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Interviews: Thomas Barth

Interviews: Thomas Barth
June 2004
By: Lauren Jonik


To create is to dive through the wave of all that is timeless and to resurface distinctly in the present moment, clutching the pearl that represents our unique beauty for an instant in all of time. Through our creations we are changed, celebrated, redeemed and perhaps most significantly, set free--- and given the opportunity to offer the same to others. The music of Thomas Barth beautifully encompasses these simple and profound truths.

The discovery of his passions and talents came early in life for Thomas Barth. Born in Vienna, Austria, Barth found inspiration in the simplicity of nature and in pondering the larger mysteries. "I always wanted to find out what was behind things and how things work. In nature, I'm very interested how plants are, how frogs are. . . and why we are here," begins Barth. "I always would spend a lot of time reading. I'm doing basically everything I did as a child, just now on a different level--- I feel very blessed and privileged to be able to do that." Embarking upon his formal musical journey at the age of eight, Barth explains, "I found a wonderful piano teacher, Dr. Karl Schnurl, back in Austria, who would encourage me to improvise with him on two pianos before our lessons started, so that was the first approach when it came to creating. Other teachers, like Herbie Hancock, would come later on. But, I give a lot of credit to this piano teacher for not just supporting me in finding my way in music and giving me the tools--- all the technical, theoretical tools, harmony and how it all works together, and the insight about other composers like Beethoven and Bach, but for also encouraging me to do my own thing and to go my own way." It is this solid foundation in technical skill and a long-cultivated willingness to experiment that Barth continues to apply to his craft today.

In his performances, Barth exquisitely exhibits the ability to go within while expanding outwardly all in the space of a moment. "A performance is like a celebration where people get together and there's music to share. Music does something with the people and then, it creates something that wasn't there before. . . It's a very passionate thing to do to be on stage . . . It feels like a wave and the fun part is surfing on the wave." It is this awareness of the audience and the process of connecting with them that moves Barth. "I think when people are in the state of attentive listening, that's a wonderful sphere which one can sense, even physically on your skin. When people listen to something in an attentive way, there's a lot of resonance already. Wherever you direct your attention and this is a conscious effort, the energy follows automatically." Taking it a step further, Barth continues to expound on the immense power that music has held throughout all of time. "I believe in the very shamanic aspect of a musician--- it used to always be that way. In ancient cultures, people would heal, perform music and harmonize society and usually, all people were working together. I assume that through the Western separation of thinking, those roles got divided. What I am doing can inspire people to remember seemingly lost connections on a personal basis."

photo of Thomas Barth copyright Lauren Jonik

Currently focusing on offering this talents in several incarnations--- solo, with musical artist Mary Fahl and with a trio including bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ian Froman, Thomas Barth relishes each of these experiences. "The trio music, when it comes to instrumentation--- acoustic piano, acoustic bass and drums--- has the setting of a jazz trio and has its own sound," Barth explains. And, while labels can serve to define, they can also limit. "I am seeing my music not so much as some expression of some vertical categories like jazz, classical, etc., but rather. . . it is music that comes deep from my heart and is meant to come out in a way beyond self-expression to a degree where, together with the people who listen to it, it can change the vibration in a room to a very enlightening and uplifting experience for everyone." Barth highly values his role as not only an entertainer, but as a catalyst for bringing joy and positive change to the lives of those whom his music touches. To ensure this almost sacred connection, Barth remains aware of being in the moment while performing and as he explains, he will play a song "as if it would be played for the first time. And, putting yourself in the state of someone who is listening to it for the first time also helps. It's like a relationship to a person--- every single day is important. Any love, any affection is a thing that depends on a good here and now. You can't keep yourself warm by yesterday's fire."

But, performing is only half of the reciprocal creative equation. As Thomas Barth concludes, "Composing is like baking a bread and performing is having a dinner with that bread. Both of them influence each other in a wonderful way. Both are so essential." When writing alone, the music comes to Barth all at once. "I believe in that power and the initial energy of a thought, a sound, a line or something else. Then, the composition has another part involved as well, which is a very down to earth, real thing, where you sit down and have these things and put them in order. There are a lot of different cognitive processes involved in this act." But, notably, though Barth is moved by events in the external world around him, he does not rely upon them. "The inspiration itself inspires the inspiration. The idea comes without having to have an external trigger. I believe in the reason why something is coming through quickly with a spin and a certain intensity." Barth experiences this same magic when collaborating, as with singer/songwriter Mary Fahl. Barth recalls the first time he heard Fahl. "I was totally mesmerized and still, although we work on a daily basis, every time she sings a note, I get the same feeling. It's like an electric reaction." When working together, Barth likens it to "diving together." "There are some things you do when you dive together and some things you experience on your own. It can enrich your own palette immensely."

Thomas Barth seized the opportunity to have a most unlikely composing "partner" of sorts: Beethoven himself. In 1999 in an attic in London, England, a string quartet fragment composed by Ludwig van Beethoven in 1817 was discovered. It was only one page long and was later auctioned at Sotheby's, where ten minutes before the auction, it was given to a string quartet and they recorded it in one take. Barth found an MP3 of it online and the first four notes inspired Sleeping Beauty, which appears on Barth's 2003 solo double CD, Beyond Black and White. The title of the song has a unique twist. "Sleeping Beauty means the beauty of a work that has been sleeping and is now rediscovered. I always had a strong connection to Beethoven, so it's my homage to this great composer." And, indeed, this connection to his musical elders is brilliantly evident in his performances, where it's easy to envision, through his masterful playing, what a live performance by Mozart or Beethoven might have been like.

The recording of Beyond Black and White was significant in and of itself. The album was recorded in Austria with thirty pianos in a single room with no artificial reverb added. "We call it holistic resonance recording," says Barth of the specific piano sound he wanted to capture. "I wanted the listener to dive into a journey like a three dimensional tunnel--- to be in the piano. It was a successful attempt to transform vibrations going beyond the audible spectrum. Beyond Black and White is about overcoming polarities."

Believing that instrument and player are united as one, Thomas Barth has a special appreciation for quality. In the Summer of 2004, Barth became the first endorser of a new grand piano called Passion, which was built by Austrian piano manufacturer Bruno Weinberger. "This is an instrument of rare value. It's going to be the first Passion in the United States." Barth immediately connected with the character of the piano in both sound and aesthetic appearance. "When I saw the piano, I said, "That's the sexiest baby grand I've ever had my hands on," Barth says, smiling. "From a design point of view, it looks really sexy. Even though it's a baby grand, which would fit in any room, it has an enhanced sound. It took a lot of building techniques to produce such a beautiful sound."

Though success is fluid, ever-changing and constantly being redefined over the course of a lifetime to reflect not only who we are, but who we are becoming, there are ideals that remain constant. "Success always is when thought, word and action are in integrity. Success is when you have financial freedom, when you are healthy, when you live in a state of love, on many levels," affirms Barth. And, though the journey is solely our own, by being open, we often cross paths with those along the way who serve to enhance our lives in ways beyond what we could imagine. "Give the angels the space so that they can come into our lives. . . we create the resonance to enable this."

Underneath the cover of daily life, the extraordinary happens: in our darkest hours and in our finest hours and in between, we are being made new. Merely by listening, the power of music invites us to participate in the shaping of our lives. "A pilot or cab driver is working in the transportation business. As creating musician, I see myself in the transformation business," enthuses Thomas Barth. "To play "beautifully," "slick" or "in a virtuoso manner," are means of self-expression. But to induce transformation in the listener, to trigger something on a higher or deeper level by simply doing what you do, this is Alchemy. This is where magic happens."


http://www.thomasbarth.com

Photo by Lauren Jonik


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