Centered in Chicago and with a name inspired by director Bela Tarr's 2000 film, Wrekmeister Harmonies was founded by sound artist, multi-instrumentalist, and composer J.R. Robinson, who remains its only constant member. Robinson is a sound installationist known for his ambient works in spaces such as the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Pompidou Center in Paris, and the Art Center Berlin. As Wrekmeister Harmonies, he enlisted help from the Windy City's plethora of fine musicians, including David Yow, Ken Vandermark, John McEntire, and Azita Youssefi, to name a few, and created the music that became Recordings Made in Public Spaces, Vol. 1. Issued on Atavistic in 2009, it documented several of these shows in an audio and video disc package.
The music began to change as his musical partnerships grew. By the time Wrekmeister Harmonies issued You've Always Meant So Much to Me, his 2013 Thrill Jockey debut, Robinson had enlisted players from the experimental rock, free improv, and black metal scenes to assist him in recording the single album-length piece. After several acclaimed public appearances with an ever evolving array of players, Wrekmeister Harmonies returned to the studio in early 2014. Then It All Came Down -- an album-length work inspired by a 1973 Truman Capote interview with Charles Manson associate Bobby Beausoleil -- was released in October, with appearances by Ryley Walker, Chanel Pease, Sanford Parker, Chris Brokaw, and Bruce Lamont, as well as members of the bands Indian and Leviathan. Robinson and various collaborators played select shows in support.
Robinson spent the next ten months recording. He again enlisted a large cast of musicians, including Marissa Nadler, Alexander Hacke, Chris Brokaw, and members of Disappears, Indian, the Body, and Yakuza (over 30 in all), and worked in numerous locations including the crematorium of Chicago's Bohemian National Cemetery. The end result, Night of Your Ascension, was released by Thrill Jockey in November of 2015. Robinson did a limited tour with this large group. Upon returning, he wasted no time reentering the studio. Seeking a change in direction, he began working with a smaller unit featuring himself on guitars and vocals and Esther Shaw on keyboards, piano, violin, and vocals. They were joined by Godspeed You! Black Emperor musicians Thierry Amar on bass and contrabass; Sophie Trudeau on piano, violin, and vocals; and Timothy Herzog on drums. The end result, Light Falls, was inspired by Primo Levi's legendary book If This Is a Man (more commonly known as Survival in Auschwitz), though it doesn't follow its narrative. Preceded by a national tour, the album was issued by Thrill Jockey in September 2016. ~ Thom Jurek