titans, Mertens’ work blushes with raw sensuality.

There’s a deep romantic gravity tugging at this music, erupting most overtly during the title track, with a sharp violin melody and sudden opera vocals from Ine van den Bergh and Valerie Koolemans-Beijnen. Consistently building, layering, gaining urgency without speed, the song is a perfect example of the power of modern minimalism. By the time the reverb-drenched soprano saxophone enters near the end, I feel like I’m flying.

Looking over Mertens’ vast discography, I’m filled with a sense of wonder and possibility. At this point I’ve only heard two full albums and there are dozens more to discover. The only thing more special than finding an artist you love is finding out that he’s already got a massive collection of music to dive into.

Listen to the song that got me hooked:

I originally included this album on What I’m Into This Week (4/3 – 4/9), but time made me realize that it deserved a post of its own. With the wealth of Mertens’ material I’ve been devouring lately, there’s bound to be more in the future.

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