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The Boddy In Question

Ian Boddy

Northern electronic music exponent Ian Boddy answers questions from Tim Goodyer about the recording of his new album, live performance, and music synthesis.

Of all Britain's new-generation synth composers, few are more consistently active or enthusiastic than Tynesider Ian Boddy. This month he's released a second album of electronic music under his own steam, and further projects are in the pipeline.

I suppose Ian Boddy's name will already be familiar to many of you thanks to his periodic contributions to E&MM's editorial pages. From time to time, he's put the case for spreading the word of instrumental electronic music to a wider audience through the release of records and cassettes and the staging of live concerts, and he himself has been active in both those fields. He performs live more frequently than almost any comparable musician in the land, and as from this month, he has two self-perpetrated album releases to his credit.

Boddy took the plunge, vinyl-wise, in the autumn of 1983, when he released a sparkling long-player by the name of The Climb. It sold well, and its successor, Spirits, looks like doing better still, so why such a delay between the two albums? It seems the main problem was one familiar to everybody - money. As the company financially responsible for the release of The Climb weren't able to fund its followup past the master recording stage, the composer had to look around for an alternative deal.

'I'd been talking to Jive Electro but it was taking so long. It took 18 to 20 months to get Spirits out, and that was really frustrating. I had all the material finished at the start of last year, but couldn't do anything with it.'

Eventually, Boddy managed to secure a welcome if not exactly substantial grant from the Arts Council, finished the mixing, and had the disc pressed and distributed on his own.

'The Arts Council gave me £1100 for a year, and that was my last chance before self-finance. The arrangement is that I get to keep the royalties, and any profit we split in half.'

And profit does seem to be a serious possibility, now that 800 copies out of an original pressing of 1000 have been sold or ordered within a month of the LP's release. One hundred of that original figure were given away in the interests of promotion, while 500 went straight to distributors. 'I'm hoping to have the £1100 back by the end of June', predicts Ian. If he's right, a re-pressing won't be all that far away, and it'll be no more than he deserves. The success he's achieved so far has been the result of sheer hard graft, trying to get as much publicity through as many different media as has been practically possible.

'I've already had quite a bit of local radio interest and done two interviews. Of the tracks on Spirits, 'Pulse' and 'Living in a Ritual' have received the most airplay, though someone did actually play seven minutes or so of the title-track - not bad when you consider the full version lasts for one whole side of the album.'

And Boddy's distribution covers overseas markets in addition to the British one, which is no bad thing for a musician in his particular field. 'There seems to be much less interest in the UK market than that in Germany, for instance, but I don't really see why that should be. There are disadvantages with foreign distribution, like the language barrier and the time it takes to get stuff available there.'


Back to the music. All recording and production was carried out at Newcastle Media Workshops, where Ian exploited an enviable arrangement whereby he had unlimited free studio time in return for doing a little engineering work for the organisation. Just what went on in the studio is a bit of a mystery, though, due largely to the absence of an equipment listing on the record sleeve. It turns out this is a deliberate move on the part of the artist. Why?

'Well, first of all I felt it would all look a bit odd because my equipment list would have been so long in comparison to the other two musicians on the album. But it was mostly because I don't really like the way the industry tries to put so much pressure on the artist to have the most up-to-date equipment, and the way it fails to make it compatible with older stuff. The way things are now, you really need to have all the new equipment to make it work together. And that's not something I'm all that keen on doing, not least because of cost.'

Point taken. The hardware on the album turns out to be as varied as the above sentiments would suggest. First on the list is a Yamaha DX7, in itself nothing startling save the fact that Ian claims to be one of the first in the UK to own one. What is rather more surprising is the fact that the DX finds itself surrounded by a number of strange bedfellows on Spirits, none stranger than an ancient VCS3 analogue synth...

'After working with the VCS3 as an introduction to synthesis, and also the Roland System 100M which has limited FM synthesis, I found the DX7 quite easy to program', comments Boddy. Lucky man!

'I also used the Roland in conjunction with the other synths quite a lot. For example, the sequence in the middle of Spirits was the DX7 'cut' by the 100M, which I found quite effective. I used a Roland TB303 Bassline, too, but only to trigger the System 100M - not for its own sound!'

'There's a Roland SH2 on there as well, which I used for bass drones. I still don't feel there's anything to beat the richness its three oscillators can give.'

From the subject of synthesisers to that of something altogether less futuristic - drums. Another Ian (McCormack, a local heavy metal skin-basher, would ya believe) is credited with acoustic drums on the record sleeve, and it's an addition that seems unlikely at first. It works, though. Spirits is a good bit more dynamic than its predecessor as a result of the drummer's inclusion, or as Boddy put it, 'he certainly livens things up a bit.'

But that's not to say the composer has neglected electronically-created percussion - far from it. Where his use of drum machines differs from most people's lies in his insistence on using the best sound he can find for each drum, and that results in a bizarre and unwieldy collection of drum machine sources, as Boddy explains.

'First of all, the hi-hat is from a Roland TR606. I actually prefer the sound of an analogue hi-hat to the sound of a real or digitally-encoded one. In fact, the hi-hat of the acoustic kit on Spirits is EQ'd to sound as much like the 606 as possible!

The bass drum is the TR808, and the snare is from the Hammond DPM48 - that's the only electronic snare I really like. The drum machines were all synced together using the five-pin DIN sockets that are standard on all of them, which was useful.'

In addition to all this, Boddy has called his DX7 into action for some percussion sounds. 'I really like the drum sounds you can get on the DX. On both 'The Sentinel' and 'Living in a Ritual' I used a modified Log Drum off the DX7 cartridge. There's no MIDI sequencing or arpeggiation on the album, so the drum roll on 'The Sentinel', for example, was played by hand. That's good because it means you can put extra touches and dynamics in, things you couldn't readily sequence. It adds a human feel to things, and it's much more satisfying to do.'

Another characteristic of the way Spirits is arranged is Boddy's penchant for mixing sequenced and manually-played parts.

'In the middle of Spirits I've got a static sequence and real drums running together, because I like the contrast between the two. Quite a lot of what sound like electronic sequences on the album are actually played by hand.'

External Hardware

But lest you be under the impression that Ian Boddy's musical instrument resources are unlimited, I should point out that not all the hardware used to record the album was his own. And in amongst the list of borrowed gear (much to Boddy's regret) is a Roland SVC350 Vocoder that saw extensive use during the creation of Spirits.

The vocoder is the same one I used on The Climb. I've used it this time on 'Ritual' for a solo that has the DX7 articulated by the vocoder, and on 'The Sentinel' for choir effects. The finished sound is usually more synth than voice, but I like the almost guitar-like fluidity that the vocoder gives the sound. It's much better than the breath controllers I've tried - more subtle and human in quality. Another thing I did with it was 'spooky' sound effects - I got some white noise and muttered over it!

"I used a heavy metal singer on the album because I don't like the current style of pop vocal - I wanted something a lot stronger."

'Initially all the vocals on the album were done with the vocoder, but I felt they were still too weak, and that's where Brian Ross came in. He's a heavy metal singer, and the reason I asked him to sing on 'Living in a Ritual' was because I don't like the current style of pop vocal - I wanted something stronger. The vocoder is still there at the end of the track in the background, though, filling in the chords behind the lead vocal.'

The recording was eight-track, recorded on a Tascam 38-8, and digitally mastered on a Sony PCM F1, another piece of technology Boddy is particularly impressed with.

'There isn't any comparison between digital mastering and reel-to-reel mastering. There's no detectable hiss, which is especially useful on fades, but one problem is that it's very difficult to edit digital master. Originally we had gaps of maybe 16 or 17 seconds between the tracks on side one, and had to cut them down to eight or nine seconds by doubling the speed of the master between tracks at the cutting stage - that was at Utopia studios.'

Still on the subject of things digital, Boddy has his own set of opinions when it comes to bit-sized outboard gear, too. In this case, they're less favourable.

'I found I preferred the tape echo over digital echo for lead sounds and washes, as the Roland SDE2000 at the studio was just too clean; so I used the Roland on sequences instead. I did like the digital reverb, though. It was the first time I'd used one, and both the Yamaha R1000 and the MXR 01 are really good - much better than the old spring reverb. And that's good for me, because I feel that reverb really is the most important overall effect.'

Live Work

Changes are also in the offing for the live aspects of Boddy's work, as his activities over the coming months should show. Because whereas most of his past performances have been solo affairs, future gigs should see him aided by the recruitment of additional keyboard player David Berkley.

'David is a local keyboard player that I've known for some time. We work at the same place and only live about two-and-a-half miles apart, so it's quite a convenient arrangement.'

It seems the intention, initially at least, is for the duo to perform Boddy's work only, with Berkley relieving the composer of some of the live performance pressures.

'David will be using a DX7 and a Prophet 600 MIDI'd together, which will enable us to emulate the sound of the album fairly closely. Until now, performing live has been a job for both my hands and both my feet, but having David around should make things a lot easier and allow me more freedom to concentrate on the visual presentation. I've used tapes in the past for rhythms and effects, but they have their drawbacks.

'I have actually performed Spirits live about four times already, each time a little differently, and it actually works better with taped drums than a drum machine. Mind you, if Ian McCormack is available I'd like to perform it completely live sometime in the future.'

Ian reckons it'll take a few gigs before the relationship between himself and Berkley is properly established, but has high hopes for the project, and intends to introduce some new material into the duo's second performance. Thus far there are around five possible gigs in the offing, though only two of these were confirmed at the time of writing. The first will be in June at a festival called 'Man and Machine' in Stockton, for which a 45-minute spot featuring 'Spirits' and 'The Sentinel' is planned, while the second is to be either an evening support or daytime headline spot at UK Electronica '85. Once the format of the performances has been established, there are promises of the inclusion of such eccentricities as African drums, though finance remains an important consideration, so that no definite visual plans, for instance, have taken shape on the Boddy drawing board. We shall see.

But one thing that will remain regardless of the man's financial situation is his determination to get synth music accepted by as wide an audience as possible.

'I'm very determined to get people away from this preconception that synthesisers are machines. A synthesiser is no more or less machine than a grand piano, after all, and there's a lot more electronic music about than people seem to realise. Today's chart music, for example, is extensively electronic, but not many people actually realise that the music they're listening to is made up using electronic instruments.'

Another of Ian's concerns is the general (and prevailing) feeling among the general public that the standard of UK electronic music somehow falls below that being produced in mainland Europe.

'The only people around in the UK at the moment are Mark Shreeve and myself, and we seem to be seen as being musically inferior to Tangerine Dream, Vangelis or Jean-Michel Jarre. I don't think that's the case at all, but it's very hard to gain acceptance. We're seen as not being as professional as them and, consequently, it's much harder to persuade a record company to take the risk they'd take with Jean-Michel Jarre with one of us. Maybe it's because of the vast amount of equipment they use, but I think our work is just as valid.'

Things to Come

Moving on from music biz politics towards Boddy's future plans, it seems that rather than continue to invest money in more and more equipment, he'll opt to record and sell the music he makes with what's available to him now.

The search for a recording contract will continue, but if nothing turns up, the money forthcoming from Spirits should help to get things underway. A short-term loan from Boddy's friendly local bank manager isn't out of the question, either. But however the financial side of the next album is eventually resolved, the artistic considerations are unlikely to be a problem.

'I've already managed to get some new material recorded on the four-track at home and one piece at the University studio, as the studio I used for Spirits is looking for new premises at the moment.

'At the time I recorded The Climb I felt I was happy with it, but I feel that I've progressed a long way with Spirits both in production and playing terms; and already, I think I can improve on that. I want to try to capture a wider range of moods and dynamics, and get the sort of energy that a rock band gets. I'd also like to combine differing styles such as church organs and rock drums.

'I think I achieved that integration to some extent with the title-track on Spirits, which is almost classical in feel whilst 'Pulse', for instance, is a lot more poppy.

'But if there's one thing I want to do most of all, it's to get people over the idea that there's something special or unusual about electronics, get them over the 'machine mystique' mentality, and back to listening to the music.'

I think we'd all drink to that.

For those interested, Spirits is available from: Lotus Records, (Contact Details), or through general retail distribution by The Cartel.

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The King's Keys

Electronics & Music Maker - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.


Electronics & Music Maker - Jun 1985

Scanned by: Stewart Lawler

Interview by Tim Goodyer

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> Out-Takes

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