By Paul Graham / Trancine
PG: To start with, a question that may seem slightly obtuse, what
kind of music do Redshift create? And what category , if any ,
does that music belong too?.
M.S. That’s very simple to answer. We create electronic music.
We do not consider ourselves any particular “school” of E/M.
We are not “new age” , “ambient” ,”chill-out” , “Berlin-school” or
whatever other idiotic labels people like to apply. We just create
electronic music, pure and simple.
The central idea behind Redshift is to create music using mainly
synthesiser sounds, tuned or abstract , along with other electronic
sources and/or mechanical sounds and also samples and “found”
sounds. The only desire is to create music that is emotionally charged.
For me personally, emotion is the one and only reason for listening to
music, whether it is created on the world’s most expensive synthesiser
or just the simple beauty of the human voice.
Therefore if a person listens to one of our albums and is “moved” by it in some way , then we have succeeded .And of course conversely, if they are not , then we have failed , it obviously comes down to individual personal taste.
When someone does not respond to our music I feel very disappointed , mainly because of the sheer dedication, desire and love that goes into making it . But despite that negative feeling I clearly can’t condemn that person in any way…its’ their free choice after all. And that, of course, is the cross that all musicians have to bear, after all, criticism is simpler than creation. We all know this because we are all guilty of it.
P.G. To some people it may seem strange for musicians using electronic sounds as their basic tools to actually be playing what, by now, are very old synthesisers. Do you feel that this “ages” your music in any way?.
M.S. Well, this is one area that does make me angry. The idea that you can only produce “modern” electronic music if you only use digital-synths, computers/plug-ins or whatever is total garbage.
For me, music is valid as music, that is, it is not defined as “modern” music purely because it was created on a computer, any more than it is defined as “old-fashioned” because it was created using orchestral instruments for example.
Imagine this, if, as most people seem to accept, Mozart is regarded as the originator of the Romantic style of classical music, would people therefore condemn those who followed him , such as Beethoven , Wagner in fact, all the way to Holst and possibly beyond?. Is their music invalid because they were creating a style that basically existed since the late 1700s’?, surely no-one would be so crass or stupid to believe that?
The Romantic music of Richard Strauss was equally as valid as Mozart’s’. Despite the century apart, Strauss still created beautiful music. The same principle applies to all forms of music including E/M.
It is not good or bad because someone perceives it to belong in a certain era….it is only good or bad depending on the individual listener’s emotional reaction to it. Emotion is the key.
Everything else is rubbish.
The point is that an “old” synthesiser has the same validity in modern music as any other instrument, otherwise I guess we would have to chastise people for using guitars, or pianos, or voices etc.!
Redshift create modern music….its modern because we are creating it now!
P.G. You don’t appear to have played many live gigs as a band. What’s’ the reason for this?
M.S. Several reasons really. Mainly its’ a cost and logistics thing. The big down-side to using the instruments that we do is the sheer size and weight of them. Even a Fender Rhodes takes three people to carry it. Also, we have to be so careful with the older gear because its’ so delicate…if you even stare at the Minimoog in the wrong way it goes wildly out of tune.
Of course, the option would be not to perform with all that stuff, but then it simply wouldn’t sound like Redshift, that’s’ the dilemma. It would be like attending a Sex Pistols gig only to find them playing an acoustic set…interesting maybe…but not quite right.
Having said all that, our limited experience of doing Redshift gigs has been uniformly positive. The last gig we played was the Hampshire Jam 2 festival in 2002 and ,despite some internal band problems prior to the gig, the day itself was a marvellous experience.
Everything came together…it was a great venue, totally superb sound system(rare for electronic music) and just a wonderful atmosphere all round. Especially the interaction with all the other bands/artists who were also performing, there were no ego-clashes or anything remotely unpleasant…just a relaxed good-fun day.
That’s one of the things I always like to stress about my near 30 years in the E/M scene…the feeling of camaraderie between all of the musicians as well as the audience is very special. I don’t recall ever, at any time, anything else other than warmth and friendliness. Its’ always such a pleasure meeting up with people whether its’ backstage with the other artists or with the audience on the stalls after the gig. I doubt that many other styles of music can match this.
P.G. I’m interested in how you interact as a band when it comes to creating the music. Is it all put together “en masse” or is it more of an individual process?.
M.S. It normally depends on whether its’ a live venture or a studio album. As a rule (though not always) the time and distance pressures prevent the band working together on a daily basis. Julian has his career, James is frequently on the other side of the world and, while he was in the band, Rob had many other activities on the go.
The net result of all this means that for gigs we get together usually for the first time about two weeks beforehand . By that time I have normally been working on some ideas for sequencer patterns and rhythms as and occasionally some chord or harmony lines. Then we just jam away until the basis of something forms…we try not to formalise it too much….just get some idea of a loose structure. In fact, most of the rehearsals that we taped show that any one track can vary from 10 minutes all the way up to 30 minutes in length depending on the mood.
The sequencer parts that are prepared are, of course, only the jumping off point for the other guys. For example , they will know that for this section we will be in D minor at 140 bpm…although I frequently vary the length of the sequencer lines…one pass may be 4/4 , the next 7/8 etc.
The analogue instruments make it easier to achieve a constantly changing web of intricate patterns and evolving sound. We do not, like so many E/M bands just let one 8 note sequencer line run ad nauseum.
With the studio albums on the other hand, the problems of getting everyone together for more than the occasional afternoon mean that for the most part they are recorded solely by me. The first Redshift album was obviously recorded before the concept of a band had even been talked about. And Halo turned out to be entirely solo save for three guitar fx during the end section of the title track. It can be frustrating not be able to spend the time together that we would want to …buts that’s a reality I suspect many bands have to face.
When we play live it’s as if we individually take responsibility for certain parts of the performance. For my own part , I tend to run the core of the sequencing and very occasionally get chance to play some other keyboard parts too. James has fallen in love with the Rhodes so in the live situation that tends to be his baby. Rob was clearly the guitar man, although he also eventually got himself a modular synthesiser and added to the multi-layered sequencing. And Julian is the king of the chords, leads and of course, extra sequencing. But none of this is cast in stone. When I recently mixed down our live gig from the HJ2 I often couldn’t work out who was playing what….and I think that is a good sign.
One of the main problems we have live is that after we have finished with one section I literally have to re- tune all the synthesiser oscillators and sequencer steps (I have 2 Moog 8*3 sequencers and 1 Analogue Systems 8*3 sequencer…that means a possible total of 72 steps to re-tune, although in reality I mainly keep the 3rd row of each sequencer for filter colour). This, as you can imagine, takes time…five minutes is my fastest I believe. It means that the others have to keep coming up with good “bridging” sections while I’m frantically knob-twiddling….and yes, sometimes I do get it horribly wrong.
P.G. I have discovered that you personally have had quite a long musical career. What was the line of your experience with electronic instruments from the start?. And from a technical point of view how much does your past aid Redshifts’ music?.
M.S. In the mid 70s I studied basic electronic music making with a guy called Eddie Franklin-White. He taught me the basics of sound-creating on synthesisers and general sound manipulation such as eq, mixing, tape-editing etc. Importantly he was one of these all-too-rare “inspirational” people, his method of teaching really fired my enthusiasm and desire to make music.
The first synthesiser I used there was an old EMS VCS3, which looked rather like a child’s first chemistry set. It made some great noises though. A year or two later I bought a couple of fairly low cost synthesisers and started releasing my own cassette albums.
By the early 80s I was fortunate enough to get a lucky break in being signed up by a fairly major record label and publishing company who also happened to own some of the best recording studios in the UK.
I recorded 2 solo albums and many other projects there, and this time there was no restriction on the level of production. For the first time I was working with highly trained and very professional engineers and producers (again, I think I was very fortunate with this, hardly anybody else in E/M has had the opportunity to do this).
The result was that I learnt a lot more about music production than I would have if I had remained a “bedroom” recordist. I don’t claim that I have the level of knowledge of those professionals, but watching them work enabled me to learn more about this craft and to apply it later when I worked on my own again.
I think the biggest benefit I gained from my past as far as Redshift is concerned is that I know how to use synthesisers, which may sound a bit daft, but I learnt quite early on to distinguish between a good sound and a naff one. Understanding the “flow” of the sound helps this enormously , it’s not something you pick up by punching in tedious presets all day.
P.G. On the subject of production , one of the things that seems to set Redshift apart from most other E/M artists is the superb , luxuriant production. What kind of producers do you most admire?
M.S. Outside of E/M there are too many to mention. Within E/M….that’s easy…. Ed Buller and Flood from Node , who were , of course, already world-renowned producers of several major bands. Their choice, creation and treatment of sounds is totally unrivalled in E/M. Their use of dynamics is sensational….there are no silly little one-dimensional ditties with these guys.
These days production has much less to do with equipment, since most people are recording digitally anyway. There probably isn’t such a vast gulf of recording quality between the pro-studios and the bedroom-studio stuff as there used to be…..however, there is still a yawning chasm between the levels of ability and experience. Just because someone has all the latest computer-bollox in his bedroom rarely means that you are going to be treated to an audio extravaganza.
Skill in production as gained from many sources, but there is nothing quite like learning from the pros.
When I used to record by myself in the 70s there was no quality-control force to bounce off. Consequently I look back at some of that music and wince….if only I hadn’t believed that I knew it all (ah, the arrogance of youth). At some point you need a different set of experienced ears to tell you what you are doing wrong. As I said before, during the 80s I was lucky enough to get a tremendous amount of guidance on all matters relating to the artistic and mechanical side of production. Since then I believe I have been able to exert better quality control over the music I record.
Someone who spends his entire musical life recording by himself is hardly likely to become a skilled producer….as I believe many self-produced E/M albums show. Though, having said all that, production isn’t everything. There are many albums I love where the production values are questionable. Getting the balance right, that’s the tricky part.
P.G. How important is the “sound” of an instrument to you?, what I mean is, if its’ playing a great part, does it matter too much about its’ audio quality?
M.S. For me personally, this is of huge importance. I’m one of these strange people who just loves sounds. Sounds of thunder, machines, people, nature etc. In fact any sound that has rich tonal qualities within it…which I guess is what gives the movement to the sound.
Sad though this may be, I can happily listen to a one-note low drone from an ARP 2600 for ages, the sheer depth of sound is what I find so, dare I say it, sensual. If I try the same stunt on a Korg Triton only about 10 seconds go by before I feel the urgent need to shoot somebody. I realise all of this is down to personal tastes and experiences, but I’ve noticed over the years that most of the music I enjoy is basically analogue in nature.
When I record say, a sequencer line, I can often spend as much time working the sound as I do the actual notes. I believe that in E/M the sound is critical, perhaps more so than any other form of music.
P.G. I’m interested in your perception of the E/M scene. Redshift do have a “cool” sound to them (according to many of my club-goers), but the general perception of this scene is that it attracts many of the, how can I put this nicely, trainspotter-types who tend to frequent Sci-Fi fairs. This seems to be the general image the outside world gets from most E/M .How much of a problem is it separating Redshift from this particular image? It seems to me that your music has a more “serious” edge to it than most of the other E/M I’ve heard. Does it bother you that you guys often get lumped in with the rest?
M.S. Well, I think you are being a little unfair there. From a historical perspective, electronic music had quite serious beginnings. Even in the 70s when many of the German bands were starting there was no particular link with science-fiction. For the most part 70s E/M was very dark and curiously “primeval” sounding…none of those bands, to my knowledge, were ever banging on about Star Trek or whatever.
I think the sci-fi connection started happening in the mid 80s onwards. More and more people could afford the newer synths so everyone and his dog were recording so-called E/M albums. Suddenly we were awash with lightweight schmaltzy sounding music that relied on spectacularly bad drum-programming, shockingly bland sounds and all topped off with a hideous “Janet and John” twee-toon over the top. Also, many E/M album covers starting sporting naff-looking sci-fi covers….I think this is the point where the outside worlds’ view of E/M began to get negative. It’s a real shame, because amongst the dross there was some really good music.
But by this time E/Ms’ image had suffered badly. That it got lumbered with this “sci-fi anorak” tag was very unfortunate, and probably damaging. Also, much of what was called “E/M”, in my opinion….wasn’t. Many albums at that time (and still today) were just very ordinary instrumental muzak using rather uninspired sounds…..is this really where the dark menace of “Atem” had led us to?...what a tragedy if that was true.
What people get turned on by (sci-fi or otherwise) is entirely up to them .For my own part, its’ not a genre that appeals to me at all, and I can promise you I have never been to a sci-fi fair!
I get letters and emails from time to time where people say that they get mental images when listening to our music , and occasionally they do seem to be sci-fi related….it doesn’t bother me in the slightest , in fact I’m pleased that they are getting any sort of emotional contact in the first place. Its’ not up to me to dictate to the listener the nature of their emotional response.
My feelings about any given piece of music are (as they should be) different from anybody else’s.
It may be because of the age I’m at, but the image thing concerns me a great deal less than it used to. All I want to do is create music.
One thing amazes me though…you say you play Redshift at your club?...and people dance do it?......erm...how?
P.G. I feel that Redshifts’ music has a “dangerous” and “unstable” feel to it. Is this deliberate or is that the nature of the instrumentation used?
M.S. Well, one feeds the other I guess. How ever hard you might try, you cannot tame these old synths. They have a habit of surprising you (and the audience) when you least expect it. Keeping control of the tuning is the biggest pain, and not always achieved, but, as with all music, feel is more important than precision. The instability you mention is inherent in the sound and must therefore affect the perceived “danger” of the sound.
P.G. What has been your relationship with the technology of electronic music over the years?
M.S. After spending a short time using the Music College VCS3s et al ,I managed to persuade my long-suffering girlfriend to lend me £500 (in about 1977 I think) to get my own synth , a Yamaha CS30 , resplendent with its own 8 note sequencer. I had listened to many other low-cost synths at that time but none of them had the richness or power of this Yamaha (I have never been a great fan of Roland monosynths). I spent every available moment learning how to create sounds from this little synth….I believe it helps later on , when you get the most from something so relatively basic.
In the early 80s I got seduced by the appeal of the early digital synths, they never went out of tune; they had patch memories, and large banks of factory sounds. My first one was a Yamaha DX7, and apart from being genuinely amazed at the tubular bell preset, it was a synth I never really liked from the outset. It had a horrible, thin, metallic sound totally devoid of life and movement. In fact, even the tubular bell sound was terrible compared to the real thing. It’s just that in isolation you think…”wow, that’s sounds real” when of course, its’ nothing of the sort.
After that I kept on buying more and more synths in the hope that I would find a range of sounds I wanted to work with, with varying degrees of success. I made some real howlers too….a Jupiter 6, which I bought in the vain hope that it could sound like a Jupiter 8…. no chance. I got a Sequential Drumtrax that never ended upon any recordings, mainly because the studio I recorded at had Linns and Fairlights. The Drumtrax sounded like one of those home-organ type drum-machines by comparison….dreadful thing.
In that mid 80s period I seemed to be buying a new synth almost every fortnight, very stupid. In any case, most of the good sounds I got came from Battery Studios Farlight IIs and IIIs, Emulators etc etc.
I loved the idea of samplers …still do in fact. When I was recording my “Legion” album we spent days and days making all kinds of samples. I really love weird vocal samples, so we would be there making strange noises down microphones and messing them up in the Fairlight and then using the Fairlights’ Page R sequencer to create bizarre rhythms from voice samples. It seemed to me to be a great deal more creative that using some awful 12 string guitar preset from the latest Korg digi-synth
Toward the 90s I started feel that I was losing interest in synthesisers until, by pure chance, I played a Minimoog at a friends place. It took my breath away, I hadn’t touched one for at least 8 years, and I was almost angry with myself for forgetting just how gorgeous they sounded. There aren’t many synths that sound good without adding effects .…the Minimoog is one of them.
Also, from a musician’s point of view, it just screams at you “Play me!”…its design is almost perfect, its’ power and depth only bettered by the modular synths of the same make. So I bought one. Well, actually, I bought a Midimini which is a rack-mounted Mini. A short while after I got the real thing too. The Midimini sounds great…but…not as “swimmy” as the real machine.
By the early 90s I was starting to tire of the whole “silly-tune” thing that was going on in EM….I really wanted to get back into some dark and menacing sounds….I wanted the freedom of expression that analogue synths afford the musician. At this time I came into contact with Ed Buller (of Node) and through his help (as well as that of Martin Newcomb) managed to find an expanded Moog 3C modular synthesiser which I had shipped in from the States.
Suddenly, all my interest in electronic music was re-awakened. This was an instrument that could create truly remarkable “electronic” sounds rather that pale, thin, imitations of “real” instruments that many of the modern, bland synthesisers were attempting to create.
So, to distinguish between my previous solo-work and this very different sound I decided to start the “Redshift” idea.
P.G. So, all analogue is good, all digital is bad?
M.S. Absolutely not!
There are some digital synths that I really like….Kurzweils, Korg Wavestation, PPG Wave 2 etc.
In fact, I personally prefer digital synths to the “analogue modelling” wannabees. This weak approximation of real analogue synths makes me laugh. Far better that they are used to create their own unique sounds.
And there are many analogue synths that I can’t stand the basic sound of (most of them probably). It all comes down to depth of sound, much like it does with acoustic instruments, some pianos are sensational…most are not…some are chronic.
A Moog Modular has a beautiful depth of sound and is as equally capable of the most sublime delicacy as easily as it is raw animal power. It is encouraging to me that many new manufacturers of analogue synths have appeared on the scene in the last few years. Also, some E/M acts are starting to invest in these strange and dangerous instruments…this is all very heartening I think….maybe the future of electronic music is brighter than we thought.
P.G. What do you think of the “plug-in” instrument revolution?
M.S. Well, it may be a revolution in computer technology, but its’ not in terms of design creativity.
I can only comment on the plug-ins that I have heard compared to the instruments that I have.
I’ve heard Minimoog, Moog Modular, ARP Odyssey, Fender Rhodes (several), Hammond (several) and Prophet 5 plug-ins. My reaction to them comparing them to the originals is…..”you have to kidding!”
I mean, I’ve never thought that my hearing was of superhuman quality…but…to claim that these plug-ins sound like the real thing?...these manufacturers should be taken to court for making insulting claims like that. They don’t even come close.
You can imagine that some youngster who has never heard a real Rhodes being easily persuaded….but please!!....its’ so pathetic to claim that some PC compatible geek-machine can unleash the un-restrained thunder of a Moog 3C. After all…if they can , where’s the evidence?...I’ve not heard one album that claims to use a Moog Modular plug-in even get close to the darkly beautiful sounds evident on the Node album. That proof of the pudding ….
Plug-ins can, of course, be a very useful tool for writing music….but I’m afraid there is an awful long way to go before computing power can re-create these kind of sounds.24 bit 96kHz doesn’t even scratch the surface. I have no problems with plug-in synths being used in their own right, that is, creating a sound unique to them….in which case I judge them entirely on the same basis as any other unique instrument. I have heard some really good sounds coming from plug-ins. I have NOT heard anything like a Minimoog though. It would be much better if manufacturers spent more time creating plug-ins of new designs….like Atmosphere etc. Why bother trying to fake the unfakeable?
P.G. Which musicians, inside and outside of your genre, do you most admire?
M.S. Within E/M , I guess I’m going to have to be rather boring and obvious here. Chris Franke for his unique sound-creating abilities as well as his rhythmic sense.
Edgar Froese for being, in my opinion, the greatest and most sensitive player of the Mellotron…ever. But hey, Edgar, leave that guitar alone!
Klaus Schulze for creating the greatest and most beautiful piece of electronic music ever…Mirage.
Jean-Michel Jarre , I know its’ unfashionable in E/M circles to be a fan….but I always have been. I have tremendous admiration for his ability to create very memorable themes while using the most wonderful “fluffy” sounds.
Neu for creating Neu75…weird and disturbing.
Tonto for taking me on my first psychedelic journey with Zero Time.
Cluster for releasing Cluster II…leave the lights on when you listen to this.
Node for creating the undisputed best electronic music album for 20 years.
Dave Gilmour…for me easily the best guitarist ever…not the fastest maybe…but wonderfully sensitive, he knows the value of space as well as notes.
John Lydon/Rotten for tearing the corporate music business to pieces (temporarily) and for “Pretty Vacant”.
Keith Emerson for his dynamic mould-breaking keyboard style…none of that atrocious Wakemen-esque widdly-widdly here…just raw, distorted power.
Robert Plant for his soaring vocals.
Roger Waters for his all-enveloping and spirit-crushing concepts.
Ron Goodwin…I kid you not…for his Wagnerian theme and underscore to “Where Eagles Dare”
Beethoven for his 5th Piano Concerto
Simple Minds for my favourite pop song “Don’t You Forget About Me”
Mozart for his D-minor piano concerto
….and too many others to mention.
P.G. I’m surprised that Redshifts’ music hasn’t been used in films, it seems ideal to me, the evocative sounds and dark themes seem to lend themselves to many kinds of visual imagery.
M.S. Well in the past I have actually done three soundtracks, though not of Redshift-style music. Actually I not so sure that there are many films, in the modern era, that would really suit our music. Sure there are some that I think “wow , Panzer would work great over this scene ”etc.. Most films these days use these awful CGI effects to try and mask the fact that the film is basically terrible….I believe audiences will eventually catch on to this and demand movies of more quality.
Our music tends to be quite descriptive in itself, writing soundtracks is a completely different skill…not an easy one either. It gets very technical , you have to be so precise with things like timing , mood changes etc….as you can imagine , it would be a tall order for us to shoe-horn our more “loose” style of music into that very strict format.
Having said that, I definitely feel that we could create some great music for certain genres of film.
P.G. Finally, do you see Redshift continuing for another 10 years?....or will it reach a natural conclusion sooner?.
M.S. As long as I feel the desire to make this music there is no reason why I can’t do it until the day I die…..of course all things come to an end, one way or another, sooner or later. We have no “plan” for the future. As I said before, we do this for love, because we are “driven” to do it….and as long as that drive still exists, there will be a Redshift