Electronic Music Icons Play Live in Philadelphia.
In case you haven’t been following all things electronic, the English synthesizer duo, ARC is making their first US appearance ever on November 14th at St. Mary’s Parish Hall on the Penn campus in Philadelphia as part of The Gatherings series.
Mark Shreeve and Ian Boddy are from the second generation of space music artists, musicians who got turned onto electronic music listening to Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and Jean-Michel Jarre. I remember in 1980 and 81 playing Mark Shreeve’s cassette-only releases, Phantom, Embryo and Ursa Major on WXPN‘s Diaspar and Star’s End shows in Philadelphia. In 1982, when Kimberly Haas and I interviewed him in London for Totally Wired, he was making his music in one end of his living room while his girlfriend watched TV at the other end. He told me about Ian Boddy, who I hadn’t heard yet but who would become a favorite during the Echoes era. Shreeve has gone on to release several albums since then, as a solo artist, with his band Redshift and with ARC.
A few years ago when we traveled to London to record a living room concert with ARC, we discovered that Mark Shreeve’s living room isn’t like most of his neighbors in the pleasant middle class borough of Southgate, London. They have couches, easy chairs, maybe a telly. But Shreeve’s living room looks like a synthesizer museum. Along one wall is an Oberheim Expander, Arp 2600, VCS3 and the centerpiece of his recent music, a vintage Moog Modular Series 3 synthesizer.
There’s been a movement over the last 15 years among electronic musicians to use old analog synthesizer sounds. Usually they get these timbres through computer programs called soft synths or virtual synthesizers, but Mark Shreeve prefers the original.
“I mean, it’s a real pain to use,” he groans. “It’s a pain to maintain, it’s difficult to operate, it’s always going out of tune, but in the end, nothing sounds like that big Moog. Nothing in the synthesizer world can put out bass like that machine can, not even a Mini-Moog can.”
Mark Shreeve is a burly man with longish, light brown hair and wearing a black, untucked shirt. As his arms stretch across the width of his Moog synthesizer it seems like he’s trying to wrestle it down to the ground. It doesn’t have a keyboard. Instead, Shreeve twists knobs and moves patch cords to manipulate sound and patterns.
The sound he gets is awe-inspiring. Giant thudding bass lines that start somewhere around Jupiter and end at in your groin trawl under his compositions as cyclical melodies and free-form solos emerge. You can hear that sound on all of Mark Shreeve’s albums over the last decade, including his recordings with Ian Boddy as ARC.
Along with Shreeve, Boddy is one of the grand old men of English space music. Like Shreeve, he’s been recording electronic music since the late 1970s. Tall, lanky, with graying hair pulled back in a pony tail and a thick north country accent, he share’s Shreeve’s love for all things analog.
“It’s got a kind of out of control feel,” he enthuses. “A lot of the modern digital instruments you know exactly what it’s going to do each time, and certainly live when you’re playing loud, I always liken the Moog in full flight, it’s like a steam train coming straight towards you, you cannot get out of the way, it’s got a certain element of danger to the sound.
Ian Boddy has played in the U.S. several times and he runs the DiN label, one of the best and most artfully curated electronic music labels. When Mark Shreeve and Ian Boddy started their duo called ARC, they were looking for a more modern electronic sound, apart from the retro-space sequencer style.
“When we started Arc it was to be a more rhythm based,” admits Shreeve. They’ve moved away from that a bit, although the title track from their album, Blaze, has a drummer and sounds like the “Dragnet” theme in space.
When Mark Shreeve and Ian Boddy ascend the altar at St. Mary’s Church as ARC, they are sure to engage in the kind of music communion that resulted in albums like Arcturus, Blaze, Fracture, Octane, and Radio Sputnik. Be sure to bring your seat harness and maybe a parachute. It’s taken nearly 30 years to get Mark Shreeve here. Who knows when he’ll be back. For more information and advance tickets, go to The Gatherings
ARC will be recording a live session for Echoes on Friday. Look for that to air in December or January.
John Diliberto ((( echoes )))