I think it's only fair to begin my little series about music and musicians who influenced me on my own journey with one of the people who got me started to think about music and it's creation in the first place. For me Karl Bartos is one of the Big Ones, and I believe it's safe to say that he is amongst THE most important influences for my own music.
You see... A loooong time ago, in 1978 or so (wavy lines, harp music), when I was still a wee little German and actually HAD to wear Lederhosen in the summer, there was a new movie coming up. I knew little about it, only that it was awesome and my friends later had all the toys. I myself wasn't allowed to see it, my parents thought it was too violent for poor little me.
But I knew all the pictures from the magazines lying around in the barber's shop, and one especially stuck to my seven year old mind like it belonged there (and the fact that in my search for it it was THE FIRST that came up tells me I'm not alone): A publicity shot with two of the movie's main characters in a desert, one tall, slimm and and golden, the other one rather small and stubby on three legs.
At about the same time a new record was out, and one of the tracks was played on our radio station, SWF3, quite often. It sounded like nothing else on the radio sounded, period. And it was sung by RRRROBOTSSS! How cool is that! (Ladies, if you can't really understand this, let me explain: I was a little boy and there were ROBOOOOOOTS! Understood? Really simple psychology.).
Something went just *click* in my head, I guess.
Karl, the second guy on the left, was a member of Kraftwerk, arguably the most influencial band ever to come from Germany. If you like electronic music it is very likely that you know them. If you *don't* like electronic music you might know them too. If you do like electronic music and are interested in history a little bit and you DON'T know about them be ashamed of yourself!
To make it (way to) short: While not being the first ones to use synthesizers and to "invent electronic music" (as you can sometimes read on some 14 year old kid's webpage nowadays), they defenitely were the first in a very speciffic way:
Before KW synthesizers allmost exclusively were used in an experimental environment, but suddenly *they* had tunes with a melody you can whistle, lyrics you can sing along to. It's hard to believe that noone else did it earlier, but I think THAT is what actually made them so special and for quite some time unique. Electronic Pop.
What can I say, since that time I am a sucker for Science Fiction and electronic music... A few years later the record with that tune, Kraftwerk's "Die Mensch Maschine" was the first record I EVER bought from my own pocket money. Then the Computerworld and then some of the older ones... Well, Kraftwerk became my favourite group, and under all my favourite tracks it says "co authored by Karl Bartos".
It was, when Karl left the group in 1993 and started his own career that I started to wonder about the "co"...
While KW kept quiet for many years Karl started a new group, Electric Music, and published the album "Esperanto" in 1992 - the above tune TV can be found on it, to this day it's my favourite electro pop tune. For most listeners the record is a clear continuation of the "old line", both in music and in theme: the lyrics are about the now "classic" themes of language, communication and man-machine interaction (the last being represented by "Kissing the Machine" with guest singer OMD's Andrew McCluskey!).
But I think there's something more there, an added sense of humor and a little irony perhaps. Don't get me wrong here, there's no big jokes on there, but I feel that some things on this record were done with a little smirk on Karl's face.
The "Peng" and "Zisch" samples in "Crosstalk", the useage of the language Esperanto (a made up language that was intended to be easy to lean for everyone in Europe and maybe become a universal language - a nice idea but it never really got off the ground) for the album's slogan "Esperanto musico la lingo futuro" -- (with the promo CD I own came a little Esperanto booklet - if I'm not mistaken this translates as something like "Hope: Music - Language of the Future") to the line from "TV": "Electric church - comedy"...
And then there is the infamous "Baby Come Back" - coverversion, to be found on the "Crosstalk"-single-CD. It's a reggae song, sung by a computer voice. The people I know who love Reggae all *hate* it, and I can't help but feel that this might be half intended... ;)
Karl also started producing other bands and writing music for projects other than his own. Cooperations include Electronic, OMD, Information Society, The Mobile Homes, Flatz (for whom he basically wrote the complete "Sex and Violence" album) and Anthony Rother (LCP anyone?). It became obvious quite quickly that Karl didn't want to continue the KW tradition of being an "Untoucheable" anymore.
"Esperanto" defenitely was an electro pop record, so the second one published under "Electric Music" came as quite a surprise for many listeners: It is a *rock* album! While still being produced electronically (actually it took some time until I believed that) this album features tunes that sound as if the Beatles are still around!
After I digested the first little shock I had to admit that apart from coming from a direction I never would have expected the music itself is actually very good - summertime rock/pop, upbeat feelgood songs. My favourites are "Call On Me", "Sunshine" and of course "Young Urban Professional".
I have searched around on youtube, and simply can't find any of the tunes from the second Electric Music album there, but you can find a cover version of "Young Urban Professional" here on Karl's page and here's THE MOBILE HOMES from Sweden with their song "YOU MAKE THE SUN SHINE", written by Karl. The numbers on his record breathe the same atmosphere:
In 2003 Karl published "Communication" under his own name, returning to what many fans consider his roots once more. Back are the trademark twangy electronic sounds and the mellotron strings.
I have to admit it's a bit difficult to objectively describe the album for you, because I simply LOVE it. :) "Electronic Apeman" with it's lovely melody bit that somehow has me thinking of the Alps, "Ultraviolet" with it's C64-soundchip-like arpreggios, or the driving bassline of "The Message" (the tune at the start of this article). The whole thing once more has a well rounded off feeling to it, from the music to the cover art and the video to "The Message" with it's use of modern iconography to tell a story. Classy. ;)
Apart from producing, composing, texting and going on tours from time to time for some years now Herr Bartos has added even another activity to his busy schedule: In summer 2004 he started teaching at the Berlin University of the Arts (UdK Berlin) as a guest professor. His area is Auditory Media Design in a newly-developed course entitled “Sound Studies – Acoustic Communication”. Also right now Karl is writing on his autobiography, a book I'm looking forward to a lot. :)
To learn (much) more about the music and the other activities of Karl Bartos simply visit his homepage: karlbartos.com - it's of course *the* best source for information. :)
To end this article I started writing so long ago (back in february - laaazy) and to somehow close the circle here's the opening credits of the documentatry "Moebius Redux - a life in Pictures" (2006) about the famous french comic artist. The soundtrack was written by Karl Bartos and the intro is a retake on "The Message":