Nik Bärtsch's Mobile: Continuum

Pianist Nik Bärtsch returns to the group he helmed before signing to ECM, assembling an album that will move your toes as it stirs your head.

Nik Bärtsch's Mobile


Label: ECM
US Release Date: 2016-04-22
UK Release Date: 2016-03-04
Label website
Artist website

After a successful run with his band Ronin, Swiss pianist and composer Nik Bärtsch has decided to reunite his Mobile ensemble. On paper, Mobile looks like a modern jazz outfit -- Bärtsch himself on piano, Sha on the bass and contrabass clarinets, Nicolas Stocker on auxiliary/tuned percussion, and Kaspar Rast on drums. But if you have followed Bärtsch's career for any given length of time, you are already aware that Nik Bärtsch isn't exactly a jazz musician.

His ensembles incorporate jazz elements into their performance, but his initial compositions glide on conventional scales and modes. You can't call it neo-classical because Mobile likes to get funky with their beat from time to time. That can lead to something far more post-rock than something that swings. You just end up chasing your tail when trying to nail a convenient genre label to Bärtsch's style, so you might as well just dive headfirst into Continuum, the pianist's first album with Mobile in over ten years.

Continuum is more of an expansion for Mobile than a reunion. Nicolas Stocker is the new kid on the block, joining the band after attending numerous Ronin performances. Three of the tracks feature a string section with Etienne Abelin and Ola Sendecki on violin, David Schnee on viola, and Ambrosius Huber and Solme Hong on cello. On top of that, Continuum features new arrangements of older Bärtsch compositions. When you add it all up, it's the sound equivalent of a beam of light hitting a spectrum -- it was the same light as before, but here more colors come out to play.

Continuum is a long album. With only eight tracks, it lasts well over an hour. With one exception, every "Modul" hovers around an eight- to ten-minute length. Considering Bärtsch's rhythmic approach to composition and the fact that Mobile has two percussionists, many of the tracks are driven by deeply entrenched grooves.

One particularly unique beat, the one that keeps "Modul 4" chugging, is spiced by Sha's playing more than Rast's or Stocker's. Spa produces a syncopated tone so low on his clarinet's scale that it might as well be another percussion instrument. Then you have "Modul 18", a melancholy work that could pass for acoustic trip-hop, thanks to the string quintet.

Yet "Modul 60" somehow manages to outdo it in the dramatic department. The strings keep up the same sighing figure through a variety of slow, minor key figures, as if it were hesitant to ever resolve itself. When "Modul 8-11" arrives at the end, it's just the right mix of mystery and funk with Stocker happily bonking away on his piece of whatever it is he's hitting at the moment.

"Modul 8-11" doesn't retroactively alter the entire album's tone. While their playing can be every bit as spritely as Ronin, Continuum captures Mobile in a low, pensive light. This isn't to say that the music isn't as successful overall, it's just that establishing a warm sense of intimacy with it is going to take a little work on your part.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.