Music Review: Continuum

Spirituality & Health Magazine
reviewed by John Malkin

Nik Bärtsch

Looking for a deep sensory experience? Hang out inside Continuum, the new album from Nik Bärtsch and his Mobile ensemble. This is 21st-century Zen-Funk Ritual Jazz that expands on the world’s great traditions of interlocking-rhythm music from Balinese Gamelan and African drumming to NYC’s Steve Reich. Be aware: Listening to Bärtsch may slow down time, alter consciousness, and inspire ecstatic body-mind experiences. In a word, Continuum is magical.

“I was always interested in repetition as a musical strategy, finding it not only in tribal and spiritual ritual music, but also in Bach,” the 44-year-old Swiss keyboardist/composer told S&H. “Even as we are Tribalists, we are also scientists of groove.”

Bärtsch and his ensemble of Nicolas Stocker (drums), Kaspar Rast (percussion), and Sha (clarinet) create music that is precise and passionate. “Clear structure is needed in meditation and martial arts training and then you finally move very free and natural—but it’s a long process,” Bärtsch said. “It is one side of spirituality that I like very much. In the context of ecstatic ritual music, we sometimes underestimate this aspect of ecstasy going somewhere.”

New for this Bärtsch recording is a string section that adds a melancholy layer on “Modul 60” while on “Modul 7” the effect is sanguine. Bärtsch cites Stravinsky as an influence as well as György Ligeti, whose 1968 “Continuum for Harpsichord” inspired the title for this 11th album from Bärtsch.

“We often think the music of African spiritual rituals is wild. But they organize it very well,” explains Bärtsch. “For example, the guy who gets into ecstasy has a little towel that is a sign. Everybody is dancing and drumming but only the guy who has the towel goes nuts. Imagine if three or four people go nuts; then there’s chaos! Organizing music in terms of ecstasy through asceticism is a very basic way of forming communities.”

If you can’t make it to Zurich, where Bärtsch leads marathon 36-hour concerts and Monday night “Music Dojo,” you can catch him on tour in Brussels (Sept. 10—Minimal Music Festival) or Budapest (October 11).

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