“It passes, but it does not pass away”
…not to be confused with Werckmeister Harmonies, a film by Hungarian director Belá Tarr, based on the book The Melancholy of Resistance – from where this blog-title is borrowed – by Hungarian writer Laszlo Krasznahorkai. Bela Tarr’s masterwork can be understood as an allegory: “In the 17th century the German musician, Andreas Werckmeister, conceived the idea of equal temperament thus enabling music to be written and played in any key. In doing so, according to the philosopher musicologist of the film, the purity of the natural cosmic language and inevitability of ordered sound became tainted. As a metaphor for this concept we are shown a small Hungarian town in mid-winter under the threat of civil chaos” (ref). The following Wrekmeister Harmonies-album has one track lasting 38 minutes 08 seconds whereas Belá Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies consists of 39 languidly paced shots (ref). It could just be coincidence.
“JR Robinson has been writing and recording music as Wrekmeister Harmonies in various incarnations since 2006. You’ve Always Meant So Much To Me was written to accompany a film Robinson shot in decimated Detroit locations, the desert of Joshua Tree and decaying forests of Tasmania. In 2012 he brought together some of the most revered musicians in the black metal and experimental music worlds (Jef Whitehead of Leviathan, Sanford Parker and Andrew Markuszewski of Nachmystium, Jamie Fennelly aka Mind Over Mirrors, Mark Solotroff of Anatomy of Habit, Bruce Lamont of Yakuza, and more) to perform the 38 minute composition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago to much acclaim and a sold out theater. The collaborators for the live performance joined Robinson at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio later that year to record the composition in full.
The beauty and darkness of the visuals are reflected in the music, which seeps from the ether with great melancholy. Reflective drones grow and decay, forming waves of overlapping sound that evolve into a gigantic roar of distorted guitar. Searing, disembodied howls and pummeling drums signal a shift from mournful to harrowing as Robinson and his ensemble lurch forward into the abyss. As the metal elements dwindle, electronics return to the fore, accompanied by a softly plucked harp signaling gentle finality.
Robinson began Wrekmeister Harmonies by recording sonic templates in museums in the US and Europe. These include recordings made at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the Gugenheim Museum and PS1 in New York, the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, SF MOMA in San Francisco, the Pompidou Center in Paris and the Art Center Berlin as well as site recordings at Joshua Tree National Park in California and both the Golden Gate Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge. Robinson has taken these recordings and by collaborating with musicians Ken Vandermark, David Yow (Jesus Lizard), Mark Shippy and Pat Samson (US Maple), Matt Carson, Nate McBride, Fred Lonberg Holm, John Herndon & Jeff Parker (Tortoise), and Azita has created a unique hybrid of sound art and avant garde music.” (ref)