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Nik Bartsch: Rhythmically Dancing Around Fugato Fires

By Published: December 6, 2010
AAJ: The playing of percussionist Andi Pupato is amazingly subtle and his contribution to the micro-phrasing is ever so deft, and this is all the more striking given his background in Afro-Cuban, African and flamenco music. Do you compose all of his parts on Llyrìa?

NB: We have published a score, which can be bought as hardcover or as a PDF file, where you can hear what was written and what was not. Andi usually has the most freedom of all, but there are a lot of precise, written rhythm parts as well because they interlock with the drums and the bass lines. I understand percussion as a sounding and resonating instrument in terms of instrumentation—that's when we combine bells or certain metal percussion or wood percussion. And there is a certain combination of notes that I try to combine with prepared piano, piano, bass clarinet or drums, so the patterns created make sense not only rhythmically but also make sense resonating.

Often Andi has the function of like when the wind blows through a tree; his way of giving wind into the space creates a certain hue and understanding of the movement of the whole. It's a balance of free parts and written parts. I write for him as a person because I think that's his strength. With all his background that you mentioned, he can play neutral percussion. When he plays a pattern you don't think, "Oh, he's a Cuban- influenced percussionist or from a certain African tradition," but he can play shakers and patterns that have a neutral way of sounding, and it fits in very well with our music. When you give him the freedom to make sounds, he's able to do so in a compositionally oriented way. When you listen, you are not sure if it is composed or free, and that's our intention in general.

We move in the triangle of interpretation, improvisation and composition, and people listening from outside don't know where we are, exactly. For me, as a composer, the tension in modern classical music, jazz, groove music and maybe ritualistic world music should have a module of freedom in the music but have a composition-oriented system at the core.

AAJ: The reed player Sha started off playing contrabass and bass clarinet on Stoa but there seems to be quite a shift towards an emphasis on alto. Could you explain how his role has changed in the band?

NB: Personally, I very much like the bass clarinet because of its tenor and bass register, and when you have melodies they have a certain warmth. It combines in a very interesting way with the piano. He fits very well into the band. He works very hard on all his skills and developed the alto saxophone in an interesting direction. I like to use the alto saxophone a bit more in combination with the piano to try to develop new sound possibilities. He developed very fast on the alto saxophone, and it is important that he is challenged to use it, then. It's a bit both my development but it's also his development, and of course when we work as a group on the pieces in rehearsals, the ideas of the players maybe also influence how we re-orchestrate a piece. And so it came much more in the direction of the alto saxophone.

On this record you have no contrabass clarinet, but it has not disappeared. I still like it very much. It simply made no sense to use the bass clarinet, because the music sounded better. However, the deepness and power of contrabass clarinet and bass clarinet is still very important and present, and it will stay.

AAJ: The Fender Rhodes which played such a lovely role on Stoa has gone. Does that mean that your concept of Ronin's music is more acoustic?

NB: It would not be honest to call the music purely acoustic music because we have an electric bass and we have amplification and we work with a lot of techniques in the studio. But the idea is that the resonances are very important, especially for the records, so that we tried to go in this direction to play acoustic. But live, I always have the Rhodes with me, depending on where we are, and I still work every Monday with the Rhodes in the club and I like it. The Rhodes gives a certain interesting aspect because I mistune it a bit in the upper regions so I have interesting combination possibilities with percussion and certain gongs. It is still for me a very important and inspiring instrument.

We just try to minimize and focus on a clear concept for a record, and it turned out that this time the Rhodes did not make sense.

AAJ: How much of your composition stems from the drums, which you also play, and how much from the piano?

NB: The piano is my first instrument and inspires me very much, and I often distill drum grooves out of certain piano treatments. I do not have a drum set at home anymore, but I work a lot with body percussion in my workshops to develop an independence of rhythms in your own body. Martial arts movements and also sports movements inspire me very much for pieces. But the piano is, in a way, a percussive instrument. It's the drums, in a way; with your fingers, you have 10 sticks. If it's playable for me, then for Kasper usually it's playable. I'm an amateur drummer, but I feel if a groove has the potential to move in a bodily way, in an understandable way so that you can move with the groove.

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