Review: Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin

Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin
(ICA, March 12th, 2010, photo credit: Mike Stemberg)

“Ronin. That won’t be your kind of thing at all, Seb” said a friend. Well, I survived a first hurdle. Interviewing Nik Bärtsch last month proved a really enjoyable experience. He’s a fascinating man. But now it gets further from the comfort zone. Should I really still be venturing into pitch-dark venues with a light show where they hand-stamp you? At an age when the expression “hip joint” refers to something which might hurt at any minute? Surely all such attempts to fly in the face of nature must be doomed?

I very much enjoyed this gig. It’s music which can be enjoyed on many levels. The rhythmic life and punch is exciting, invigorating. It’s physical music which needs to be moved to. But I also found my head was also fully engaged.

One of Bärtsch’s ideas from our conversation, which never made it into the write-up of the interview kept coming back to me as I listened. In Bärtsch’s compositions, and in the collective act of performance by the band, he had told me, there is a journey, travel. The band must collectively end up in a different place from the start.

Given Bärtsch’s parents’ background in the visual arts, it’s a key idea. The creation of a work in performance is like the filling of a canvas. It starts blank, every brushstroke makes a difference. There is always a lot going on, but the texture doesn’t get crowded. There is forward momentum, of games of follow-the leader, of exuberance and sheer energy. The lighting which is part of the choreography, or what Bärtsch calls the dramaturgy of each piece. Ivan Hewett says there isn’t much “by way of harmonic movement.” Ivan’s right – when isn’t he?- but to me there is never any kind of stasis either. That constant principle of onward movement, that assertion of changing colours, of rhythms, of urgency, of exuberance developing out of calm is something worth venturing into dark places for.

And Ronin also has one of my favourite creatures in all the bestiary of music: in Björn Meyer on six stringed electric bass.. Ronin has a smiling, genuinely happy bassist (above).

Categories: miscellaneous

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