INTERVIEW: With Ian Boddy (ARC)
Updated: Sep 20, 2022
“Ian Boddy talks about Arc”
S&S: Hello Ian and thank you for making time for this interview. For the benefit of Synth&Sequences readers; how did the birth of Arc come about and what is the definition and inspiration for the name?
IAN BODDY: Hello! Well I've known Mark since we played the very first electronic music event in England in Milton Keynes in 1983. However, for a while our musical paths went in different directions. And somewhere around 1997 we decided it was time for us to work together. There was no particular reason, the timing seemed perfect. Mark was in the experimental stage of his big modular Moog and was starting to compose material for Redshift and I always liked working with modular synths. At the time I had a big Roland System 100M, so Octane was born and released in 1998 on my own Something Else Records label. I can't really remember why we chose the name Arc, but we wanted to have a short, simple name and it seemed to fit the mold.
S&S: How do two people with strong creative opposites (Mark being closer to the retro Berlin School and you being closer to the more contemporary sounds and experimentations) manage to harmonize their artistic visions? Does Arc sound more like Redshift or Ian Boddy? Or is it the perfect Boddy/Shreeve mix?
IAN BODDY: I think it's a nice balance of our two styles. In any case, each Arc album was a little different and our music covered all levels from classic Berlin School sequenced to a more prog rock style with drums to dark ambient with soundscapes. It's probably closer to Redshift's style than better, but I like to think there's a distinction.
S&S: Church is Arc's 7th album and 4th live. Is Arc more comfortable on stage than in the studio?
IAN BODDY: They are two completely different environments and it's hard to compare. In the studio you have time to shape and mold your music, whereas in a live setting anything can happen! It's very enjoyable for both opportunities and we try to alternate between studio and live albums.
S&S: Does Arc focus on improvisations or does the duo structure each of their compositions in concert?
IAN BODDY: A little of both. Technically it's very difficult sometimes to reproduce live what we've created in the studio. After all, modulars are not pre-tuned machines and if you were stuck reproducing everything live you would be stuck with only a few sounds. So I prefer to take the more adventurous studio sounds and sample them, loop them on my Ableton Live laptop. I can then activate them live and send a sync signal to Mark's sequencers who can then improvise over them. This gives us the advantage of getting a big sound live with the flexibility of being able to lengthen or shorten segments as we do live.
S&S: For Ian Boddy, this was your 4th visit to this side of the continent, how were your solo visits and what was it like playing alone in a radio studio? Where does one find the energy and inspiration to play live in a tiny room empty of people? What was the reaction of the media and the public to each of your visits?
IAN BODDY: This was actually my 5th visit; 3 solo and 1 with Robert Rich. I have found that with each visit the attendance and response has been increasing, which is very gratifying. Certainly, there is a very different dynamic than playing alone and playing with another musician. In many cases it's very stressful to play alone because there's so much to do and it's hard to sit back and let yourself get into what you're doing. Playing in the radio station was also difficult because it was indeed a tiny room full of rows of albums, and it was hard to get into your creative bubble but when you've been doing gigs of all kinds and places for a long time you gain the ability and that's what happens. Later on, the radio station moved to new and better premises with a bigger surface to play in, plus we could invite a small audience, giving more emotions, energy to play.
S&S: You also played solo at St. Mary's Church. Was it intimidating to perform solo in a prayerful sanctuary?
IAN BODDY: Not really, you always get the adrenaline buzz when you're playing in front of an audience that helps you maintain your focus. I particularly remember my 3rd solo show where I played songs from my Elemental album and ended the first half with the title track which has a great chorus segment. This piece means a lot to me and as I was playing these choruses, I was looking down the aisle at the beautiful stained glass window in the distance. For a few moments I was able to play and enjoy looking out that window. It was a very special moment and something I will never forget.
S&S: For Arc, and Mark Shreeve, this was a first visit. Is it safer and more challenging to perform as a duo?
IAN BODDY: Well, as I mentioned earlier, it's a different dynamic. Playing alone or as a duo has its own challenges, but the one nice thing about playing live with another musician you respect, and trust is that you don't have to do something all the time. It's nice to be able to step back and see how the performance is going and soak up the atmosphere.
S&S: It is thought that ME only attracts European listeners who seem to be more open to different musical cultures, do you think there is a market for this type of music in the US and Canada?
IAN BODDY: Of course there is a market for this music there. The main problem with the US is its enormity and distance. I think in the UK we're used to travelling between small distances, so you think if there's a gig somewhere in the US people can travel there from anywhere, but it doesn't work like that. It's like a bunch of big countries stuck together, so any event or artistic activity is pretty fragmented and scattered. But I've definitely noticed that playing these shows and getting more radio exposure helps increase visibility, popularity and album sales.
S&S: Church was recorded in a church, while Rise was recorded without the WXPN radio studios in Philadelphia. Each show is totally different; Rise being more atmospheric and ambient, while Church is definitely more aggressive and biting. How did you approach the two shows?
IAN BODDY: In short Church was more structured with themes that we wanted to play interspersed with improvised sections and we wanted it to be bold and grand to suit an audience sitting in that environment. Rise was totally improvised and played in a very intimate, late night environment, so we wanted something more experimental and dark. I think both performances reflect those feelings very well.
S&S: In my opinion Church is really amazing, because it beautifully depicts both the secretive and impulsive moods of what represents the paradoxes of every religion. Does a concert in a church have a special character in terms of compositions and inspiration?
IAN BODDY: You don't have to be religious to play a concert in a church;-) Having said that, it is obvious that a beautiful church because of the nature of its architecture and cultural heritage brings a certain atmosphere to the performance and it is up to the audience to interpret how they feel there. There is no particular religious feeling in the music we played although we wanted to play in the harmony of the building and its atmosphere. We certainly wanted to play some grand themes and composed some of them in advance which could be used as markers during the performance around which we could build a musical journey. We both feel that watching a performance like ours should be exciting and that the music, lighting and building all contribute to making it a memorable evening for our audience.
S&S: If the title track Church inspires a cosmic Gregorian approach that concludes with a good old-fashioned Arc-like sequential approach, Veil is symptomatic of a surprisingly violent release for a track played in a place of prayer. Can we conclude that each track on Church is an evolving chapter at a holy place?
IAN BODDY: Well that's your interpretation but not necessarily what we're aiming for. As I implied, we want a lot of dynamism and drama in the music we play. It's so easy with this equipment to sometimes wander off into repetitive sequences, but that's not satisfying to us, nor do we think it would be to our audience, so we often like to play on contrasts. So with Veil we wanted to have this soft intro and outro ripped to shreds in the middle of this relatively brief violent explosion. In a way we almost always play around the structures present, sort of classical music that has its themes, dynamics and drama. Once you introduce these elements into your music you have the chance to gain the most important factor and that is emotion, for us it is the most important thing.
S&S: What was the preparation like for each of your shows on this trip to Philadelphia? Knowing the enormity of Mark Shreeve's Synth Moog and knowing that he didn't make the trip, how did Arc manage to sound so close to your sonic reality?
IAN BODDY: Chuck van Zyl, the host of the Stars End radio show and Gatherings concerts pulled all the strings for us and 3 local musicians generously loaned us a selection of keyboards and a large Synth.com system with 2 clones of the Moog sequencers for Mark's use. We flew out a few days before the concerts and stayed at a very nice B*B in the woods outside Philadelphia whose owner let us use a very nice and large room so we could rehearse. This gave us time to iron out any technical difficulties and combine the pre-prepared material I had on my laptop with the material we would be performing live. It was a very busy and somewhat anxious time, but I think we came out of it okay.
S&S: I know your two Philadelphia shows were huge successes. Are you considering a mini North American tour?
IAN BODDY: Well, that would be fun and a great challenge. I've already mentioned the fact that traveling there is very different from here and we have to keep in mind that we have valuable, fragile and expensive equipment, making the idea of a tour of some kind even more difficult to achieve.
S&S: After two live albums from Arc, can we expect a next studio album?
IAN BODDY: We usually alternate between live and studio albums, but it's still too early to tell. Of course, Mark has his Redshift project and I have several other projects to focus on first.
S&S: Apart from Arc, Ian Boddy has a solo career, as well as a DiN label, tell us about Ian Boddy's music and the creation of the DiN label?
IAN BODDY: Well, that's a big question; how do I measure my 30 year career? :). Simply by listening to my music, always electronic in nature of course but constantly exploring other avenues, while combining musical structures and collaborations with other artists. I've never been content to just populate a comfort zone in EM and I think it's important to always try new ideas. DiN was founded in 1999 and it was really a way for me to present a more focused, planned music label that allowed me to both collaborate with other musicians, but also release albums by other musicians that I respect.
S&S: What can we expect if we go out and discover the artists on your label?
IAN BODDY: First of all good music, I hope. Everything from old Berlin School sequenced electronic music to IDM and dance music as experimental as it is varied to ambient to dark soundscapes and even modern digital forms of expression. A lot of time is spent on the presentation of the albums with very good sound quality and beautiful cover designs. All the albums are limited editions and I think this combination makes them good collector's items. I think there is something for every ME fan, regardless of the angle you approach this wide range of genres.
S&S: Several DiN albums are now discontinued, but available in downloadable format, I'm thinking of the first 2 Arc albums; Octane and Radio Sputnik. Can we expect a real CD reissue or is downloadable music replacing more and more the CD format?
IAN BODDY: Well, first of all Octane was already out before the creation of DiN and in fact there was already a CDR reprint with the original covers of this album. However as mentioned above, all DiN albums are produced in limited editions, between 1000 and 2000 depending on the artist and the release. If you do a limited edition then you MUST stick with it, that's what it is. As far as I'm concerned, the physical CD and the downloadable format are equally important and give customers the chance to make a choice. The physical CD is good for collectors who prefer to have a nice physical product knowing that there is a limited amount of it and the downloadable format is good for those who care less.
S&S: What can we expect from Ian Boddy's next album?
IAN BODDY: It's been 30 years since my first tape was made in 1980. I would like to produce a special commemorative double CD for this occasion in a really nice package that will be signed and numbered. I am currently compiling the tracks for this occasion and will make an official announcement soon.