An accordion is not the most eagerly sought instrument for the contemporary music, but one of the artists of the 23rd event of the SOUND UP festival, the Swiss composer Mario Batkovic, proves that in skillful hands its resources are practically limitless. Performing solo, and declaratively using no electronic accessories, he puts the audience into a state of trance with his fanciful instrumental pieces that echo a great variety of musical styles, from the academic minimalism to punk rock. Batkovic’s accordion resembles not a handmade device for extracting sounds, but a living creature, with the irregular breathing of its bellows, the heartbeat of the bass notes, and the tender, fragile voice of the principal melodies, which, at times, is raised to a shouting pitch.
Batkovic was born in Bosnia, but he studied first at the Hannover University of Music, Theater and Media, and then at the Basel Academy of Music, which he graduated as the Master of Arts in Chamber Music Improvisation. Despite his academic training, he quickly realized that the world of academic music is too confining for him, and went rogue: he performed in rock bands, wrote soundtracks to movie shorts and computer games, all the while perfecting his personal inimitable style. He combines the repetitiveness of the minimalists in the spirit of Michael Nyman or Philip Glass with the striking dynamic contrasts and powerful performative expressiveness: at times, it is hard to comprehend how his instrument survives the various torments, to which it’s subjected both on stage and in the studio.
In 2015, Mario Batkovic was noticed by Geoff Barrow, whose principal claim to fame is his leadership in the classic trip hop project Portishead. First, the accordion player went on a tour with the neopsychodelic band Beak, led by Barrow, and then signed a contract with his label Invada Records. Two years later, the label released Batkovic’s album titled simply Mario Batkovic. The name seems to hint that at the moment, this is the artist’s magnum opus, the recording that opens a new page in his creative history. The record presents a number of spirit-lifting neoclassical compositions, but there are also some energetic rock performances where the single accordion successfully supplants a whole electric power trio. The Rolling Stone magazine put the record on its list of Top 10 avantgarde albums of 2017, while the geography of Batkovic’s concerts was expanded to Great Britain, Netherlands, South Africa, and now, Russia.
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