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Chosen One: Mario Batkovic

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Interview with Mario Batkovic.

“Being an Accordionist is something very natural to me, just like my origin or my skin colour. It’s a pure coincidence.”

—Mario Batkovic.

Words: Mark Carry

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The forthcoming debut solo full-length from gifted composer and accordionist Mario Batkovic – released on Geoff Barlow’s prestigious Invada Records later this March – is already destined to be 2017’s crowning sonic treasure. The Bosnian-born and Swiss-based musician has forged an utterly captivating and resolutely unique solo album, which, in turn, ceaselessly expands the possibilities of the accordion instrument.

One of the great hallmarks of Batkovic’s solo accordion music is the sheer intensity that is not only attained but held magnificently across an ocean of shape-shifting pulsating notes, engrossing melodies and deeply affecting human emotion subsequently emitted. Previously, the Bern-based musician has described his underlying creative process as “absolute submission to the sound.” It is precisely this – an artist‘s undying devotion – that lies at the heart of these nine groundbreaking compositions.

Album opener ‘Quatere’ is built upon a mesmerizing melodic pattern, which continually builds as a pulsating energy gradually surfaces like pores of Autumnal sunlight. An awe-inspiring and beautifully uplifting sonic exploration. A gripping intensity is attained on ‘Gravis’ where the depths of darkness is navigated: the range of timbres and textures is a joy to behold from the drone-infused world of repeatedly sprawling, sustained notes. Catharsis. A fitting parallel exists between Batkovic’s singular, captivating accordion-based compositions and fellow luminary Colin Stetson (and his similarly powerful saxophone explorations). A wall of immense, stunningly beautiful and empowering sounds.

The utterly timeless ‘Restrictus’ unleashes an unwavering beauty as several movements unfold an entire spectrum of mood, colour and feeling. The epic, tour-de-force ‘Inuente’ conveys the sheer power and glory of the composer’s capabilities to expand the possibilities of his chosen accordion instrument to its very outer limits. The fragile lament ‘Somnium’ brings this exceptional record to a fitting close. The illuminating horizon is soaked in radiant light. We, the listener need only rejoice in its infinite beauty.

‘Mario Batkovic’ is out now on Invada Records.

http://www.batkovic.com/
https://www.facebook.com/batkovic/

 

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Interview with Mario Batkovic.

Congratulations Mario on your utterly captivating and wholly unique debut solo album. Your solo accordion music elicits the rawest of human emotion where a striking narrative (and gripping intensity) is masterfully captured throughout this phenomenal solo record. Can you please talk me through the making of the new record and your memories of writing these compositions? It feels as if many of these accordion pieces were gradually blooming in your head for quite some time? 

Mario Batkovic: Thank you very much for your questions. They are interesting and reflect many of my own reflections. Many of your questions already express a wonderful picture. I will try to answer your questions as good as possible.

You’re right, it’s not just music that recently came into being. It existed not only in my head, but it was just not ripe for the stage. There were a lot of stumbling blocks. I couldn’t play my music but had to let her flow into my projects by the way. Unbelievable, but there was a kind of censorship. Only when all the requirements would conform, I released my music. Which demanded more of an art of Persuasion than the creating of art itself.

When it comes to recording these tracks, I can imagine were there technical difficulties when recording the solo accordion to tape? One of the great hallmarks of the album is just how intimate these recordings are – it’s as if you’re playing alone in the room with its listener – and your spellbinding performance and all the beautiful imperfections and human artefacts form the vital heart of these songs. Were there certain techniques or processes you feel you have developed that were critical processes to the recording of the album itself? 

MB: Beautiful how you put my music into words. Right, there were technical problems to handle. Since the recording of the Accordion is done in a wrong way. That’s why today we see a Musical picture of the Instrument that is only a remnant of how the Accordion really sounds. That’s why this Instrument has been pigeonholed so much it’s hard to take it out of this box. Every sound engineer keeps telling me he knows how the Accordion sounds. But that’s not true. They don’t because they are not Accordionists. My sound engineer and I collaborate in an extremely intense way. It’s a Duet. It took years until him and I realized how the Instrument works and how we can make it sound. Many people may know this but they don’t have the experience. I hope our technique is inspiring other artists and initializing my instrument to new possibilities. I was just not willing to record one single tone until we didn’t solve those technical problems.

The wide range of possibilities you generate from your chosen instrument is staggering, which is reminiscent of Colin Stetson’s saxophone and Lubomyr Melnyk’s piano music, kindred spirits in many ways. I would love for you to discuss your earliest musical memories and your first discovery of the accordion instrument. How soon would you realize just how important your chosen instrument would serve in your life, Mario?

Also, please discuss your musical path thus far – as a virtuoso accordion player – and the ways and approaches to which you have developed your unique, innovative and magnificent solo accordion music? As a debut solo LP, the music represents like a life’s work and so many of your life’s experience and musical journey is dotted all across these glorious nine compositions.

MB: Of course I was influenced by all the moving. That’s how I ended up in the situation of adapting in a new society. At the same time I had to adjust and remain true to myself. That was not always easy. But it finds its way into my music. I love all kinds of music just as I love all kinds of people, no matter which society they belong to. To exclude something would not suit my philosophy of life. Only the music created of greed doesn’t interest me. But after all that’s not true music. This opinion was sometimes hard to get along with.

Every society has its vogue, its trends. So I tried to find a merge of the sweet with the bitter. To listen between the lines and to get an own impression of things. That’s why I don’t like it too much when I’m compared to other musicians. I’m an original, just as you are an original. There’s everyone of us just once on this planet. And my music reflects me. It’s a mix of baroque, contemporary, kitsch, obscure, deep, sweet, sad. Just what life is all made of.

Being an Accordionist is something very natural to me, just like my origin or my skin colour. It’s a pure coincidence. I’m a musician in the first place, and then I am an Accordionist. There could have been a flute or a guitar. Now, for me, there was the Accordion.

‘Gravis’ is one of the album’s defining moments. The range of timbres and textures from the accordion instrument is a joy to behold. Can you talk me through the distinct movements crafted in this stunningly beautiful composition? The rise in this piece forms one of the most heavenly, enchanting sounds; an utterly timeless sound world of vast possibilities. Can you shed some light on your compositional approach, Mario and how it may vary between the various compositions? 

MB: Different from my other projects where I can listen to a composition in my head already like a radio song, the music I interpret myself is developing way different. First I have to take regard to the technical possibilities of playing the instrument, because I record it myself, not like when I compose film music and have other musicians playing the sound. The instrument can do a lot but also has its limits. First of all I have to subtract many components like playing techniques, sound techniques, bellows shake and so on, and then I can get started. Then I can start to thing freely. Then it comes to the philosophical part. Gravis is the picture of a huge ship, an animal, a being that fights for its last breath. It doesn’t give up until the very bitter ending. This fight consists of a high and a low C. That’s all. I try to breathe life into these two tones. And not more.

In terms of the arrangements, how does this particular point in the music-making process work for you? For instance, the cathartic, spellbinding ‘Restrictus’ conveys the sheer beauty of angelic tones and the intricate arrangements of the distinct sections contained within this gorgeous song cycle. What are your memories of writing ‘Restrictus’? Endless moments of sublime beauty ascends into one’s heart and mind here.

MB: Restrictus is a kind of friend to me. It’s a perfect match. I don’t think it’s very virtuosic but you need to have a sporty approach here. I feel very comfortable with this piece on stage. I’d say if I didn’t break it in the middle it was limited to a typical minimal composition. But Restrictus didn’t want this. It literally screamed: “Break me!”

Please bring me back to your formal musical education, Mario. Can you describe for me your learning whilst studying under Professor Elspeth Moser and your musical outlook and what musical voices you feel have shaped your music in the most profound way? 

MB: I have always been opposition. It was a kind of a guarantee to survive. I could and should never be like the others. Never! So my education was, like many things in my life, just a fight. At school I first had to learn the German language when we moved to Switzerland. At University in Germany then I’ve had a lack of scholastic knowledge because of the language barriers. So I had to develop a strategy. And this was to learn but don’t let yourself be bent. In Hannover I studied classical music, so I missed out the Rock ‘n’ Roll. And with my Rock Bands I missed the classical precision. With folk music I missed the seriousness. I always wanted to develop and connect everything. But that was not always easy.

An artist’s sheer devotion to one’s art and the sacrifice therein becomes the essence of your solo accordion music. What do you feel is your one musical philosophy that remains true for you? What are your hopes and ambitions for your next chapter? What are you most proud of about this triumphant debut record?

MB: I don’t feel pride but gratitude. I’m grateful for all the people who support me with all the passion, patience and a lot of work. At the same time I’m very grateful to be a musician. It is something positive, something with much love to put into the world. That’s also what I see when I look at the world today (so much horrible things), and music is the opposition!

Lastly, the epic tour-de-force ‘Inuente’ reflects the hypnotic quality of your playing. At times, the instrument undergoes various transformations, sounding like an organ  and synthesizer at various points. Can you shed some light on your mind – set when it comes to your solo live performance and indeed your mind – set for crafting such a monumental work as ‘Inuente’. I am curious whether improvisation plays a part in the writing/composing stage? I just love how the variations of a theme return throughout ‘Inuente’ and the many places that a single piece of music can take you.

MB: It flatters me that the audience does notice something this beautiful that has it’s origin in an undesirable side noise. With this composition improvisation didn’t matter too much although I have a Master of Arts in improvisation. So to say I’m a professional improvisator. But there also, the improvisation is not awarded so much but is of such an important value for us human beings. Improvisation is getting lost in all our over systemising and structuring. I’m convinced that we should listen more to our intuition and we should act more impulsively. Improvisation can only take place in the actual space and situation I’m in. Every time I play I have to get into it in a new room and a new sound. That’s what my music lives from.

Inuente is a song you can’t play everywhere in the same way, even if the compositional structure stays the same. My magical moment with Ineunte is the break. A precious thing nowadays. There are some long breaks but they are fully packed. Break doesn’t mean relaxation but highest tension! I need to build up for 10 minutes to reach a total break of 5 seconds. I love this magical moment with Ineunte when people can hear themselves or the ventilation or the birds or any other small noises. Ineunte takes them there. It’s a transporter to themselves.

‘Mario Batkovic’ is out now on Invada Records.

http://www.batkovic.com/
https://www.facebook.com/batkovic/

 

Written by admin

January 19, 2017 at 7:12 pm