Preview: Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin, House of Switzerland, 8th of August 2012

Preview: Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin
(House of Switzerland, August 8th, 2012, Preview by Rob Edgar)

On 8th August Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin will play at the House of Switzerland as part of the Zurich Sounds Festival which aims to showcase in London eight contrasting music groups from Zurich. It’s a free gig

Nik Bärtsch, the pianist and composer for the group, studied music in the Musickhochschule and Philosophy, Linguistics and Musicology at the University of Zurich. As a child he studied both piano and percussion. Sebastian interviewed him in 2010.

Sha plays the Bass Clarinet and Saxophones. He also has his own band Sha’s Feckel

Andi Pupato studied percussion in Zurich, Cuba and Senegal where he was schooled in traditional African Rhythms.

Kaspar Rast has been playing the drums since the age of 6 and, interestingly, was educated as a luthier. Bärtsch and Rast have known each other since they were nine-year-olds

Thomy Jordi is a new addition to the group replacing the original bassist Björn Meyer after he left the group in 2011

The group (who have produced three albums on the ECM label) are unique in their style of crafting unusual and often disparate rhythmic devices into a single entity. Their harmonic language is fairly straightforward but their riffs and themes are relentlessly repeated in a rhythmically syncopated way, giving rise to a hypnotic trance-like state.

Bärtsch’s music features a mixture of improvisation and strict composition. Influenced by architecture and space, the music is in a continuous flux. It interlocks and then comes apart before weaving it’s way back together again. In this sense it reflects cities or a living body. Bärtsch himself describes the band as becoming a singular organism and in the way that “It moves forwards and transforms through…micro-interplay…the listeners attention is directed towards minimal variation and phrasing.”

This tendency towards reduction has been getting ever more present in the group. Tracing a timeline from their first album on ECM Stoa (released 2006) to their most recent Llyrìa (released 2010), it becomes apparent that the music has become even more minimal in terms of harmony, and much less rigid, whilst still retaining the elements of hypnotism and ritual that they are famous for.

One of the best things about Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin is that they can be played as pleasant background music, but when listened to carefully the music reveals previously hidden layers and textures that are endlessly satisfying. Less really is more.

I have heard them once before in a seated venue where the audience’s attention was held completely, but, have heard on good authority that they are equally brilliant in a gig-situation as this will be.

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