Wim Mertens

Paying for Love

By Andrew Fort

paying-for-love-1
Andreas Vesalius Illustration

Once, a long time ago, I made an artifact. I’ve made a few in my time, but this one is special, because it’s on now-obsolete 3/4” videotape which is currently deteriorating in my dank basement and is unlikely to ever be seen again. It features the medieval anatomical drawings of Andreas Vesalius, manipulated digitally by a primitive computer, several quotations from 17th century poet Edward Young, and this piece of music, Paying for Love. Oh yeah: it also features a spinning, gravity-defying loofah, hovering above a pyramid as the sun rises in the distance.

Our assignment was to make a “music video” and as usual I was unable to accept the prompt at face value. Didn’t that just mean a video with music? I could do whatever I wanted! I remember our professor losing patience with me as I tried to get the effects I needed by suspending a loofah in the studio and then painstakingly instructing other students on how fast to spin it, whether to spin it clockwise or counter-clockwise, whether to let it swing from side to side. I specifically remember him trying to cut my allotted studio time short because he felt I was wasting it. Granted, he was not the type of guy to have much faith in my brand of pseudo-intellectual absurdism. He was the type of guy who lip-synced Sinatra songs in his spare time, a practice which we got ample demonstration of during in another studio-based assignment on the Three-Camera Setup, when he donned a fedora and sat under a prop lamppost.

Edward Young D.C.L. 1777 by British (?) School nullHe was trying to teach us Industry Standards, which was his job. And most video production jobs ultimately consisted of shooting music videos, infomercials, live T.V. events and possibly, if you’re lucky, sitcoms. But I had no use for these. And I also had no use for Industry Standards. A paying job? No use for that either.

Enter Wim Mertens. I found his cassette Motives for Writing in a Tower Records store and instantly fell in love with it. This piece in particular begins by sounding like a random accumulation of notes played by a small chamber ensemble, which eventually coalesce into something approximating a melody. Every instrumental motif which appears to be improvisational reveals itself in the course of the larger work to be a carefully considered part of the whole. Mertens sings nonsense syllables in a strangled countertenor. The music shares much in common with jazz and is yet as unlike jazz as anything you’ve ever heard.

Essentially, the complete opposite of Sinatra.

So, what was this “music video?” It begins with a dead body on the floor, and a voice-over relating the evidence found at the scene. The narrator eventually grows bored with the murder which, while puzzling, is not nearly sensational or occult enough for his tastes, and ends up fixating instead on a piece of paper (a clue?) found at the scene, which contains a poem, which he then analyzes, breaking it down first into phrases, then words, and finally letters, which he rearranges according to a logic of his own, finally ending up with the word “loofah.” Enter the spinning loofah, keyed in over the opening of the T.V. show “Mysterious Universe,” traveling through space and coming to rest atop a pyramid as the sun rises behind it. The meaning of life.

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Loofah

The finished project was a great success. Somehow, even the Sinatra-worshiping professor liked it. Another student, whom I greatly admired, took to calling me the “Dalai Loofah.” The video was screened at a number of festivals around the country.

And that was it. I was soon to discover that the wider world had different tastes than that of the academic one. When I eventually showed the video to the head of the music video production company I later worked for, his one-sentence response was, “I didn’t get it.” Apparently Industry Standards had no more use for me than I had for them.

I abandoned filmmaking not long after I graduated from film school, and the video now sits unwatched in my dank basement, but radiating a dense magnetic pull every time I go down there, as if to continually remind me that there are other ways of being: Sinatra is fine, if you like that sort of thing. Industry Standards are fine, if you like that sort of thing. But I’m here too, and I always have been.

I imagine someone from the future coming upon this image of the spinning loofah and asking What does this mean? What does any of this mean? But laughing delightedly, nonetheless.

It is this thought, more than anything else, which keeps me plumbing the depths of absurdity.

Wim Mertens website

 

Wim Mertens

Vienna Boys’ Choir

Omnes de Saba Venient

By Gipsy Finnan

gipsy-finnanIn 1962, I was eleven years old and went to see the Walt Disney movie “Almost Angels”. The story was about being in the Vienna Boy’s Choir and filled me with a holy longing I was unprepared for.

The choir boys lived at the school, sang every day, and one of them played the oboe.

I was a girl living in an impoverished town on the Arizona-New Mexico border and the cultural sophistication of Vienna seemed like such an ethereal notion. The almost unendurable realization that this was not a possibility for me was like whittling my expectations into a mutilated rainbow, but the spiritual embryo that was planted has had enduring relevance in the peregrinations of my life.

I was born under the same sky as the Apache warrior Geronimo (Goyaklah). Woven through my childhood are Old Black Joe who lived in a cave; Cactus Annie, a devoted rock-hound that ate raw potatoes sprinkled with salt; Fleetabelle Bonine was a red-haired ball of fire that screamed at ear-splitting decibels; Heavy Ware was the proprietor of a soda shop called the Big Dipper and he handed candy bars to all children with them pinched in the claw of his metal hook hand.

I had schoolmates called Cholo, Chava and Chuy and our neighbor Consuelo shuffled around in slippers with her heavy ankles spilling over the sides. She roasted mountains of green chiles and her green corn tamales became our family’s culinary dream come true.

gipsy-quoteTommy Sidebottom, retired sheriff, wore a monocle and stood on a wooden box in the center of town directing traffic with a gleaming silver whistle, prolific spittle and spinning arms.

Community music was limited to an annual Cattleman’s dance outdoors with a trio of elder gents playing smooth western tunes. Pedal steel, fiddle and snare drum with brushes. From time to time, a mariachi band would play at an open wedding (everyone comes, everyone drinks) and we got to dance corridos in the Social Club. When the Holy Ghost Revival set up their tent and offered Salvation Healing, Deliverance Prophecy, Restoration and Fresh Anointing of the Holy Ghost, you could hear a few exuberant singers with their hands raised high.

So, I took up smoking Camel non-filters and floating the river on an inner-tube.

Now, I can say that I have sung an alto aria from Handel’s Messiah (with orchestra), I play contemporary classical guitar music of the Cuban composer Leo Brouwer, and move haltingly through the piano score of the Goldberg Variations by Bach. I have studied the erhu in mainland China, the charango in Chile, and the baglama saz in Turkey.

This quote by Roald Dahl whispers to me each day:

“Above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

Like a netsuke snuffbox with redemptive treasures inside, I can listen to the boy treble sing Omnes de Saba Venient by J. von Eybler and know, deep in my heart, what accidental grace is. Accidental grace leads us home.

Vienna Boys’ Choir