Interview 1998 - by Graham Getty

GG Ether is here at last, but it was quite a while after the Jodrell Bank concert?
MS yes, there were a few reasons. I'm always working on other things-advert and TV stuff for example. And getting the guys together for the studio pieces took a while. To get the live recordings into shape was "relatively" easy but very time consuming. I took along two ADAT's hence we had 16 tracks to work with, so far example James had two tracks etc. Basically I had to separate it all and remix it individually. The two live pieces on Ether probably took about 3 weeks each, if I was doing them constantly-which of course I wasn't. The other two live tracks from the concert we decided, for one reason and another, not to release. We had a technical problem on one of them ie some things weren't recorded from the start! Also some parts suffered from major problems with digital distortion, probably because the tape had crumbled or something like that. If it was analog tape we'd have got a drop out here and there, but with ADAT there's no margin for error. Unfortunately this affected a critical part of the second track we played live, so we decided to do a studio version of it. For reference we also had a DAT recording of the concert, however it sounded flat compared to the ADAT mixes so we couldn't take it from there. In the end the studio version mutated significantly from the original. I think we kept the bass like and that's about it. So basically 'Bombers in the Desert' is a completely transformed version of the piece we played live. The last track we played live also had a lot of feedback problems…

GG The purely improvised encore?
MS No, actually the reason I didn't use the encore is because the sequencer line is the same as the track 'Ether', though everything over the top was different (and one or two notes had actually slipped out of the tun by then). So it wouldn't have sounded right on the same album-it may turn up on something else in the future. I have actually mixed it down properly, and it sounds pretty good I must admit. So the two live pieces which end up on Ether are the ones which turned out musically and technically there best. I say they are the long tracks, but for example 'Ether' is effectively six pieces all rolled into one.

GG So, are you pleased with the end result?
MS Yes, to my ears anyway it sounds different from the first album-primarily because there are four people involved instead of just me and especially with the guitar elements it gives different emphasis, though often people probably won't recognize the sound as coming from a guitar…

GG Yes the barriers between keyboards and guitars have now broken down so much…
MS Well, Rob's got a rack full of goodies. All I get from his is left and right output basically and he looks after himself. And it's nice not having to think about literally everything. Basically at the gig I was just worrying about the sequencing which was a worry! But I could leave all the other stuff to the other guys; they are quite capable of sorting things out themselves. That's the nature of the music I suppose.

GG Must say the live atmosphere has been captured very well...
MS Well, someone actually told us the rough cubic volume of the planetarium, and I put a general reverb over everything to simulate the same room size using a Lexicon shimmering sound. Really I wanted to try and get that live feel which was lost when it was recorded to ADAT. It takes a while but it's worth it in the end. The only other way to do it is to spare ADAT channels on the day. We preferred to concentrate on the music itself. Even then you can hear a few "glitches" here and there, like there old sequencer getting stuck!

GG Well, it all adds to the effect and it shows it's live…
MS That's what they said in Holland. The sequencer got stuck on note 6, it just wouldn't go past it for a while, which meant I couldn't use the percussive sounds I had. But everyone said it looked great when I was struggling with the thing. I thought "oh thanks very much, but it wasn't a great at the time!"

GG What are your feelings about the Jodrell Bank concert looking back on it?
MS Well, I think all of us thought pretty much the same thing. Atmospherically superb, it felt good to play there. I mean, that was the first time I've ever played that kind of music live. The Legion, Crash Head, Nocturne type stuff I've played many times at the EMMA's, Elctronicas etc. Those were so much more formal and rigid and it's like an office job. We all have to learn our notes, and I remember thing after the EMMA gig "Christ, there were three mistakes. I made two and Julian made one." Were as at Jodrell there were mistakes but we didn't realize until afterwards, or even mistakes that worked. It's a much more informal way of doing it and, dare I say it, a much more musical one. I think also it's the first time I've ever walked out to play and didn't feel any nerves at all, which is very strange. Sometimes it smaller the venues and audiences can be unnerving. There were people virtually looking over my shoulder! But somehow with all the things that could have gone wrong, because of the instruments we were using, and that way we'd decided to do it, it was pointless worrying. Whereas with "midi music" it's like pressing the play-back button. For example if you listen to modern Tangerine Dream concerts they are virtually playing exact copies of the albums. But the concert was so organic in structures that if you could get a problem it doesn't suddenly happen and you can do something about it. Generally, though we all felt the same after the concert. The relaxed and "far out" kind of feeling…

GG I think this dose come across in the music-you almost seem to enjoy this style, more?
MS The rock oriented melodic stuff I sort of more "good time" then Redshift. Redshift is a little darker, but the enjoyment is more a sense of achievement. To me, Redshift isn't about "fun" music but it is easy to get "into" when you are playing. Obviously you have to be very careful though that you don't take the audience for a ride. This is why the approach we use is best described as "semi improvised". For example we have four or five rehearsal tapes for the track 'Ether', which I think is around 25 minutes on the album, which vary between 17 and 36 minutes in length. There are signposts in the tracks that, whenever they are recognised, basically mean "whatever you are doing, do your best to get out of it!". Not suddenly, just smoothly so that the sections blend into each other. This is why the performances of "Ether" are so different – it so happens that of the five or six recordings the Jodrell Bank performance was probably the second best. There's one we did in rehearsal where the sequences sounded just great, every move seemed right – but it's asking a bit much for that to happen every time. We have some sections where, for example, Julian has worked out the main theme so I'll bring down the sequences and not alter them much to give Julian room to move. I then effectively become the listener until I think "OK, now it's the right time for this to end" so I reintroduce the sequences. And of course it works the other way round where I'm effectively soloing on the sequences then James will start to bring in some sound effects as if to say "come on Mark, enough of old bollocks…!" The problem is that the performance always seems shorter to the musician than it does to the audience. Having seen many EM concerts over the years it's made me realizes that they can get boring if you go on for too long. The Schulze gig in Derby for example, which incidentally was much better than I expected, he tended to do 10 minutes of this and 10 minutes of that. I felt that maybe if he'd have done five minutes of this then five minutes of that it would have been much better! But than he'd have only had half a concert I guess…I've got Tangerine Dream bootlegs where they are quite clearly taking the piss, and I don't think that's right any more. It was OK in the early 70's when everyone was pioneering this, but now you need to do a lot more.

GG One of the main things I noticed was how varied the sequences were, possibly more varied than anything I've heard TD produce.
MS Well, can I ask you a question? How many times did you see TD live when they were using the Moog sequencers?

GG Probably 3 or 4 times…
MS …and how many times did you ever see Chris Franke turn around and actually flick a sequencer switch?

GG Possibly never… MS Exactly. I think he stopped in about '75. Sue (Gresty) saw them in '75 and she remembers Chris turning around a couple of times and do something to the flashing lights as she calls them. I saw them with the Moog sequencers a few times between the "Cyclone" tour and around '82 and not once did Chris turn round to the modular.

GG The flashing lights were there…
MS Yes, they were but they were in sync with the backing track basically. And, there were no patch chords in the modular either. Which means that basically there was no sound coming from it. With a modular synth you have to have patch chords. End of story. It doesn't matter who you are, Chris Franke, Keith Emerson or whoever. No patch chords, no sound. We're not so much making a "thing" about using the modular, but since we are bringing it on stage – it's visual, and it's tactile, and we may as well make use of it. It's pointless taking along what effectively is the Steinway of synthesisers and not using it. For example, when NODE played at EMMA and at the Synthesiser Museum it was all hands on deck. You can see what the musician is doing, and you can hear the effect you are watching – if you see what I mean. Again, they said to us at Holland that it was really different to see one of these old analogues actually being touched!

GG At Jodrell it was almost like a master class. I'd never been so close to a Moog modular in action, and you could literally see every adjustment you made …
MS Part of it is probably that these Moog modulars are so rare. There's a lot of mystique attached to them which is possibly undeserved. They are just synthesisers In the end, but the difference is that they sound phenomenal. I've had 20 years experience of synthesisers, with virtually every synthesiser you could imagine. During much of the 80's, extravagant as it sounds, I was changing synths every couple of months. I must have spent (and lost!) a fortune on them! And nothing, and I mean nothing—not even the MiniMoog itself—even get close. There's something about it which rips your heart out. I don't know that it is. Maybe something about the way it was designed… To me, it's sod the flashing lights, sod the size of it… actually, in terms of facilities it's less useful than, for example, the Doepfer system I have. The Moog is really basic, it's almost like a piece of 1940's military equipment. But what's important to the listener is the sound and the notes which are playing. And I find it a totally inspirational sound. On all my favourite electronic albums, the ones which mean the most to me--particularly "Rubycon" And Mirage"___ this machine plays center stage. Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze didn't invent this sound. I think they invented the way of using it, the sequences etc. (though possible Tonto would argue with that!) But Tangerine Dream had a particular was of using the sequencers which unfortunately means that any one else who wants to use the Moog sequencers gets accused of sounding like them.

GG Though yourself and NODE have proved that you can sound very different …
MS … well, it would be stupid to ignore the fact that we are involved in an area of music, which has a cross-over with that period. Tangerine Dream moved away from it in the late 70's for whatever reason – probably reliability more than anything!! I never felt that enough was done with these instruments. I get new sounds from it every day. This machine is stopping me from earning a living! I just can't stop using it, and it simply inspires you to write music.

GG But I think you are taking it that stage further, with all the sequence variations etc. You are putting the effort in and doing the work which was abandoned after merely scratching the surface… MS I think to be fair, because bands like TD obviously toured a lot, my own experience of using this thing live means that if I took it on a 30 day tour I'd be scared stupid. I wouldn't know what to expect! For example, half an hour before the Holland gig I had to replace one of the filters. In other words a third of the sequencing powers was wiped out at a stroke. The filter, which was originally from Keith Emerson's setup, had a component which had been on the way out for a couple of months and it chose that night to say "I quit". Because I knew this I borrowed a replacement from Chris Ringham – and I'm bloody glad I did!

GG So how did the concert in Holland go… ?
MS It went well, I'm told there were about 700 people there, which amazed me. We played for about 90 minutes, of which approx 25 minutes consisted of 3 album tracks – 4 if you count the version of "Turn and face me" which is an "Atem" influenced track, with lots of VCS3 and tape reverb over everything, mellotron flute, Fender Rhodes etc. But when we recorded that track we were absolutely leg less so couldn't remember what we'd done. There was a phrase we used in concert version, but basically it turned into another track. The rest of the concert though was new stuff. There was a 15 minute section which was essentially Redshift, the sequences went mental!

GG Will the performance be released?
MS I… don't think so. We didn't record it to multi track, and unfortunately the guy who was recording it on DAT faded it after an hour and swapped tapes – even though I did point out that it was a 90 minute DAT so he should fit the whole thing on! He must have forgot or something. Anyway, I haven't listened to it properly but, as I said before, I'm no fan of DAT mixes because they can sound so flat – I'll haven a listen though and if it's good we'll have a think about it. Via the concert we've certainly come up with some ideas for new tracks.

GG How did Arc "happen"? MS Well, I've known Ian as a friend since the early 80's – actually I think since the Klaus Schulze gig at Coventry cathedral. We were both releasing cassettes on Martin Reid's Mirage label, so Martin used to tell me about Ian and send me some of his cassettes. I went to see him at a gig in Ipswich, and we got talking in the bar afterwards… Whenever he was in London he used to pop in…

GG But you never did collaboration in all those years…
MS No, I think whilst we were doing our 80's type stuff it was difficult to see how we could have collaborated because he had his way of doing things, and I had mine. Obviously I was heavily involved with Jive electro then anyway. And I also went through a long period where essentially I was not doing Electronic Music – I was involved in other musical projects, film stuff or whatever. Then I remember him coming over a few years ago, just after I'd bought an ARP 2600 or it might have been when the Moog had actually turned up. I remember we just stood there one night messing around with this stuff and within a few minutes something was happening. The thing about Ian is that he knows how to use these machines, so I can just concentrate on what I'm doing. It was good fun so we agreed to get together again, and he could bring down some of his own stuff. So last summer he came over for a weekend and we got half an album recorded in that time. It was just very quick and felt very easy to do. We just got lots of sequence lines going simultaneously driving "ten tons" of analogue stuff and essentially we semi improvised. We recorded it onto every available channel that I had here, listened to it then thought, "well what can we do over the top of it?"

GG Your sounds have gelled so well on the album…
MS You can hear the clearly defined instrument roles, Ian knows the (Roland) 100m so well, and the VCS3, and for example produces the most wonderful percussive effects which fly in and out. And they are never the same twice, even if you want them to be! I was doing the bass lines on the Moog. Basically we just recorded all these sequence lines, reacting to what the other was doing. So all the rhythmics are recorded "live" essentially. Ian came down for a few more days later on in the summer and we finished off the tracks and did some mixing. The inevitable several months of tweaking, cross fading and working out the links ect followed. Ian sent me down some samples he'd worked on and ripped them apart tortured them and put them between the tracks. It worked out pretty well…

GG And it's so different to Redshift…
MS Yes, the first thing you notice as far as the sequential is that the sequences stay on 4's and 8'sall the way through. It's much more then a groove thing…

GG Dare I say a Node thing? …
MS I suppose It's got that sort of stripped down sound to it. Certainly the sequencing on the moog is more restrained. The Redshift sequencing is more "shut up you lot, I'm having a go!"

GG The last track excepted... MS Yes on the last track' Relay' I don't know what happened to the machine there but it went absolutely mental and we got a sound which was never to be repeated. To the extent in the final mix we just stripped it away to be just that awesome sequence sound…It's just one of those happy accidents you get, the type of thing You simply won't get with a Roland JD800 or a Korg M1. The Moog can sound truly awful at times, but when it works…

GG You don't move the sequences round as much either…
MS No I couldn't because we were using so many percussive sounds and occasionally drum loops – driving the synths as percussive instruments. As soon as you use anything that you have to be very careful with the sequences. If you start doing a 7 note sequence on an 8 part drum loop it will slip out quite quickly and end up sounding awful. Also of course working with Ian, rather than the Redshift guys, created a different approach to ideas. What we didn't want to do was a Mark Shreeve album with Ian Boddy chords, or an Ian Boddy album with Mark shreeve lead lines.

GG it's also very 90's "street cred". Ambient dance etc…
MS We would hope so, but it's the same old problem. Age for example works against us. I'm not going to be taken as a dance artist at the age of 40!

GG Will there be further Arc projects?
MS Don't know really. We enjoyed doing Octane, it felt very relaxed. More relaxed even than Redshift which is perhaps more involved by necessity because Redshift is rather more layered and complex to work on. Getting four people together is also more difficult than getting two! We'll see what happens with this one and maybe do it again, hopefully under the same circumstances. When it starts getting formalised it's less attractive.

GG so what's next on the cards for Redshift? Any live dates?
MS Not at the moment. Ideally I'd like to play in Holland again because we got a great response to the release of the 'Ether' album. But for all the preparation that goes into a single gig… For example, we were preparing for the Arc concert for around a month. I think I made £35 on the whole thing. (Laughs)

GG It's a labour of love though?
MS Absolutely!

GG I mean, you don't do this for the money?
MS Well, the thing is that this is my job, the whole thing is the way I earn money. So there's a limit to the number of times I can do this sort of thing for nothing. You accept that certain things are " loss leaders" almost, and for example the Jodrell Bank concert we used as an opportunity not only to do a live performance but to record the bulk of an album. Obviously that makes it worthwhile. But you can't record and release everything you do live! Ideally I'd like to organize 3 or 4 concerts in a row. KLEM, Berlin Planetarium, then back over to Jodrell Bank for example. It wouldn't be any extra work really, just extra cost. And the more you can play a set live the better it evolves. When you do a one-off it's like a continual first night. Like most bands no-one expects to do there best show on the first night. We will do something in the future though, it's just a question of getting organised. First we'll work on some new material. Julian's played me a cassette of some he's been working on so we've a few idea's to play with there. This is a good thing about having four people involved – it's not all coming from me. It's a lot better to generate ideas with 4 people – especially with the guitarist because he comes at it from a different angle altogether, though we have decided that he had life to easy at JB so he'll be playing keyboards as well in future!

GG So is Redshift your main "angle" now? Any solo material planned for example?
MS The stuff I'm working on now I have to say I view as going more towards Redshift. Having said that I'm just about to work on a piece for an advert. They want a piece of "Indie" music! Again, I get Rob (Jenkins) around for the guitar, but I write the music. But generally I still think I've taken the rock – EM style as far as I could. For me 'Nocturne' was the pinnacle of it – I can't get it any more OTT than that. It took a huge amount of time to do that album, and even when I listen to it now I'm still really pleased with the way it turned out. Unlike 'Legion' or 'Crash Head' for example where I think "oh God, that lasted too long" or " that's the wrong mix" etc. 'Nocturne" has survived much longer, and has so many more levels than the previous albums. I mean, what more can you do with that style? There seems to me 101 electronic acts doing what I call "easy listing" style of EM. Little drum patterns, digital synth sound…erm, you know what I mean…I find it utterly depressing. Ash Prema suggested I go onto the Tangerine Dream digest thing on the net, because they had been talking about Redshift stuff, but for 3 days I got around 25 emails each day and it just starts to get depressing. In a way I want to disassociate myself from what that whole scene. What I do is Electronic Music, it's as simple as that, and I do fear that if I start down the rock-Em path again I might start sounding like these other people! (Laughs)

GG The number of acts creating this style is still relatively few, and I suppose Redshift are unique because of the Moog…
MS Erm, yes. Obviously the instruments you use influence the style, but that's true of any form of music. You'd be hard pressed to play heavy metal music on a zither for example!….you could shove it through a fuzz box I guess- that's actually a quite interesting angle! But when you are using analog instruments you create analog sounding music, and analog styled music- which I know is a strange thing to say. It's music which kind of grows as it goes basically, changing in a natural way rather then enforcing structure. Years back at the KLEM concert we played a section which was essentially the first Redshift track, and everyone agreed that we felt we played it rather that painting by numbers . At the moment I don't feel the desire to get back to structured music. I don't want to wipe it out completely-you go through phases. When I started out doing EM I was only interested on the cosmic "Floaty" type stuff, then I got into punk rock and Klaus Schulze!

GG How's Moog doing as far as reliability is concerned?
MS Not too bad. It goes wrong from time to time, but I have a guy called Chris Ringham who comes down from time to time to overhaul it for me. He's one of only a handful of experts in the UK. It's like a vintage car I suppose, you've just got to keep on top of it. What keeps them going most effectively is to keep using them.

GG Do you leave it permanently switched on?
MS No. I do know people who do that, but I don't because of the fire risk! In a stable location such as the studio here it's not too bad. Usually after a two hour warm up it's stable enough to use. Bits of it go wrong, but the good thing is that even if one part isn't working you can usually use the rest of it-unlike a digital synth. I had a DX7 go wrong on me just before a gig and that was it-I couldn't use it.

GG What do you do about spares for the Moog? Aren't they making the Moog modules again?
MS There's a company called Moog Music's Custom Engineering from whom I'm actually going to order, would you believe it, some screws-really exciting huh? I'm getting some more modules so I need a 4th cabinet. Moog Music are though making modules to the same spec as the original, but they are prohibitively expensive. There's also a company in Wales called Moog Music who built a filter module for me- and you can't tell the difference. Looks the same, sounds the same. Spares though are obviously expensive, being transistor based etc.

GG I believe you also use a Doepfer Modular?
MS Yes, I use it in conjunction with the Moog a lot-for spare envelopes etc., basically anything which doesn't affect the sound. I've had the Doepfer since Jodrell Bank gig, though I didn't use it there. It's a totally modular system, ie it won't work without patch cords. Comes out of Germany, excellent build in my opinion, and it has several different filters one of which I supposed to be a Moog filter-but it sounds more like a ARP filter. The Oberheim filter however does sound exactly like the original. It has some weird and wonderful modules on it, and basically it's brilliant to use on its own or with the Moog. I used it extensively for weird percussive effects at the Arc gig.

GG What's the sequencer module like?
MS It's not a patch on the Moog one. It's too small for a start. It's 2 x 8, but it doesn't have the skip function-which is critical. On the Moog you can make an 8 not sequence sound like it's really complicated. But overall it's a brilliant little machine.

GG Any other recent additions to the studio?
MS I've now got the Doepfer MAQ midi sequencer which I use to run the midi stuff, for example the rack mounted Mini Moog, or the Oberheim Expander. That featured on 'Bombers in the Desert'. Incidentally, the track 'Static' with the cracking bass line sequence. That's not coming from the Moog, or the Doepfer. It actually coming from my 20 year old Yamaha CS30. The sequence line was running free time, not synched to anything. It really was a one-off and everything over the top was totally manual. It really was a huge, evil sound. You can heat it hissing and wheezing. We hired a Fender Rhodes for that track as well.