At WSJ on Nik Bartsch and Mobile

‘Continuum’ Reivew: An Album That’s Expansive and Expandable

The mesmerizing music of Nik Bärtsch and his Mobile ensemble is hard to label.

‘Continuum,’ by Nik Bärtsch and his Mobile ensemble, is out now. ENLARGE
‘Continuum,’ by Nik Bärtsch and his Mobile ensemble, is out now. Photo: Christian Senti

The mesmerizing music of Nik Bärtsch and his Mobile ensemble is hard to label, but it may appeal to the constituencies of many contrasting styles. The repetitive nature of his

grooves evokes the work of minimalist composers like Phillip Glass, Steve Reich and Terry Riley. The tonalities and rhythms are reminiscent of Balinese gamelan music and traditional West African percussion ensembles. The rhythmic focal point resembles an acoustic form of such contemporary dance music styles as trance and techno. The easygoing grooves suggest a commonality with jam bands. And Mobile sounds like a more austere version of Mr. Bärtsch’s other band, Ronin, which has toured the U.S. in recent years.

Mr. Bärtsch, who is 44 years old, was born and is based in Zurich. He calls his amalgam “ritual music” and cites the 1968 György Ligeti composition “Continuum for the Harpsichord” as a cornerstone influence. He formed Mobile in 1997 and put together marathon performances that often included video arts, lighting design, and even swordsmanship. (Asian battle techniques are a fascination of Bärtsch; Ronin derives its name from freelance samurai.) Some Mobile performances lasted up to 36 hours; the eight compositions on the ensemble’s new recording, “Continuum” (ECM), last only 68 minutes, but it’s not hard to see how they could be expanded into much lengthier experiences.

Mobile—which features Mr. Bärtsch on piano; Sha on bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet; and two percussionists, Kaspar Rast and Nicolas Stocker—makes captivating

sounds from gently repetitive figures. “Continuum” begins with “Modul 29_14,” a piece that starts with gentle, stately chords from Mr. Bärtsch’s piano that are accented with bass drum beats and then a triangle, before it opens into a full ensemble performance with Sha’s reedwork providing a bass line as the others form complex melodies. Then the ensemble sections alternate with piano-triangle duets as the piece winds down.

Another highlight is “Modul 5,” which features stellar, up-tempo piano from Mr. Bärtsch subtly accented with small percussion instruments and bass clarinet murmurs. The piece moves from furious, strident chords to smoother resolves. Several tracks feature what Mr. Bärtsch calls “Extended Mobile,” in which the quartet is joined by violinists Etienne Abelin and Ola Sendecki, violist David Schnee, and cellists Solme Hong and Ambrosius Huber. On these pieces the mood is stately, but the music remains focused on short figures that are repeated and develop from simple chords into fascinating, elaborate statements.

Mobile is touring the U.S. for the first time, with stops this week in New York City and Troy, N.Y. Mr. Bärtsch has built a devoted following for Ronin; Mobile’s distinctive fusion of disparate genres should receive a similar reception from a diverse crowd.

Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.



About jmartin437

I've worked in and around the world of high end cheese for 27 years. I've been everything from a department manager who hired and fired and trained staffs to a weekend warrior who shows up ties on an apron the middle of a rush and talks to customers and cleans up the place. I enjoy it all, and I especially like my current situation conducting informal seminars about cheese at area bars and in class at the 92nd St. Y. The current schedule is always up at In addition I conduct private events that are perfect to lead off birthday parties for foodies and sommeliers and also they make great entertainment for corporate team building events and associates meetings at law firms. In addition, I've been a freelance journalist for 27 years. Currently my profiles of leading musicians and filmmakers appear in the Wall Street Journal and I also wrote about sports for the Root, and for five loooong years, which included the entirety of the Isiah Thomas Knicks era, I wrote about the NBA for the New York Sun. I enjoyed writing about basketball so much that I now do it here at rotations for free.
This entry was posted in Archives, Arts, Music, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s