Oz Fritz working with the band Achilles Wheel. Photo by John Taber.
Oz Fritz is a recording engineer, recording producer and a writer, based in California; longtime readers of this blog will know him as somebody who knows a lot about Robert Anton Wilson and Timothy Leary (he has not only read a great deal of Leary, he has read all of the available biographies and memoirs). He knows a lot about Kabbalah. He knows a lot about a lot of stuff. I'm grateful for all of the reader comments he's posted on this blog, and I regularly read his blog, The Oz Mix.
I thought it might be interesting to ask Oz about sombunall of his interests and he graciously agreed to take some questions.
Here is the official Oz Fritz bio:
Oz Fritz has been a professional sound engineer for more than 30 years working in both recording studio and live concert environments. He has collaborated on over 60 projects with producer Bill Laswell that include L. Shankar, Material, Ginger Baker, Iggy Pop, The Ramones, Herbie Hancock, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Sonny Sharrock, William S. Burroughs , Bob Marley, Icehouse and Yothu Yindi. Other studio credits include John Cale, Ornette Coleman, D.J. Disk, Digital Underground, Jungle Brothers, Golden Palominos, Information Society, Meat Loaf, and Rick Derringer.
In the last few years Oz has engineered releases by Paris Combo (went to #1 on the Billboard World Music charts), Wanda Jackson (featuring The Cramps, Elvis Costello and Dave Alvin), Tabla Beat Science featuring (Bill Laswell and Zakir Hussein), Oysterhead (Les Claypool, Stewart Copeland and Trey Anastasio from Phish), legendary Cuban pianist Pepecito Reyes, the Grammy award winning Mule Variations by Tom Waits, as well as Alice and Blood Money by Waits, Anti-Pop by Primus, and Wicked Grin by John Hammond (produced by Tom Waits). He also mixed songs for a VH1 Storyteller’s show by Waits, and recorded and mixed half of Monsters and Robots by Buckethead.
He recorded Havana Mood and Imaginary Cuba in Havana and engineered a couple of tracks on the gold record Lado B Lado A by the Brazillian pop group O Rappa all with producer Bill Laswell.
Fritz has done many on-site field recordings around the world including the acclaimed Apocalypse Across The Sky by the Master Musicians of Jajouka. Recently he’s recorded and mixed several of the top musicians in Bamako, Mali for the maverick Kanaga System Krush label. Artists such as djembe master Abdoul Doumbia, The Bari Ensemble, Mady Keita and Lobi Traore. Oz also engineered Jali Kunda, a history of Griot music, spearheaded by Bill Laswell and Foday Musa Suso.
Additional field recording locations include India and the Australian Outback. Oz has engineered in state-of-the-art recording studios in Tokyo, London, Paris, Madras, Sydney, Havana, Rio de Janeiro, Los Angeles and New York.
His live mixing credits (all front-of-house) include Tom Waits’ Mule Variations tour, Painkiller with Bill Laswell and John Zorn, Jack de Johnette, Material (Laswell, Foday Musa Suso and Ginger Baker), Third Rail (James Blood Ulmer, Bernie Worrell, Laswell and others), Jai Uttal and the Pagan Love Orchestra and, most recently, Tabla Beat Science featuring Laswell, Zakir Hussein, Sultan Khan and Gigi.
Oz was also the chief engineer on the Flying Mijinko tour, a cultural exchange series of concerts sponsored by the Japanese government. This tour, put together by Akira Sakata and featuring Bill Laswell, Foday Suso, Anton Fier and many others, played throughout Central Asia, China, Mongolia and Japan. A double live cd documenting the trip was recorded and mixed by Fritz.
RAWILLUMINATION.NET: How did you get interested in Robert Anton Wilson, and what are the aspects of his work you have particularly gotten into?
OZ FRITZ: A sound equipment salesman and friend of mine, Adrian Plant, manipulated me into quitting the band I did sound for and joining another one called Relay. The lightman for Relay, Bob Gregory was about five years older than me and had a small, but good occult library that included a facsimile edition of Aleister Crowley’s Equinox publications. Bob and I soon became friends and roommates. He told me about this book that was supposed to be a sort of Holy Grail of occult and Crowley explanation. The book was Cosmic Trigger and the author was this highly mysterious figure, Robert Anton Wilson. Right away, he was introduced to me as a Hidden Master, and turns out he was. I don’t think Bob had read it, he was vague about why it was so special; nothing else was known about the author other than he’d written this book. We finally found it at the O.T.O. bookstore in Edmonton. I found Leary’s introduction difficult to follow, but was captivated with immediate interested in Wilson’s writing style. It hooked me into following the thread of his journey and finding out what was going to happen next. It had a mild waking-up effect in that I began noticing coincidences and paying more attention to the environment, and in different ways. The strongest effect from the first reading led to the realization of how incredibly little I knew. I hadn’t been to college and don’t remember having passionate intellectual interests other than listening to music and doing sound engineering. Cosmic Trigger changed all that. It started for me a love of learning that continues as strongly to this day with all the vices and versas that brings on.
Aspects of his work I’ve dived into include: Nietzsche, Lovecraft, Leary, Crowley, Gurdjieff, Burroughs, Fuller, Lilly, cabala, synchronicities, multi-valued logic, General Semantics, guerrilla ontology, physics and consciousness, Sufism, Joyce. I’m probably leaving something out. I spent years reading books that were leads from Cosmic Trigger including anything else I could find by RAW.
RAWILLUMINATON.NET: You began as a soundman for touring rock bands. What made you decide to make the transition to being a recording engineer?
OZ FRITZ: I had no obvious way to progress in my career as a sound engineer and was getting tired of mixing mostly in bars and clubs. I desired a drastic change. The lead singer had convinced me to visit New York with him and his girlfriend, but they got stopped at the border for an old pot charge. I had an amazing and magical visit to New York on my own, book buying and checking out music, plays and the city in general. I saw Sun Ra play with a hundred piece band and dancers at a small cabaret in the East Village as just one highlight. I decided I had to find a way to move there and enrolling in the Institute of Audio Research was a way to do so. What really convinced me to become a recording engineer was coming home from a gig in Canada and listening to My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts for the first time. I had a strong experience with it and realized there were things you could do in a recording studio that you couldn’t accomplish live; it was its own art form. That record was also a big break for Bill Laswell. He has a co-writer’s credit on the first track and it marked the beginning of his collaboration with Brian Eno which resulted in a legendary recording studio, B.C. Sound in Brooklyn. Laswell later became a mentor and connected me with a huge number of incredible musicians, basically establishing the first part of my freelance recording career.
Oz Fritz at the Ancient Wave recording studio. Photo by Lorraine Gervais
RAWILLUMINATION.NET: Can you recommend a couple of books on magick for people who believe they don't know much about the subject?
OZ FRITZ: Well phrased question. I highly recommend starting with the Introduction to Aleister Crowley’s Magick in Theory and Practice wherein he follows Spinoza’s example in The Ethics of systemizing thought with a set of definitions and postulates that bears resemblance to the form of Euclid’s Elements. It’s very clear, and shows how daily activities in ordinary life can be seen as magical. Magick in Theory and Practice exists in its own editions and online, but it’s also the third part of Crowley’s book, Magick, Liber ABA. After the Introduction, Magick in Theory and Practice can get abstract and obscure for the novice. Instead of continuing, I suggest going to Part 1 of Magick then reading it all straight through. The Magick of Aleister Crowley by Lon Milo Duquette is excellent for learning how to start working with with Crowley’s rituals and experiments.
RAWILLUMINATION.NET: How much of your time do you spend on the road, away from home? Can you describe what you always take with you when you travel?
OZ FRITZ: It varies. I’m home a lot these days though I’m writing this on the road. This year I’ll probably be away for about 2 months all total. For many years I travelled about 50% of the time. I always travel with incense, an essential oil, a laptop loaded with a lot music, etc., good headphones, a loose leaf binder with magick exercises, charts, etc — my personal grimoire, 3 or 4 or more books depending upon how long I’m gone, vitamins and a yoga mat. I have a pouch with a meteorite I always carry.
RAWILLUMINATION.NET: Do you think African pop music will ever catch on in the rest of the world? Robert Christgau has done his best, but I haven't noticed many other music critics doing a lot of heavy lifting. And how much interest do you have in classical music these days? I ask this knowing that you once thought about becoming an orchestra conductor.
OZ FRITZ: African music still seems an extremely small niche market, but then a lot of music appears like that these days. I think it will continue to be received well in a small community, but doubt that it will catch on in a big way in the foreseeable future. It actually seemed to be doing better a few years back. Of course, African music has had a major influence on all popular music to the point where you could say that it has caught on after getting altered and absorbed by Western musicians.
I remain interested in listening to and discovering more classical music. I listen to the San Francisco public radio classical station every morning on my drive to the studio when home. Sometimes use classical music for ritual work when it’s not Coltrane. Classical music is an interest I have, but don’t have much time to pursue. Recently I heard a beautiful classical piece I’d recorded and mixed, "Revelation In Black Light," a lush Karl Berger string arrangement of a Bernie Worrell composition; yes, conducting an orchestra, but in the electrical sense.
RAW ILLUMINATION.NET: Why do you carry a pouch with a meteorite wherever you go?
OZ FRITZ: It’s a reminder and point of contact with an extraterrestrial perspective. If we grant life and beingness to these rocks that fall from the sky as some cultures and belief systems do, then we can determine it factually true that Extraterrestrials (meteorite entities) have arrived and exist amongst us. Several ancient cultures across the world have worshiped and venerated meteorites. There’s speculation that the black stone of Kaaba, one of Islam’s holiest relics, is a meteorites as it was said to have fallen from heaven. Some meteorites are said to have unusual electromagnetic properties that give beneficial effects.
RAWILLUMINATION.NET: I collect radios, and I'm currently trying to figure out which ones to take with me for my vacation, so I looked to see if you carry any radios with you when you travel (I didn't see any). What do you listen to on the road, and what do you use most of the time for listening to music at home?
OZ FRITZ: I have a pair of Grado Labs SR 80 headphones that I plug into my laptop when I’m on the road for critical listening. I also have a small powered mono speaker (don’t know the model- a cheap one from Target) that plugs in to the computer’s headphone jack. It has a little more bass and isn’t as tinny as the laptop’s speakers. When I’m on the road, I’m usually listening to music for several hours a day on high end professional monitoring systems of different kinds. At home I have a pair of Genelec 8020C powered speakers that’s fed from a UA Apollo 8, a Pro Tools interface. I do a lot of driving and listen to cds on a standard decent car stereo.
RAWILLUMINATION.NET: I got really interested in reading your blog, The Oz Mix. What made you decide to start doing a blog, and are you using some of the material for a book?
OZ FRITZ: I started the blog, with encouragement from friends, to relate various music industry experiences I’d had over the years. I also needed an outlet for expressing the observations and researches into other interests I have. That’s why it’s a mix. Another reason was to gain practice writing, something I haven’t done with much consistency in the past. I am putting together a book that will expand upon and use much of the material there. My aim is to have it finished by the end of the year.
RAWILLUMINATION.NET: You have lived and worked all over the world; why did you choose to settle down in Grass Valley, Calif.?
OZ FRITZ: The short answer is that I moved there to work with E. J. Gold. The French have a saying when confronting a mystery, cherchez la femme – look for the woman. In 1989 I became involved with a study group based around the ideas of E.J. Gold. Some of the other people involved were also in the music business. In 1990 my wife at the time and I attended a workshop and convention put on by Gold’s organization, the Institute for the Development of the Harmonious Human Being (IDHHB). I missed most of the convention spending the time instead working in Gold’s recording studio with a musician and producer I knew from the New York study group who had moved there. My ex-wife fell in love with the place and wanted to move there immediately. I was also attracted to the intensity of that group and wished to move there at some point. It had much in common with what I’d garnered reading and studying the works of Robert Anton Wilson, Aleister Crowley and Gurdjieff. I was under the wrong impression that I’d have to give up my music career which was peaking at that time so I was in no rush to move there. In late 1992 after getting notice to move out of our New York sublet, my ex-wife informed me that she was moving to California, and that I was welcome to join her. I did move with her, but also found a room in New York and lived bicoastal for about five or six years until establishing a clientele in California
RAWILLUMINATION.NET: By the time this interview has published, I will have listed Robert Anton Wilson's 10 "desert island" recordings. Do you have a list of favorite recordings?
OZ FRITZ: Yes, but in no particular order:
• Bob Dylan/ Johnny Cash Bootleg Session
• John Coltrane – My Favorite Things
• Led Zeppelin – IV
• Talking Heads – Remain In Light
• Stockhausen – Stimmung: Theater of Voices
• Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed
• Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
• Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
• Ginger Baker – Middle Passage
• Duke Ellington – A Drum Is A Woman
• The Beatles – White Album
RAWILLUMINATION.NET: Which recording artist do you most wish you could work with, at least once?
OZ FRITZ: That would be Bob Dylan. I got close. My friend, John Wooler, who was a senior VP at Virgin and ran their blues label booked me to engineer a duet recording with John Lee Hooker and Dylan. It was booked four or five months ahead of time, but unfortunately John Lee Hooker died in the interim and it never happened. Frank Zappa is someone else I would have loved to work with. Ornette Coleman was someone I’d wanted to work with almost since I started engineering and was fortunate to do so.
From left, musicians Mike Sopko and Bill Laswell and Oz Fritz on 23rd Street in New York, photo by Yoko Yamabe. From an Oct. 21 blog post by Oz describing a recent recording session.
RAWILLUMINATION.NET: The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article on how streaming music services have become bigger, in terms of sales, than sales of CDs and sales of MP3 downloads. What do you think of services such as Spotify? How have they affected your career?
OZ FRITZ: I don’t know what to think about streaming services, I don’t use them; only heard Spotify once at a dinner party and the sound seemed flat, but it could have been the system. I’ve never heard anyone rave about it, it seems utilitarian more than anything else; now you can turn on a spigot of music like you do water. I don’t know enough about it to have an informed opinion; apparently the artist royalties are ridiculously low. With less revenue coming in from recordings, musician have to find alternate ways to make money. There is still money out there, it seems a matter of making different connections to it including finding alternate sources of income to fund their music habits. I know several instances of successful crowd funding campaigns. The medical marijuana industry has funded quite a bit of music in California.
I’ve been trying to destroy my career almost as soon as I had one in the sense of competing in the commercial market. Anything Spotify can do to help with that is fine by me.
RAWILLUMINATION.NET: Do you wish you had been a recording engineer and producer during the heyday of the record industry?
OZ FRITZ: I was positioned right in the center of the heyday of the record industry as it existed at that moment in time in the late 80’s/early 90’s. If my career had been any more intense, if that was even possible, I might not have survived. The New York studio where I started was on Broadway, a block down from Tower Records and two blocks west of CBGB’s with a crack zone in between. Keith Haring had a studio in our building and adorned the lobby with his cartoon graffiti two weeks before he died. I grew up with punk rock and got to work with The Ramones, Iggy Pop, John Cale, and The Buzzcocks among a lot of other less known artists. I was literally there at the genesis of Axiom Records, Bill Laswell’s label, and was involved with many classic releases involving world class music legends. My first Axiom session was recording William Burroughs. This describes only one facet in a multi-faceted musical arc. Recording trips to Morocco and Israel with Laswell a couple of years back seemed as intense as anything else.
The biggest star I ever recorded was a real animal. Bill brought me to Madras to engineer for classical Indian violinist L. Shankar. Shankar wanted local sounds on his album, so one evening he brought me to a Hindu Temple to record an elephant on my portable DAT. The elephant had to be coaxed to perform by its human and when it did let out a roar, it sounded a little sharp in pitch to our ears. We had to reluctantly request another roar from the beast, elephant auto-tuning hadn’t been invented yet. Shankar gave it a reference pitch on his violin and the beast produced a sonorous blast.
RAWILLUMINATION.NET: I recently read a fascinating article in which a professional cook criticized common mistakes made by amateur cooks. (I tried to make some changes in the kitchen after reading it.) Not everyone can afford to buy top of the line audio equipment for the home, but what are some common mistakes amateurs make in setting up their stereos, bluetooth speakers, fancy table radios, etc.?
OZ FRITZ: I don’t have much personal data on consumer sound systems. The most common mistake I see is speakers set-up out of phase with each other, meaning that the sound waves from each speaker destructively interfere with each other. Sound systems sound much better when the speakers get lined up with each other.
It’s not really a mistake, but I suspect that people miss out on a lot of musical enjoyment by only valuing what they are told or by what they have been conditioned to accept as music. Put on a piece of dynamic classical music in the country at night and hear the crickets join in as the recorded music gets softer. Incredible symphonies of sound go on all around us when we listen outside the box.
RAWILLUMINATION.NET: I noticed that you once posted to my blog that you can't listen to MP3 files. Do you think they've gotten any better? How do you think FLAC files sound?
OZ FRITZ: Yes, there are better ways of producing mp3 files, starting from a high resolution source helps considerably. I still avoid mp3s but am less hardline about listening to them if that’s the only source. I can’t tell the difference in audio quality between flac and wav files (i.e. cds). What type of file they are seems less important than the content.
RAWILLUMINATION.NET: This question is from your fan, Gary Acord. What advice would you give to a young person today considering an audio-visual career?
OZ FRITZ: I always tell my students to find a way to love what they’re doing. Get satisfaction from doing the job rather than hoping for some future pay-off. Tie it in with your True Will, your purpose in life, if possible. I didn’t make any money beyond bare-bones survival for about the first 10 years in this field, but had a helluva time and learned a lot. Enrolling in a recording program can’t hurt and will give one a good theoretical background, but it won’t teach you how to work in a professional recording studio. At least it didn’t when I went to school for it. Getting an internship at a working commercial studio gets you a foot in the door and exposes you to professional producers and engineers who are usually willing to share their methods. Find a mentor. To get into a situation like that, it may be necessary to relocate to somewhere with more opportunities. In the music industry in the United States, your best bet would be New York, Los Angeles or Nashville. That’s not to say that it has to be one of those cities. Prairie Sun, a studio I often work out of in Northern California has an internship program. Some of those interns have gone on to establish successful careers in the industry. Perseverance appears key just like it does in magic.
RAWILLUMINATION.NET. Another question from Gary: As I’m writing this question, Bob Marley’s “Wake up and live” just came around on the shuffle mix. Seems appropriate. We’ve talked in the past of the power of music to completely capture the spirit-mind. Further, you’ve written of challenging recording situations that required you to call on all of your Crowley studies and magic training to keep focused. Have you ever had any situations where the music was so powerful or moving where even that was not enough? If not, could you describe any that came close?
OZ FRITZ: That is an appropriate song, Gary! Well, in some recording situations you really feel like you're flying by the seat of your pants, but you figure out how to keep your balance and it becomes like surfing a big wave in the ocean. When I was 12, I was told about the Master Musicians of Jajouka whose music was supposed to be so mystical that it defied attempts to record it. Brian Jones and Ornette Coleman had tried with only partial success. Bill Laswell and I were the ones to eventually do it with the album Apocalypse Across the Sky. Recording the music wasn't difficult at all considering the circumstances — field recording in a remote mountain village. The hard part was just getting there, making it all happen. For example, all our equipment was held up at customs for days until a member of the Royal Family who was on our side got them to release it to us. The hard part isn't handling the music, the invocation — riding the loa, as Gibson puts it in Neuromancer, borrowing from Voudou. Difficulties, when they arise, have to do with getting past obstacles to recording the music. Powerful music seems to attract greater obstacles in accordance with Gurdjieff's "Law of Three" and Nietzsche's reactive forces. I was working with indigenous Australians, incredibly powerful shamanic music in Sydney one day, then meeting with Immigration police as Bill Laswell told them why they shouldn't immediately throw us in jail then out of the country? A jealous rival producer had reported us for having the wrong visa. You would not believe some of the obstacles that arise at times, makes it interesting.
RAWILLUMINATION.NET: I have a copy of your album, Bill Laswell's Material Presents: Oz Fritz: All Around the World. Was that album influenced by your interest in John
Cage? Do you have another album in the works?
OZ FRITZ: Yes, that album was very influenced by John Cage's breakthrough "composition" 4:29 where the performer sits at the piano and plays nothing for that length of time. In his writings, Cage mentions listening to that piece for much longer so he seems to use it as a shorthand for listening to the natural music the sounds of the environment make. It involves placing musical value on sounds we wouldn't normally consider music - a major intention of All Around the World.
There will be more albums like this in the future, I have a lot of recordings, but another album is not specifically being produced at the moment.