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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 concerned.

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 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 artwork?

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 expeditions.

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 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 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 listening!

Jim Bartz

Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2013
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1 comment:

Christer Andersson said...

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