FeaturedShelter Projects

Shelter Projects: Jace Bartet, “Spaceship You”

Jace Bartet. Photo by Sean Dunn.

The Willson Center for Humanities and Arts, in partnership with the UGA Graduate School, UGA Arts Council, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, and Flagpole, has awarded 34 micro-fellowships in its Shelter Projects program. The $500 fellowships support graduate students and community-based artists and practitioners in the creation of shareable reflections on their experience of the current pandemic through the arts and humanities.

Statement by Jace Bartet: The crises of 2020 have newly tasked our society with a profound and old but absurd question: what does it mean to assign value to human life? For many, this value has previously (and unfortunately) been assessed in dollars. For some of those same many, the curtain of money has been disintegrated to reveal it for the figment that it is, fake-augmented by a magic sandwich made of 1200 invented dollars that you’re ostensibly not supposed to eat in one sitting. All tied together like summer campers in a billion-legged race, will we be able to forge a path to a different collective concept of human value? At the molecular level, our existence is bonded by vibration, and I feel that this fact accounts for why music is an expression of actual magic; why it is said that, as art decorates space, the vibrations that comprise music decorate time. Music literally becomes us, and thus unites us. I built “Spaceship You” as one example of a vessel for that journey.

Flagpole: Realizing that the pandemic was a double whammy that wrecked both the music and service industries, I’d like to start by asking how your livelihood was impacted. With the fundraiser for Bit Brigade in mind, what would you consider to be the most effective ways for the general public to support musicians right now? 

Jace Bartet: This is such a tough question to contend with because I’m not sure what opportunities the general public has had to positively affect the careers of their favorite artists who, by 2020, had been previously self-sustaining to some degree…or even not self-sustaining! Just artists they like. Single, EP and album sales, which are really, really hard to make any money on, aren’t nothing, and by all and any means, I strongly encourage anyone who doesn’t already own the music of the artists they’ve enjoyed over the years to pitch in and grab those things on the (non-streaming) up-and-up where possible.
But from my own perspective, the idea of producing a brand-new record remotely in 2020 has seemed kind of super-heroic from a logistical and mental-health perspective, and the idea of producing a new one in person seems…sketchy. That’s a lot of enclosed indoors time with people you don’t normally hang with or see day-to-day. And in any case, ticket sales and especially merch sales on the road have been the lifeblood of most artists in the industry at large for decades (if not the whole time).
For now, I personally feel like the best thing people can do for the artists they love is to keep listening to their music and most importantly of all, show it to their like-minded friends and acquaintances, because pandemic or not, one of the most important and elusive assets that any artist can have is unaffiliated advocates. People who are not part of the band/record label/promo group/etc. who are interested enough in the art of the band to say to like-minded people who maybe didn’t even ask: “Hey, check this out.” While the means of distribution have changed variously over the years, the supreme value of word-of-mouth has never been diminished.

Flagpole: I understand that “Spaceship You” is a composition for six electric guitars—and beyond that, my mind is just sort of blown. What were some of the ideas you were exploring behind this piece, and what was the writing/recording process like?

JB: The idea for the piece was initially more experimental than emotional. I was sitting around alone one night with all my recording stuff set up thinking “Hmm…a guitar has six strings, and a full guitar chord contains six strings…what if all of the notes in that chord were spread out over six guitars!?” I had a feeling that, if all the notes of a primary guitar chord were spread out and isolated over six separate recordings of each string that comprises the chord, that that would sound unreal—in a good way—and when I actually took the time to do that, my suspicion proved true. I recorded every note one by one direct to my computer with a guitar amp simulator that basically mimicked a vintage Marshall, and I felt like it came pretty close to the actual sound of said amp. When I got that first six-guitar chord mapped out and then listened back to it, I was sort of stunned. It didn’t sound like what it sounds like when you just play a chord on one guitar. I pretty much heard the rest of the piece in my mind at that moment, and I started to understand how I could use that sound to express the feelings of isolation and loneliness that had been welling up in me for the weeks prior, but the execution was elusive.
I grew up listening to as much post-rock like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Mogwai as I did heavy metal, and combining the texture of metal with the emotional context of post-rock felt like a no-brainer after I heard that first raging G chord when I was experimenting. The act of figuring out what each successive chord in the piece would sound like when parsed out to one separate guitar track per note was an overwhelming journey. Eventually, I also landed on a tapping section in the middle that’s an overt homage to Philip Glass. And there’s a piece by The Fucking Champs on their album IV called “Thor is Like Immortal” that definitely had a part in inspiring this idea. The whole thing ends with a 12-guitar eBow suite that made me feel like I was finally, actually in over my head while trying to layer the tracks, because it turns out that the eBow is just about the most esoteric and narrow-minded implement in electric guitar music history.
When I tell people it took 200 hours, which is not hyperbole, what that really entails is that I spent 199+ hours throwing ideas away. And it feels stupid to even put those numbers out there, like it feels like it might look like I’m trying to boast. But I’m not, because the point of stating those numbers is that if someone observing this story feels like they’re working on something that is taking an insurmountable length of time, however tedious it might feel, it’ll be worth it if you know that you have something to say that’s important to you.
When the notes felt right, they were obvious. Something about that first big clanging chord when the loud electric guitars come in after the launch status system check just sort of told its own story, and everything that happens in the ensuing eight minutes is basically an echo of that one moment. I don’t mean to create the fictional narrative that the song “wrote itself,” but just to say that the principle part of song creation for me is listening.

Flagpole: What do you imagine would be the most ideal set-up for experiencing “Spaceship You” as a listener? Any plans to present it live or in-person one day?

JB: Originally, I fantasized about it being straightforwardly performed live by six guitarists through six respective Marshall stacks. However, having been part of a similarly ambitious endeavor via the band Powers several years ago (four guitarists arranged quadraphonically with a drummer in the center), I knew that getting something like this rehearsed proficiently would take several months at least, and that’s assuming that the people I envisioned wanting to take part would fully be on board, which hadn’t actually ever been discussed. By mid-summer, it became vastly clear that there wasn’t going to be any big art opening sort of show for the Shelter Projects (which is how I had initially envisioned the piece being revealed), so I, at least momentarily, gave up on the idea of working to entice my guitarist friends to be involved. 
Following that realization, I began working on a plan to set up the piece as a sound-art installation wherein a single person (or perhaps up to four persons, given their level of “pod”-ness) could have access to sitting in the center of six Marshall (or similar) stacks that would have the tracks to the piece routed out to them in a re-amp scenario that would accurately simulate what it would be like to have the piece played live by an actual group of performers. However, efforts to make this idea a reality have stalled for numerous reasons, so for now I would say the best way to experience the piece would be to listen to the track in headphones or just really loud through a car system or…whatever’s available to you!

Flagpole: I think it’s safe to say that the majority of times I’ve seen you perform over the years have been at Caledonia Lounge. What will you miss most about Caledonia?

JB: I used to tell people—and I wasn’t joking—that if I unceremoniously died before them, my dying wish was to be cremated and stored under the stage of the Caledonia Lounge. Like a piece of gear. It’s upsetting now, because I just never really considered the notion that that would ever be a thing that wasn’t possible (which is obviously naive, but still). There are a lot of things that I don’t think that people locally understand or appreciate about The Caledonia Lounge, but something I feel is very important to make clear is that it was absolutely one of the very best rock and roll clubs of its size in the entire country. Easy top five. It wasn’t just some hole in the wall (which I have heard it be dismissed as by jaded Athens old-timers who like to talk about all the different locations they’ve seen the 40 Watt inhabit). There truly aren’t a lot of great under-200-cap rooms in this country that have a world-class sound system operated by talented, kind, professional in-house sound engineers to the degree that the Caledonia did; care about rock music on a local level and do what they can to be open to and empower their local artists; have a competent, friendly bar staff; and regularly hold fundraising events for local LGTBQ+ and other radical endeavors just because they could. 
Anyways, I didn’t answer your question. So, to answer your question, I’ll say that the thing I’ll miss most about The Caledonia Lounge is that it was a place in Athens, GA where people came to experience live rock and roll music, and they can’t do that anymore. I’ll miss seeing my friend’s faces from that stage. But it’s more than that.