NICK BÄRTSCH’S MOBILE – CONTINUUM / ECM 2464 video
In the beginning there was Mobile. Now, after three ECM studio recordings and a live double album with his other band Ronin, Swiss keyboardist and composer Nik Bärtsch presents a new album with his original all-acoustic group, here augmented on three pieces by a string quintet.
Founded in 1997 Mobile is effectively the wellspring of Bärtsch’s ritualistic approach to music making, nourished by his concepts of reduction and repetition as well as his fascination with Japanese culture. Here textures from jazz, funk, new music, minimal as well as ritual and sacred music are organically interwoven. Bärtsch and his partners Kaspar Rast, Sha and Nicolas Stocker aim for an energetic total group sound rather than displays of soloistic virtuosity.
Behind Bärtsch’s original decision to step away from conventionally interacting ad-hoc ensembles was a wish to explore musical and social energies more deeply with a group based on the idea of continuity at multiple levels. This “musically-focused community”, as Bärtsch calls it, has played concerts of marathon durations – up to 36 hours – in which music, lighting and performance space design, video arts and swordsmanship have been brought together.
After establishing these complex artistic rituals with Mobile, Ronin was founded in order to address the musical material more flexibly and directly. The group’s recordings include the ECM albums Stoa (2006), Holon (2008), Llyrìa (2010) and Ronin Live(2012), with concert recordings from 2009 to 2011.
In both ensembles Bärtsch tenaciously embodies a pragmatism in line with the classic creed of Asian martial arts: practice long enough and what you have practiced will change by itself, if you are alert and ready. Accordingly, a musical system may take on a momentum and development of its own through the steady power of repetition.
With Mobile Extended – the core band plus the string players – Bärtsch presents the chamber music aspects of his musical thought. Mobile’s music is organized in what Bärtsch calls ‘modules’ and it develops spirally. Its structures, based on the repetition of certain elements, may remind listeners of the pulse patterns in minimal music. But in contrast to ‘classic’ minimalist works by Riley, Reich or Glass, Bärtsch’s pieces are propelled through rhythm and beats rather than through floating pulsations.
“The way we organize our ‘modules’ rhythmically is more related to certain strategies of Stravinsky or Ligeti, to funk or to certain kinds of ritual music than to classic minimalism, which tends to use a more linear rhythmic Pointillism. We shape rhythm as a vehicle for dramaturgy: we are interested in its spin and its potential as an acoustic picture puzzle,” Bärtsch explains.
He cites an early piece by György Ligeti, the Continuum for Harpsichord of 1968, as an important influence. Together with the vision of a continuous spiral development of the group it has inspired the title of the new album. Also it gave impetus to ‘Modul 5’ – with Schwarzweiss, a piece by Zurich composer Edu Haubensak from 1979 – functioning as a kind of intermediate stop. Ligeti’s rhythmic finesse, his interest in New Music and his quest for new solutions in combining old and new music have inspired Bärtsch’s artistic approach.
While the music on Continuum strictly follows Bärtsch’s compositional logic it also conveys a sensuous physicality, thriving on conceptual juxtapositions as it seeks freedom through clear flexible systems and the interplay of structure and surprise, pathos and irony.
Continuum was recorded at Lugano’s RSI studio in March 2015 and produced by Manfred Eicher.
Nik Bärtsch is on tour in the coming months with several formations including Mobile Extended, Mobile (quartet), Ronin, a duo with reedman Sha, and solo performances. Concerts with the full Mobile Extended line-up include a CD release show on April 6 at Zürich’s Kirche Neumünster, and an appearance at London’s Barbican Centre on July 2. The quartet version of Mobile has concerts coming up in Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Austria, and in May visits the United States, with concerts at Portland’s Alberta Abbey (May 1), The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center in Troy (May 5), and New York’s Rubin Museum (May 6). For full details of dates and additional information: www.nikbaertsch.com