Wax Thématique - A Chronicle


Bernard (Bernie) Aloysios St. Germain was born in Landshipping, near Devon, England in 1920 to Edward Pauncefoot St. Germain and the former Eugénie Bauhaus Cordray of Saint Arnac, Languedoc-Roussillon, France. Raised in a dual language household by his stern English father and somewhat eccentric and free-spirited French mother, he split his time between his mother's families estate in Saint Arnac and their English home outside Fazacharly, Liverpool. He was educated at home by private tutors, including such future intellectuals as Kenneth Grant and Victor Neuborg. St. Germain felt mistreated by the locals who lived near his parents rural home and looked forward to his summers in France, where his artistic and musical interests were encouraged by his mother's family. As a teenager, he was encouraged to learn mountaineering by his god-father, the famous french explorer Marchel Ichac, and spent weeks exploring the hills of the Basque country and Southern Spain. After being accepted to Eton, he attended only the first week of classes before leaving the country and informing his parents by telegram that he intended to climb the Himalayan peak of Nanga Parbat. Despite the protestations of his father, delivered almost daily by post, he spent the next 2 months at his mothers estate in France planning the trek. The activities of next 6 years of his life are largely unknown, but it is assumed that he was climbing in Tibet, as he had planned, although climbers of the day who explored the then almost-unknown to the West peaks of the Himalyas and the Indu Kush have never verified seeing St. Germain during their time there. 

  What is known is that after the death of his parents in a fire in 1939, he reappeared in London at the office of the family solicitor to take ownership of his families estate. The family company, Thompson-Germain Amalgamated Rotors, had existed since the early days of the Industrial Revolution, but had subsisted almost solely on selling motors and belt drives to conservative, small-scale clients. Having no formal business experience, St. Germaine managed, in a few years, to bring the company back to profitability by reinvesting it's focus towards small electronics. According to company lore, St. Germaine was told by a former soldier after the first world war of how he and his fellow troops were forced to billet in an abandoned factory near the French front during the winter, but were able to maintain their spirits by listening to records on a gramaphone they had appropriated from a nearby farmhouse. When the record player broke, an industrious member of their number found a Thompson-Germain motor in an industrial belt-grinder and managed to use it to fix the gramophone, much to the good cheer of his compatriots. To their surprise, this jury-rigged machine kept better time than either the previous machine or the nice record-players many of them had at home. At the time, British gramophones were both expensive and notoriously unreliable, the thin belts used to turn the platters often becoming brittle and causing the records to lose time, wobble, and force consumers to either tinker endlessly with their machines or to send them to be fixed almost seasonally. St. Germaine took this story to heart and devoted a percentage of the business to building gramophones motors- by 1945 it comprised almost the whole of the business. 

By the early 1950's, St. Germain was growing bored with business, and was increasingly more interested in the promotion and marketing of his Gramophone line. Thompson-St. Germaine became one of the first gramophone companies to release "test albums", so-called because they were designed with specific tones, notes and instrumentation that would showcase the sound quality of Germaine Phonographs. This first release, called "Test One!", re-ignited his interest in music from his younger days, and he began to spend much of his time in the companies "Sound Lab", as he called it, which was built at his behest and staffed with young musicians and technicians, many of them former members of the RAF and Royal Naval Signal Corps returned from the second world war. As the day to day activities of the company was handed over to a series of Managing Directors, he oversaw and released the first of the test albums "produced" by St. Germain and released on the Thompson-Germain Phonograph Records imprint in 1953. The next two albums, released in 1954 and 1955, were distributed on the independent "Germain's Thématique* Test Label". All future releases, until 1975, were simply labeled "Thématique Test Label". For many early collectors who came upon these albums, it was unclear whether the title of the album was the name of the company who released it or the name of a band. 

  St. Germain left the company in 1979, but remained on the masthead as executive director. He had, at the behest of company executives, moved his sound lab to the family estate in Saint Alarc, which he renamed "Chateau Vatan", and where he became somewhat of a recluse, locking himself away in his suite with his increasingly antique analog equipment and relying on servants to maintain the estate and his affairs. The final Thématique Test release believed to have been made with direct input by St. Germain was the so-called " Mountain" album, released in 1980, named by collectors because of the enigmatic album art on the LP, believed by some to be Nanga Parta, the peak St. Germain may have climbed in the 1930's. 

After 1980, albums continued to be released by what was from then on called "Wax Thématique", through representatives in London, France and Spain. Although St. Germain had by now entirely retreated from public life, he continued to have albums released in small boutique batches, never numbering more than 200-300 at a time, reportedly handling all aspects of business through the mail. According to biographers, every few years his representatives would receive a new album, at this point from new, independent artists from across Europe and the United States, with hand-written instructions on release numbers, production and mastering ideas, and album art concepts. Strict non-disclosure agreements signed by St. Germain business associates leave many details of his dealings with the Wax label and his direct involvement with the label since 1980 to be unavailable to biographers and researchers. St. Germaine's current status is undisclosed for privacy reasons at the request of his estate. No formal announcement of death has been made, and releases by the label he created continue.

 
 

*There is some disagreement on the meaning of the designation of "Thématique" as it relates to St. Germain. Some have theorized it may relate to the 314th Engineer Aviation Regiment, who may have included among it's members the soldiers who told Germain the story of the Thompson- Germain Gramaphone repair story that changed his life.