Jim Bartz interview

October 19, 2013

Jim Bartz interview

Jim Bartz recorded, produced and released
an album called pictures of earth + space back in 1987. He was discovered and signed to Passport Records by Larry Fast of Peter Gabriel’s band and recorded at one of the worlds finest
studios. I randomly stumbled across this LP
and had no idea who he is. I checked his music and I found it really out there
and after trying to seek for some information I hardly found anything. But I
managed to find a contact. Jim was kind enough to reply and we did a nice
interview about his overlooked work. These days he has a website and is
currently working on something of a 40-string surround instrument he calls
StringStation. You can help him to realize his project and by visiting this link.
More about the project and also about making of pictures of earth + space in
the following interview.

Thanks a lot for agreeing to do this
interview. My first question is about your early influences. When were you
first involved with music?
As a carpet crawler, the stereo was love at
first listen … it lured me in front of the speakers and kept me calm and
groovin’ for hours… a very reasonably priced babysitter! Music has been on
the top of my mind ever since. It was also a revolution in the making… it was
during one of the most fantastic eras when creative freedom actually ruled the
world of music… The Doors, Hendrix, Beatles… I feel so lucky to have been
born right at that specific creative cusp and to have felt it so deeply. Some
sort of osmosis happened with the artistic freedom evolving all around me…. I
just had to join in!
I was three years old in 1966. I felt the
REVOLUTION that music was bringing on. It was also a momentous time in science
with Apollo missions flying above our heads. What an awesome creative
environment to be born into. The Beatles were raising the level of music to an
art form. I knew nothing about music but I could tell they were so far beyond
everyone else. I was truly inspired to the core!! Absolutely magical times!
The Beatles grabbed me first when they
actually stopped doing songs about teenage love and evolved music recordings
into vivid mind images with insight into existence. I wanted to know how is it
we are here… It was a profound form of communication, I was entangled!
Extreme audio possibilities were reaching unheard of heights with Hendrix’
studio explorations.That had me seeking out first generation Moody Blues, Yes,
Genesis, Zeppelin and all the other exploring artists who were on an distinct
original path.
It was so stimulating on every level… as
an older kid, everybody my age was into top ten pop exclusively… I felt great
joy in turning friends on to music they didn’t know existed…and then finding
that they loved it as much as I did! Originality and creative freedom was
KING!! There was a distinct energy to each band where they sounded so
completely different than what had come before. 
What a great feeling to be so mesmerized by truth and authentic art. It
was easy to tell the fake from real music as far as motivation to make it was
It peaked in 1973…a favorite year for the
album art form. Dozens of epic albums! Record labels run by actual music
fanatics encouraged music artists be free and explore their art …the music
that came together was exquisite and timeless.  Maybe everyone says that about the music era
they grew up in but it was so completely fresh sounding at the time…with new
instruments too… Very cool times! Long live ’73!
I still dream of new music enlightenment
coming from outside of industry. Industry did such a hatchet job to music…
they lost the reigns for only about a decade from ’66 to ’76 and have since had
them in an iron fist grip …much to the detriment of aspiring free thinking
musicians coming after. I feel a deep creative freedom sparking inside that has
been thwarted countless times by the greedy pimps of industry.
I know as a music producer how important it
is to allow artists the freedom to explore instead of just delivering product.
When music is made to make money it always bleaches the beauty from it.
Authentic music is wider, deeper and speaks to the spirit in ways that are
beyond any words to describe it. It stands the test of time and holds up
forever.  I’m so worn out by the endless
mock and roll and Kentucky fried music of industry concern… same old stuff
over and over… I hope the money whores lose their grip on what they have
desecrated into a very prostituted art form. Umm…excuse my blatant
discontent, It’s a jagged pill to swallow…to have watched music’s grace
crumble because of blatant greed. But it’s not just art and music
unfortunately. Here’s to better days!
I contacted you, because I wanted to
talk about your amazing album called pictures of earth + space. What can you
tell me about producing and recording this LP?
There were indeed great circumstances that
allowed these recordings to happen in such a beautiful way… sweet
synchronicities that happen when you follow fascinations. The short of it is…
after my rock band of five years deferred to become a Led Zep tribute to make
cash … I left to explore fascinations with guitar recording experiments. Mood
and atmosphere are what I love most about music, a sense of place and time. I’d
been recording solo guitar music since I was a kid and was always fantasizing
about getting into a high end recording studio. At twenty, I sold my Marshall
amp and went to Recording school. Within six months I was hired at Royal
Recorders in Lake Geneva WI – one of the best equipped recording studios in the
midwest. Things were going well!
Everything I did in life seemed to have led
me to that point! I started working on sessions as second engineer with Phil
Bonanno, the engineer who recorded Eye of the Tiger for the Rocky movie. I
worked with a lot of other independent engineer/producers on projects like
Cheap Trick, Survivor, Bon Jovi and bunches of other 80’s music that I was OK
with but really wasn’t all that attracted to as a music fan…. formula pop
music with big hair production has never attracted my ear musically but I
enjoyed the hi-tech sonic advances and exploring the 3D sonic power that could
be realized… that was the road I was on with my music.
The studio went through several management
shifts and went unbooked for weeks at a time. Those were the times I began my
own private sonic expeditions on chunks of spare two inch tape and then to
digital. I hooked up all the gear the studio had! I was inspired by guitarists
who made their instruments sound unlike anything else I’d heard… Like
Hendrix, Steve Hackett and even hometown hero Les Paul.
I got to know the studio equipment intimately
and filled every available user preset on the gear with programming of my own.
When I began recording my music six months after I was hired, I had a slew of
freaky audio effects tweaked and waiting as a starting point. When time
allowed, I hooked ALL the machines up until the patchbay looked like
dreadlocks! I set up intricate, expansive one-of-a-kind sound forays… I asked
the studio tech to build me a foot switch so I could get the tape machines to
go in and out of record while I was performing. I used my feet a lot during
those sessions. I lived in the studio… sleeping on the studio couch and
getting a momentum of audio alchemy that blew my mind! It was the ultimate
sonic laboratory… as I made the recordings, the room turned from a Neve console
to the worlds largest SSL recording desk at the time. You can check out some
pictures of the studio on my website. What an awesome space it was!
I spent hours tweaking unknown moods from
my guitar …and when I was finished, the music and sound that burst forth
simply split the sky open for me… I felt rushes of emotion from the new sound
and music that went so far beyond anything I could have imagined. It was in
that joyous moment of actual sonic discovery that the music just poured out
alongside the sonic discoveries and was recorded. I think the essence of
discovery is felt in the music captured… the awe and excitement of those magic
elusive moments get beautifully parlayed in the recording.
I was young and fearless enough to ignore
all the normal guidelines and make music that came from the depths of my
spirit, with no consideration if it fit some sort of format or what I had to do
to uncover it.
Truly a beautiful human moment of honest
creative freedom. I had left behind the confines of industry as a
engineer/producer and expressed an inner vision as loud and proud as I could…
how cool to be so young and bold and in a studio of such sonic power. I could
write a book about all the crazy crap that went on in the politics of the place
but I luckily remained insular in my own creative freedoms and nurtured them to
new heights. I feel fortunate to have found myself in that coveted engineer’s
chair along side all that excellent equipment! The album was truly a gift to me
and everyone sensitive to that extreme beauty and grace of 3D sound. It was a
rare event captured in a stunning technical detail!
How many pressings were made?
I remember talking with the folks at the
Audion label about there being 9,000 copies total made of vinyl, cass and CD…
and I’ve done a second pressing of 1000 on my own Imagineer A/V label of which
I have around 100 copies left hoping that it will find it’s way to those who
need it somehow… some sort of cosmic magnetics perhaps?
What can you tell me about the cover
I became friends with photographer Sandy
Ostroff who was putting together Royals studio brochure. It was a NASA photo we
found that Sandy brought to his friend in LA who had one of the high end
digital paint boxes of the day. They tweaked it up while listening to the song
roughs and it feels very synergistic. The title ‘Pictures of Earth & Space’
had been in my mind since I was 16… I knew that would be my first album
title. I read it in a Hendrix bio…he was talking esoteric things and it
always stuck in my mind as a great thematic scope for a music project and it
certainly matched my cosmic leanings.
The album has a lot of shimmering
swooping sounds I am fascinated by. I don’t think I’ve heard these keyboard
sounds anywhere else and would like to know if you developed these sounds?
Thanks for noticing! Yeah… I take a lot
of pride in creating all my own sounds from scratch using studio outboard
equipment and stringed instruments. Royal had all the best signal processing
gear available at the time with Lexicon, Eventide and AMS… and early on, as I
was assisting on others sessions, I was absorbing the manuals.  I was so intrigued by what could be
discovered. I would dream up and draw out signal flow charts of ways I wanted
to hook the gear up for certain effects. It always turned out better than I
ever thought it might… and when any chance came up that I could spend time in
there, I would light up every piece of equipment to hear what might evolve
sonically. The gleaming new sounds gave a real charge to my guitar playing and
that kept me exploring. It was one of the happiest times in my life… like
opening a treasure chest of glowing jewels. The song ‘Over Oceans’ was like a
gift from the cosmos… the sounds just streaming in from beyond… incredibly
visual music!
I used a stereo lefty Carvin guitar with an
MXR compressor and a Morley volume pedal as the feed into the array of studio
gear. After hours of tweaking dozens of processors patched in the gear chain…
I would fade the guitar signal up into it all. I was always completely floored
by the dimensional beauty that beamed out. I felt like I had discovered a new
Universe! The majority of sonics on the record that sound like they might be
synths are actually sounds created with my stringed instruments hooked into the
gear parade. I still get chills up the spine when I hear certain bits of the
audio magic that occurred… like sonic fractals billowing around and through
you! The dimensional sound made me feel a future sense somehow.. it made me
think of life beyond the right now and I really loved that! I like thinking of
a better future!
The otherworldly transport these kind of
new sounds bring still has me fascinated. There’s an immense depth of emotion
in there and after the first record was released on Larry Fast’s Audion label,
I was happy to discover that it brought that same kind of futuristic bliss to
others. It’s a rare epiphany of sound that I’m endlessly exploring within the
new stringed instruments I’m working on now.
I found really small amount of
information about your music. Did you record any other albums?
I signed a two record deal with
Audion/Passport but unfortunately three months into the release of P.O.E.A.S.
they lost out in a merger with a bigger label that left our label lost in
bankruptcy, so I never had the chance to make the second record in a timely fashion
as I was primed and eager to do. Shortly thereafter, I had to leave Royal after
drug infused new management took over and I found myself without a world class
studio as my main instrument anymore. Hard to fly without a plane!
Home recording technology was evolving
though and I found support to assemble a small mobile studio in Chicago where I
began to bring the new round of audio experiments and music out. I devised and
built my first new stringed instruments but it took a few years until technology
caught up and I could get eight tracks of digital audio at home and a range of
samplers to trigger my sounds.
It was a demoralizing time because industry
demanded that I just conform to what they felt they could sell… a tragic
scenario for free thinking artist types. I had pandered to them a bit to bring
out more melody but was rebuffed by the labels I shared it with… Where’s the
hit? …a very demoralizing time brought on by the good ol’ pimps of
industry… The main reason I feel passion for music recording is for the pure
art and human communique of it… I’ve always believed if you bring your art
out in an unmolested authentic way, it’s ability to speak and connect will be
innate and everlastingl … and it will connect.
Eventually I released the follow up to
P.O.E.A.S. called ‘Build Your Own Planet’ after leaving it set on the shelf
unfinished in my funk of industry discouragement. I eventually recovered my
creative freedoms again and then released somewhat in revolt a more adventurous
third recording called ‘Evolver’ Cosmic Guitar Experiments vol.1 …they were
released in signed limited editions that are sold out now. I hope someday to
release them digitally online but in a format that doesn’t destroy the flow of
the cross fading songs with clicks and pauses. Both of the recordings focused
the art of the album as a complete work to be heard from start to finish with
each song segueing evocatively into the next. You just can’t present it that
way in the new music media… I suggest all my music be heard in CD form so it
can be experienced as intended… uninterrupted and pause/click free.
You are a pro-recording
engineer/producer who designs surround sound music instruments. You are
constructing the first of it’s kind 40-string surround instrument called the
StringStation and I would like if you could tell us more about it?
The StringStation is really something else!
If you are familiar with my debut recordings and how I tweak sound from gear
via stringed instruments… the new StringStation instrument is actually a
‘Pictures Of Earth and Space’ machine. I discovered so many strange ways to
play stringed instruments to get unique sounds on those early sessions…
altering the sonic shadows and going over audio horizons… this new instrument
project simply birthed itself as I continually went on fascination fueled sonic
I always did overdubs on the albums as
separate events and then I wanted to combine super low note strings with ones
that were being tweaked through the gear to see how they might coexist… it
was magic at first listen! It started with a Chapman Stick and an eight-string
lap steel guitar laid out next to each other touching to let them crosstalk and
ring in sympathy. I had been scotch taping a slide bar on top of the lap steels
at certain octaves or seventh positions and really loved the dual sided stereo harmonic
resonance that it brought… it was incredibly evocative!
The central core of the StringStation is
set up that way with three eight string groups with movable slide bars under
the strings at detent positions… activated with software controlled electronics
accenting harmonics in new and unusual ways. There’s also the chapman stick as
thunder bass and a six string as melody that also feed processed harmonics into
the central strings. The instrument rings like an symphony of bells and with
the right tweaking dialed in, accents or diminishes overtones in fascinating
ways. The beauty of it is exquisite on so many levels but it is hard to
communicate it’s audacity without a working prototype built. I’m in Seattle now
to strum up support to build the software control that really gives the
instrument a rocket ride to infinity. It’s my intent to make an instrument that
strategically reacts to the sound it makes in precise controllable ways and
brings a natural 3D resonance that leads to a complete new pallet of sonics and
musical possibilities.
I remember free thinkers like Les Paul and
Jimi Hendrix and what they did to bring out something that simply didn’t exist
before they hauled it out of the woodshed. I’m very inspired by that concept! I
crave more of it!  I’ve been woodsheding
and developing performance skills and technical advances with it… safe to say
that I feel its going to light creative fires in everyone who gets near it. It
does that for me! I love to feel that kind of inspiration and want to expand
the expedition of what it means to engage art from so deep within… it’s a
long process to birth such a unique baby in a follow suit world but I know it
will be worth every moment of struggle when it’s complete. Extraordinary things
take extraordinary efforts… but the beauty of it I hope will stave off the
trauma of its birth. There are a multitude of other truly fantastic sonic
things it will do as well, I’m on path to finding a way to build the full
function software controlled prototype, hopefully without selling or losing my
soul! That’s a monumental task in itself and it’s not my forte as an artist but
I’m the only one who knows the real power of this machine so I have to keep on
path to get it there in order to share its majesty. There are performance
videos played on the current mock up model on my site www.stringstation.com
along with explanations of some of its otherworldly functions.

Do you plan to record some new albums or
are you fully busy with making StringStation?
It is my artistic intent and passionate
desire …even life long mission to create my next recordings with the finished
software controlled StringStation and introduce all this 3D sonic alchemy I’ve
been developing. I want to make an epic music statement that is sublime and
beautifully seductive in ways we didn’t know sonics could be. New sound and
music has such an exquisite power to inspire… The experiment here is to
create new sound with a new instrument and then allow the music to flow in that
moment and be captured… so it’s first appearance will become a recorded
document of a once in a world moment. I love music made like that..it just
feels organic and real …and the music and sound are so much more like a gift.
I also enjoy more conventional ways of composition where you work things out a
bit from a solid idea but I want to weave these differing energies together to
create a much bigger picture of what that elusive spark inspires. It will be
more beautiful than words can ever explain.
Thanks a lot for the interview! Would
you like to add something else, perhaps?
I would just like to Thank you for allowing
me to share these hopes and fascinations here with you! And for letting me vent
some frustrations too. I have a dream that music finds its way to a new
evolving state that is beyond industry and that reaches our cores again with
something more than just audio gum. I have a big dream for a big sound… with
all the science of dimension and all the dimension of science… Thanks for
Jim Bartz
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2013
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One Comment
  1. Christer Andersson

    Hi, i have you at my bloglist and would be glad if you an add my blog: http://dariuschrisgoes.blogspot.se/ //ChrisGoesRock

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