Mario Batkovic: pushing into uncharted territory

2022 «Get Going!» Portrait Series  

Mario Batkovic ⎪ Photo ⓒRob Lewis

Composer and multi-instrumentalist Mario Batkovic is also a sound researcher/juggler and inventor. Tracking down unheard sounds takes time – lots of time. That’s partly why FONDATION SUISA has awarded him a «Get Going!» grant.

“Self-evidently,” says Mario Batkovic, “the accordion is not an instrument for the big stage. But with that,” he smiles, pointing to a homemade amplifier, “it works really well.” Bathed in the radiance of its creator, his sanctuary at the PROGR in Bern quakes, leaving the listener with goose bumps. But that’s by no means all his studio-cum-workshop has to offer. Alongside a corner full of recording equipment, it contains pretty much anything capable of generating a sound, including a prepared piano and an electric toothbrush for coaxing sounds from cymbals. Batkovic talks enthusiastically about his instruments, which he constantly tinkers with to make sounds – “Sounds, which,” he says, “are all already there. If you handle them tenderly, they’ll appear.” Music, he continues, cannot be reinvented. “But one can try to create new things with what exists.” Batkovic describes himself as a professional fantasist. “I try to make tangible what’s in my head.”

Batkovic was born in Bosnia, where he lived until the turmoil in the Balkans brought the family to Switzerland. He was eleven at the time. Even in his former homeland, he constantly had sounds in his head. Back then, they were rendered audible by an accordion. “The accordion was an alternative to the consumer society: it was a jukebox, a DJ and a solo entertainer all in one.” Hence the reason for Batkovic remaining true to the accordion all this time. “Or rather,” he remarks, “the accordion has remained true to me.”

Batkovic’s relationship with his sounds, with his instruments, illustrates the humility with which he approaches music. His insistence on integrity regarding the sounds he makes is so strict that he undergoes a process of suffering faced with anything that’s new. “It’s not called passion for nothing,” he smiles.

He studied at the Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media and at the Musik Akademie Basel. Batkovic says he often felt something of an outsider at these renowned universities – and still feels that way in the Bernese scene, as his musical trajectory defies pigeonholing. He does punk, he does poetry, he does ambient, noise, metal and sacred music. It’s not that he doesn’t identify musically with any single one of these genres – rather, he does so with all of them at the same time. May 2024 will find him performing new works with the Bern Symphony Orchestra. Because of his breadth of vision, international media such as Rolling Stone see him in the vanguard of avant-gardism. He composes film music, releases solo albums on an independent British label, and writes music for orchestras, video games and bands such as Stiller Has. That said: when, where, how and for what the music is created is ultimately irrelevant. It’s part of a larger whole, the offerings of a professional fantasist – an obsessive who makes the inaudible audible and who says of himself: “I don’t try to find myself through music; instead, I try not to lose myself in it.” 

“But,” adds Batkovic, “people often forget that every new project involves a huge amount of time.” Time is the most valuable commodity for researchers like him navigating uncharted terrain. He’s delighted to have received two completely unconnected grants: the “Get Going!” grant from FONDATION SUISA and the Swiss Music Prize.

A man with an accordion in the midst of a 21st century immersed in technology – given the times we live in, could it be that contemporary art isn’t yet ready to assimilate such an anachronism? “It could well be that there have always been people who are in the right place at the right time with the right instrument. That wasn’t how it happened in my case. I first had to create my world.” Batkovic says that his gratitude on receiving the FONDATION SUISA grant and Swiss Music Prize is keenly felt. 

He also prefers talking about others rather than himself: at the end of our conversation, he doesn’t miss the opportunity to wax lyrical about his greatest hero, the “anarchist” Ludwig van Beethoven, and his revolutionary piano sonatas: “It would take more than a lifetime to immerse oneself fully in these 32 masterful works of art.”

Rudolf Amstutz

arttv Portrait



«Get Going!» has existed as a FONDATION SUISA funding offer since 2018. With this new form of a grant, creative and artistic processes that do not fall within established categories are given a financial jump-start. At monthly intervals, we present the eight recipients of the 2022 «Get Going!» grant individually.