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 Karl Bartos, Photos by Marion von der Mehden, Hamburg, 2003
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2013-03-25

GQ / UK

OHM IS WHERE THE HEART IS: KARL BARTOS ON LIFE POST KRAFTWERK
By Lee Gale

(...) It's staggering that a man of Karl Bartos' standing, whose contribution to modern music is up there with Paul McCartney, David Bowie, James Brown and Bob Marley, can walk along a busy London thoroughfare and not be recognised.(...)
(...) This evening, Bartos, now aged 60, is dressed in black, the classic uniform of a scene-shifter. He's sitting patiently in the foyer of a Hyde Park hotel, completely unnoticed by the passing guests whose musical tastes are seemingly directed by Louis Walsh, Gary Barlow and Dappy's cousin Tulisa. Bartos has a new album out now, Off The Record, not so much a "greatest hits" - that would be too simple - but a musical autobiography. (...)

(...) I've enjoyed reading your notes that accompany your new album. Do you write often?

That's good. I learnt the skill at the university. I got the call from the University of the Arts in Berlin in 2004. I was a professor for five years. It took a lot of my energy, and I learnt a lot, I must say, while I was there. If you have students, the first thing you tell them is, "Write down your thoughts." (...) So I said to myself when putting the album together, "I'll make it clear, so I'll write an abstract [booklet] as well, and open up and reveal my sources." (...)

(...) When you write, you have a decent turn of phrase. Have you ever considered writing an autobiography or a music history?

I'm not a writer.

[Excerpt from the album booklet: "11. Silence: Don't worry, I'm not about to write about silence. An infinite number of brilliant thoughts have already been formulated on this topic and it would be superfluous to attempt to add to or reproduce them here. Six seconds of silence - which, in reality, are not silence but ambient sound - provide a necessary division or distance before the final track of the album. This final track may not sit so well in the running order, but as an important element of my sonic biography, this is the place where it belongs. Still, you do find yourself wondering about silence sometimes, though, don't you?"]

You see, you're very good.

I don't know, well, you should read it in German. It's a translation. We worked very hard on the translation. (...)

(...) The cover of The Man-Machine was such a strong statement, though. That's why people remember it.

Yes, of course. I wouldn't say I'm proud of it, but it's part of my life, part of my career within Kraftwerk. And I was a musician before Kraftwerk. I was really accomplished when I joined the group. I could already compose songs. It's 20 years since I left the group, so now is a good time to talk about my position. I never did it before.

(...) Did Johnny (Marr) know that you had an interest in guitar music?

The funny thing was, I went to Manchester, so I was at Johnny's house and I grabbed the guitar. That blows their mind. They didn't know that I could play. It broke the ice. They wanted me to contribute some strange, crazy electronic percussion. We ended up with Bernard or Johnny doing the percussion, I had the some of the melodies and chords, and I even brought some lyrics in, which I'm really, really proud of. So the "Time Can Tell" chorus, I wrote that.

(...) Bernard (Sumner) told me a while ago that he'd like to record a version of your fantastic 2003 track "Life".

Well, I wrote it with Bernard in mind. It's a Bernard track.

(...) Are you one of these artists that works through the night or do you maintain a nine-to-five routine?

Normally, what I do in the morning is I go to the river for 90 minutes. This is my meditation. No matter, rain or shine, I go there. Do you know Hamburg? It's a harbour, so you see big ships. Queen Mary 2 comes in now and then.

(...) You haven't always lived in Hamburg.

I'm from Dusseldorf, but I was born in the Alps, in Bavaria. So my day is really structured. I work from 1pm-8pm, then have dinner, then I watch television or the chimney or whatever. The best time for me is the afternoon. I reserve the morning for communication, emails and stuff like that. When I enter the studio, it's like I enter a timeless zone. It's like when I was a boy and I was alone with my cars. It's good to close the door, away from the parents. I get that feeling in the studio. It's a timeless zone, which is funny to say, because music is all about the articulation of time. (...)

(...) Do you ever go back to Dusseldorf?

Every now and then. I was in Dusseldorf two years ago and met Florian at the Kling Klang Studio. He knocked on the window of my car: "Hey Karl, I've just left the band." "Oh, congratulations." It was a really funny situation. He looked happy again. You know, it's not fun being a robot all your life. (...)


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