Interview 2006 - by Graham Getty


Let's clear this one up first. Your album titles (Wild excepted) were lining up to spell "REDSHIFT" then it went a bit awry with Faultline & Oblivion. Was it coincidence or did you just get fed up?!
MS I couldn't possibly comment!

How's the Moog hanging together?
MS Very well really. A few years ago the chap who serviced and repaired it for me (Chris Ringham) moved to Guernsey so I was rather anxious about the future technical problems with it. Luckily, I was put in the contact with Tony Algood who runs Oakley Sound Systems and he said he would be able to fix any problems with it. Just before the E-Live 2004 festival I took the whole synthesizer up to Tony's place in Cumbria where he gave it some t.l.c., got things working that had never worked, got rid of nasty noises, dirty pots etc, so when I got it back it felt almost like a new instrument.

You've often said nothing "but nothing!" can sound like the moog modular - does that still hold true even with modulars like the synthesizers.com available? What do you think of the synthesizers.com modular which seems very popular nowdays?
MS Well, I don't believe one analogue synthesizer sounds like another anyway, that's the the beauty of them. It's great that there has been a big return to this style of instrument and that there are so many companies building them. I am very familiar with the Synth.com stuff - after all, Rob used a fairly large system at the HJ2 and got some great sounds from it. I think it sounds great, is built beautifully and, very importantly, it has the ergonomics that make the musician want to constantly create sounds. Things like the Synth.com sequencers that are basically Moog clones are wonderful, and a much better buy than original Moog ones. After all, the sequencer doesn't make any noise itself. But...there is still nothing that SOUNDS like a Moog Modular. The combination of oscillators, filters, amplifiers etc has never been beaten for power & depth of sound and the sheer rich beauty of its audio quality. Each synthesizer has its own characteristic sound, ranging from the ones that i think sound awful. I should make it clear thatI'm talking about the "core" sound here rather than any individual patch. Its rather like asking someone what they would prefer to hear the Moonlight Sonata played on, a beautiful Steinway or some beat-up old pub piano? Why would anyone choose the latter? When I hear the Synth.com synths producing the sounds that Node get, or even us, then I will believe that they are true clones, but to date, this hasn't happened. And there is no reason why they should want to either, they are instruments in their own right with their own clearly defined sound.

Bob Moog died in 2005. Did you ever meet him? What are your thoughts of his legacy?
MS I briefly met him at the opening of Martin Newcomb's Synthesizers Museum. I recall that it was little more than a nervous introduction on my part. Like all creative innovators that give the world such mold-breaking inventions that his legacy is almost beyond measure. I know others will make arguments for certain other electronic instrument designers to be clessed along side Moog, but i would disagree. He gave us voltage control, the Moog filter, the Moog oscillator etc. etc. Without these, can you imagine how bad Phaedra would have sounded? If it had been made at all.

What plans for the HJ5 concert? Dark atmospheric, wall-of-sound sequencing, Node-style industrial, or a bit of everything?
MS In short, we don't know. Our rehearsals are more about working out the relationship between the musicians and instruments, how they interconnect etc. I spend some time before the other guys turn up to work out some basic starting sequence lines, and when they arrive I say, for example, "this one is in E minor but, rather awkwardly, includes an F". From then on we jam until someone hits something interesting, a motif perhaps, a chord sequence...whatever. The arrangement, by necessity, is always very loose. They hear the Moog filters opening up and take it as a cue to get out of what they are doing. This time round it appears that we have even less pre-concert time together than before, so we may have to change the approach somewhat. By the way, I'm not sure that I would call Node "industrial". For me they play"electronic" music, simple as that, I find all these silly labels and sub-labels rather distracting.

It's been a while since the last Redshift album, anything new on the horizon? Will you be releasing anything at HJ5 for example?
MS Yes, we will be releasing a new album called "Toll", which was recorded at E-Live. There also may be a surprise or two, depends on time.

Dec 7th will be the 10th anniversary of the Jodrell Bank concert that spawned "Ether". Can you believe its 10 years?! And what are your memories of the gig?
MS Apart from not being able to find Julian as we were being announced!? It was a very surreal experience really, because although I had recorded the first Redshift album nearly 2 years earlier we were showcasing a style of music that was radically different from my previous work. It was a nice relaxed venue to play, which helped. I remember the sound system being very tame (annoying when you have all that ferocious power waiting to be unleashed). I remember not being able to see many of the knobs and sliders very well because of the dark. Our fault, we asked for low lighting. The two shorter tracks didn't go so well either, lots of technical problems, sequencers not firing, minimoog widly out of tune etc. But we did get an album out of it, although, to be honest, its one of my least favourite Redshift albums, save for "Static".

Has the band settled down to be a 3 piece now since Rob left, or are there plans to make it a 4 piece again?
MS Well, we started out as 1 piece, became a 3 piece and now we are back to that. Because James now lives in Los Angeles it obviously makes band get-togethers rather more complicated. We have no plans for anything in particular, but circumstances can often dictate change. It's impossible to predict.

How are duties split between the band on stage?
MS Fairly obviously I spend most of the time controlling the sequencers during the main rhytmic sections and only occasionally do I get the chance to play an actual keyboard. During the inevitable "link" sections (an absolute necessity from a technicla point of view) I spend a lot of time desperately re-tuning the various sequences and making patch changes...I've worked out that I can usually do all thisin 4 or 5 minutes. Julian frequently adds extra sequencing, either from another analogue sequencer or using the Midimoog from a prewritten Logic sequence. He also plays guitar, and may play it live this time. James stays mainly with the electric piano, polysynths and samplers, and of course, these days plays guitar parts. Everything is synchronized by my computer that sends out the required triggers for all our sequencers and sometimes has midi parts coming from it too. If the computer goes bang, we can run a basic performance from the internal Moog sequencer clocks, although at a reduced complexity level, but if the Moog fails...well, I'd prefer not to think about it.

Did you enjoy the Arcturus gig with Ian Boddy? Did it go as planned?
MS Great fun, despite having to spend 3 or 4 days in the company of a weird northern bloke (sorry Ian:-) Planned?, it never reallygot that fair, we simply didn't have the time to fully plan anything. With hindsight, I felt that it turned out rather more derivative than i would have wanted, although I suppose when time is limited you tend to fall back to the basics.

What other projects have you been working on between Redshift duties?
MS Various things, I do music work for production companies from time to time, that kind of thing.

Any views on "soft synths"?
MS Half and half. Ian Boddy uses a nice one called Atmosphere, really it's just a digital synthesizer which gets some really nice sounds. I like to use "sculpture" which comes with Logic, its very unusual and as a result, quite unique. The other half?...easy, all those soft-synths that claim to sound like analogue synths...what total tosh. I can't believe that some people's quality control can drop so low, it's quite incredible really. I have the ARP Odyssey plug-in as well as demo versions of the Moog modular, ARP2600, Minimoog, Hammond Organ etc. between these and the real thing makes me wonder if the rest of the world has gone totally nuts...what on earth is wrong with peoples ears ?? These soft-synth analogue wannabees sound cold, hard and totally lifeness next to the real thing. Just "modelling" an oscillator does NOT give you the sound of a Minimoog, what about the random cross-modulation, the warm but variant distortion? the low-end wooomf of a Moog?....forget it....they can't do it, as direct comparisons prove. Again, I'm repeating myself here, but the proof of the oudding etc etc...Where are all the albums that have used soft-synth analogue copies compared to those using the real thing? Nowhere to be seen. Can anyone really imagine Node trying to recreate their album on these pitiful so-called instruments? And which albums using these plugins have better sounds than Node? Or, to be arrogant, Redshift? I've not heard any, that's for sure. I'm big fan of some digital synths, soft-synth or hardware, always have been, but sof-synth "analogues" are the spawn of the devil.

Any new kit on the horizon?
MS Just acquired some Modcan modules, mainly weird ones rather than the core synth building blocks...things like the frequency shifter which does very odd things, for reasons i haven't yet understood.

What do you think of iPods and download/mp3 etc world which seems to be taking over? MS Same is any new "thing"...there are positives and negatives. We use an iPod for listening outside, in the car etc, anywhere where a quality of hi-fi is impractical, and the convenience of it is indisputable. I feel however, that like many products before (VHS over Beta, Cassette over Reel-to-Reel etc) that the general public has this alarming tendency to sacrifice that convenience over quality. For make no mistake about this, MP3 is a significiant step BACK in terms of sound quality, even compared to the CD, which itself needs drastic improvement.

If you could work with any other EM musician, past or present, who would that be?
MS Easy, Ed Buller, in my opinion the most talented player of modular synthesizers I've ever heard. His sequence lines are breathtaking and the sounds he creates are always sumptuous. He really understands the sensitivity required in electronic music in a way thet few others seem to.

Any recent EM music which has taken your fancy?
MS If Sigur Ros count...them. I quite like recent Goldfrapp albums (I'm a sucker for all that 70s glam rock synth-riffery). I like to listening to RMI, especially the more space-rock stuff they do.

Any recent non EM music which has taken your fancy? MS Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Muse, Rammstein, Antony and the Johnsons.

Tangerine Dream are still around. Do you think they are still going strong or just going through the motions? MS Well, I think only they could answer that. I don't really knowmuch of their recent music, but I've heard variuos bits over the years and to me they seem to have been repeating a very similar style ever since the mid 80s. It's not really my kind of music I'm afraid (and since I think Atem is the best thing they ever did, you can understand why). However, they have the perfect right to create whatever kind of music they want to of course, it's not for likes of me to dictate otherwise. Anyway, they still seem to have a solid fan base so they must be doing something right.

Do you still keep in touch with Chris Franke?
MS Haven't heard from him for some years.

I hear Node may be making a come-back. Thoughts?
MS Yes. I spoke to Ed a few weeks ago, and he told me this. I think all other EM acts should now do the honourable thing...and retire! Well, OK, a tad extreme there maybe. But what a great news, for me they wipe the floor with virtually every EM act with the possible exception of TD and Schulze at their experimental best (before they got into all that easy listening nonsense). The nature of electronic music has changed over the years, we have moved from the dark, ethereal majesty of Alpha Centauri to whole bunch of so-called "EM" bandsthat seem to be auditioning for test card music which, to my ears, is totally devoid of any emotional pull or musical sensitivity. It then all gets wrapped up in third-rate sci-fi covers (given that even first-rate sci-fi covers are terminally naff!!), add a few sci-fititles and then its all off down to the local trainspotters meeting! Bands like Node can re-direct electronic music away from this tedious sludge and back onto the wilder side of the tracks and maybe, hopefully, reverse this dumbing-down that's been going on in EM for years.