“In this, we are all really challenged as a community”

With the “Music for tomorrowˮ project, SUISA aims to support its members in these difficult times. We offer artists a platform where they can talk about their current situation while in lockdown and present one of their works. This week we present the Swiss pianist, composer and music producer Nik Bärtsch and his piece “Modul 5ˮ. In the interview, Nik talks about his everyday life in lockdown with his family and what he has in common with an Australian emergency doctor. Text by Nina Müller; video by Nik Bärtsch, complemented by Nina Müller

Nik Bärtsch (48) is a successful jazz pianist who lives with his family in Zurich. In addition to music, Zurich-born Bärtsch also studied philosophy, linguistics and musicology. It is therefore not surprising that music has a deeper meaning for him. On his website, he describes his music as follows: “A piece can be entered like a room, inhabited. Through obsessive turning moments, overlays of different meters and micro interplay, the music moves on and changes its states. Attention is drawn to the minimal variations and phrasing. The band thus becomes an integral organism – like an animal, a biotope, an urban space. Youʼre supposed to think with your ears and hands.ˮ

He lives this philosophy with his band Ronin and has already toured in Europe, Asia and the USA. With his formations Nik Bärtschʼs Ronin and Nik Bärtschʼs Mobile as well as solo, the musician has released more than thirteen sound recordings, which are performed at weekly performances as part of his concert series at the Zurich Club Exil. Since 2006, he has his own label “Ronin Rhythm Recordsˮ.

For “Music for Tomorrowˮ Nik Bärtsch performed the piece “Modul 5ˮ. He says with regards to the piece: “The piece consists of a small complex pattern in 6/4, which spreads over the whole piano in the course of the piece. I came across this pattern quite early in my musical development and it has accompanied me constantly over the years. Thus the piece, which was composed at an early age, experiences a constant evolution, as I do myself. We work together so to speak, so that our relationship becomes ever simpler, more direct and yet deeper and more mysterious – just as my wife and I shape our lives together.”

Nik, how does your working day as a composer look like during the corona pandemic?
Nik Bärtsch: I am a completely independent composer, pianist, bandleader, producer and publisher. So, at the moment, the only difference compared to the time before the virus is that I travel much less. All international concerts, productions and workshops have obviously been cancelled. I now have the same daily routine that I have at home between trips: I compose, practice, rehearse, organise and communicate alternately. In addition, I share family life with our children together with my wife, who is also very active in her job.
As usual, it requires a lot of love for life, discipline, structure, but also creativity and the desire for surprises.
Since we want to organise and maintain all this at a high level, it was not a big change for us. Our children are often at home and not in after-school care or anywhere else. We all do martial arts and therefore we also have the possibility to train together on the meadow in front of the house.
Our Monday concert series at the EXIL Club will continue for the time being as pure streaming (www.yourstage.live). So Monday remains the ritualized local concert day and the community and the different teams stay in constant contact.

What does this crisis mean for you personally?
Like all severe crises, it shows me exactly where I stand as an artist and human being and once again unconditionally demands my creativity, integrity and resilience.
But as a freelance musician this is often the normal state of affairs anyway. But the big question is: How do groups, ensembles, bands and concert venues survive the current change in the medium term? In this we are all really challenged as a community. The questions that do arise are actually rather useful: What does music mean to me as a professional? What does it mean to all of us? How do we pay for music and the services behind it? How do we sensibly link the value-appraisal chain with the value-creation chain?

How can the audience support you at the moment?
By rewarding my performance and ours: So by watching our paid streams and by consuming and distributing our music on all other media as well. And by learning exactly how music production and presentation works: How many people and their achievements are behind it, when a wonderful song helps me through the day.

Would it help if people on Spotify and Co. streamed more of your music?
The number of streams must be very high for this kind of payment to work. It still helps, though. Everything is connected and the more independent artists are heard and shared, the better. The local, authentic and special art and initiative ultimately feeds the global commercial development. We have noticed this everywhere on our tours around the world.

What do you think the current situation could bring with it?
I always try to deduce the positive in every situation and learn something. The current situation is once again fundamentally testing our prosperity, our security and thus our working methods. This is valuable. Only when we realise how vital music, its inspiring environment and its wonderful possibilities are, can we appreciate the professional handling of it. SUISA and, for example, the Association of Swiss Musicians communicate this very well. Every musician should do this just as passionately and professionally.

What do you want to give your fans to take away from this interview?
Be honest in your approach to music: Nobody simply takes home a loaf of bread at the bakery without paying.
So enjoy the music with the awareness that people have worked on it with love and unconditional devotion.
I recently received an email from an emergency doctor in Australia. He thanked me for the music. He tackles every challenge of the last few years – the floods, the bush fire and now the virus – by listening to one of my tracks in the morning and drinking a coffee with it. Then he would know why he was doing all this and would also be able to bear death, pain and danger. The music gives him strength to rescue, save and help people. I understood then that it is better to focus unconditionally on the music than to help out a little everywhere. In this case, the chain of inspiration works with precision: We both concentrate on the essentials. His integrity, talent and professionalism help me and vice versa. So we both help others again. Societal appreciation and value creation can only work together.

www.nikbaertsch.com

“Music for Tomorrow”
The Covid-19 crisis has hit SUISA’s members particularly hard. The main source of income for many composers and publishers has completely been lost: Performances of any kind have been prohibited by the Federal Government until further notice. In the coming weeks, we will be posting portraits of some of our members on the SUISAblog. They will tell us what moves them during the Covid-19 crisis, what their challenges are and what their working day currently looks like. The musicians also performed and filmed their own composition for the SUISAblog at home or in their studio. SUISA pays the musicians a fee for this campaign.
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